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Why is it So Hard Getting Into a Top College?

July 09, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Early Action, Early Decision, Acceptance Rates, Ivy League, Stanford, Harvard, University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, UPenn, Duke

Why do top colleges and universities have much lower acceptance rates than they did only a decade ago?

It’s a tragic saga of prestige, tradition, statistics, and a decade-long race to the bottom. Watch it slowly unfold in the charts below:


In the “good ole’ days” depicted on the left , your last name was your college application. Today (on the right ), the high school students competing with you are basically curing cancer.

Unfortunately, the number of spots at top colleges has not kept pace with the explosion of applications:


And yet the total number of students admitted to top colleges has remained stagnant :


This isn’t just a phenomenon of “top” colleges — this problem occurs across the board for all US universities:


As the saying goes, scarcity creates value.

So from the perspective of top colleges, this surge in demand has been a blessing rather than a curse.

Consider the two most prestigious colleges in America — Stanford and Harvard.

Once upon a time, over 1 in 10 students who applied to Harvard and Stanford got in (2001). Now, that number is less than 1 in 20 students.


Both elite schools have fought a race to the bottom in terms of acceptance rates, closely tailing one another for the “top” (or “bottom”) spot.

At the same time, the number that matters most to colleges for prestige — Yield Rate — steadily increased. Yield Rate is the percentage of accepted students that choose to enroll in your institution.

Luckily for top colleges, low acceptance rates and high yields go hand in hand:


The reason why top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago is because prestige is relative.

If you’re the dean of the only college in your division with a double digit acceptance rate, then you can expect to be reprimanded by your Board of Trustees for failing to uphold the prestige and exclusivity of your college’s brand. Angry alumni who see the value of their diploma depreciating relative to the peers from other institutions will demand action.

And that’s why you see the craziest drops in acceptance rates for institutions that lagged behind their peers in prestige a decade ago.

Consider the Ivies:


Note the most dramatic drops in Ivy League acceptance rates come from schools like Cornell, Penn, Brown, and Dartmouth, which are typically considered the “less prestigious” Ivies.

Their acceptance rates have plummeted from a completely reasonable 15–35% in 2007 to an intimidating <15% by 2018 .

That’s because these “less prestigious” top universities have the most “catching up” to do.

Deflating acceptance rates while filling your incoming class was difficult to do 1–2 decades ago. But now, thanks to...

  1. The Internet

  2. Standardization of the Common App/Coalition App/Universal App

  3. Higher number of international applicants

...there is enough demand for any college to achieve their desired prestigiously low acceptance rate by simply spending enough on marketing/ad flyers/outreach.

The table below shows the 16 colleges with the largest decrease in acceptance rates over the past decade:


You’ll note that most of these schools are good, but not in the upper echelon of “elite” schools.

These are schools like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Rice, Vanderbilt, etc.

For these schools, a low acceptance rate is a fast track to prestige, something that could otherwise only be achieved through hundreds of years of achievement.

So while all elite colleges have seen their admissions rates decrease over the past decade, colleges like the University of Chicago have been able to attain roughly comparable admissions selectivity as Ivy League schools by simply out-pacing more "prestigious" colleges at lowering their acceptance rates.


To summarize: Top colleges have much lower acceptance rates than they did a decade ago because there’s too many applicants and not enough spots.

This benefits colleges by making their diplomas more valuable, and thus there have been no substantial efforts to resolve this race to the bottom.

Does Your Choice of Major Impact Your College Admissions Chances?

Be careful when "declaring" that you're an undecided or undeclared major

July 04, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Declaring, Majors, Advice, Admissions, Application, Mistakes, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, UCs

Should I declare an intended major on my college application?

If not, does being undeclared or undecided hurt my admissions chances?

The short answer to both questions is YES, your declared major or the specific program to which you are applying can have a significant impact on your acceptance chances.

Even if schools pretend otherwise, the statistics bear this out (as shown later in this article).

Students who demonstrate interest in different majors/programs have widely different acceptance rates at certain colleges.

I've listed 5 case studies of different schools below to illustrate how the way in which you choose a major for your college application can improve or decrease your admissions chances.


At UCLA , different programs have vastly different admissions rates (shown below).


Additionally, even within the pool of students interested solely in engineering, the School of Engineering explicitly evaluates students by the specific engineering major that they intend to pursue.


At Harvard , students interested in “humanities” are admitted at almost double the rate as students interested in “engineering”:


Carnegie Mellon (CMU)

At Carnegie Mellon (shown below), the acceptance rate of different programs ranges from 7% to 26%!


UC Berkeley

At UC Berkeley , applicants intending on studying “computer science” have an 8.5% acceptance rate, compared to 17% overall.


At Cornell , each application is individually considered by the specific college that a student applies to.

As Cornell Vice Provost of Enrollment Jason Locke stated in The Cornell Sun,

"Unlike many other colleges, which review all applications from a central undergraduate admissions office, Cornell has a 'somewhat unique system,' according to Locke.

Once an application is submitted, it will be given to the one — and only — college or school that the student is applying to, where his or her material will undergo what Locke called a 'first review.'"

This leads to wildly different outcomes for students who apply to different schools. For example, the undergraduate acceptance rate for Cornell's School of Industrial & Labor Relations was triple the rate of applicants to the College of Arts and Sciences.

What causes this statistical difference?

There are two main factors which make your choice of intended field of study important on your college application.

  1. Colleges have different strengths. Johns Hopkins’ world-renowned Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is much stronger than its English department. MIT’s Computer Science (CS) department is much stronger than its History department. Thus, more students interested in BME will apply to Johns Hopkins, and it will be harder to distinguish yourself as an applicant interested in BME. Same goes for applying to MIT as a CS major.

  2. Colleges have different weaknesses . Every program or school that a college offers represents a significant investment of time, money, and resources. Applicants that have the potential to dramatically improve relatively weaker programs (e.g. English at Johns Hopkins, or History at MIT) offer a larger marginal return on being admitted than students who would have to be literally world-class (e.g. win a Nobel Prize) to make a noticeably lasting impact on their stronger departments.

Use this knowledge to your benefit!

Most colleges will allow you to switch majors after enrolling.

If you can frame your application to provide an unmet need or fill spots in an under-enrolled program, you can greatly increase your admissions chances .

To learn more about college admissions from Ivy League students who’ve successfully gone through the process themselves, check out the services we offer here