Friday, April 02, 2010
When I was starting to take SATs and thinking about applying to colleges a more than a third of a century ago, I knew that gaining admission to Princeton would be difficult. About 20% of applicants were admitted in April, 1977, for the Class of 1981, and for the brainwashed children of alumni, the admission rate was closer to 50% (some of that higher rate is attributable to the slightly lower standards for alumni kids, some by the relative high quality of that segment of the applicant pool). I was happy to be admitted 33 Aprils ago, and, as I remarked during the eulogy I delivered earlier this year, I think my father was pretty happy that day, too.
It is an entirely different ballgame these days, and the competition gets progressively more difficult each year. There is, apparently, no recession going on in elite higher education, as more and more students apply for a four-year stint with a retail value of north of $200,000 (noting that Princeton is generous with financial aid, involving little or no debt at the student level). The preliminary figures are in for the Class of 2014:
Princeton University accepted 8.18 percent of applicants for the class of 2014, the lowest rate in the institution's history.Aside from the knowledge that I would have no chance of getting in to my Alma mater anymore, an admit rate of slightly less than 1 in 12 is remarkable. I suspect that the second tier of 2,100 kids could be admitted and you would still have a pretty impressive class.
Of the record 26,247 applicants, Princeton accepted 2,148, according to figures released today. Nearly 20 percent more students applied during this admissions cycle, compared to the previous year, the university said.
One of my old college roommates likes to joke -- in the spirit of mathematical extrapolation, looking at the trend line of admission rates -- that someday, the Admissions people will announce that nobody was admitted: "We really wanted to be exclusive this year."
My son is a HS senior. I told him that 1) you'll learn as much or more from your peers in college as you will from your professors, 2) schools like Princeton are worth going to if you want to make connections among your peers -- that these are important for certain professions but not for others, 3) otherwise, Ivy League type education is over-rated and often too PC away from math and hard science, 4) parents care too much about bragging rights.
He got into his #1 choice, a really good state school. He gets to keep the savings.
More kids are applying to more schools. Back in my time completing an application was a chore and the elite schools all wanted their own essays. Today schools want the application fees, and to play games on "yield" to impress US News.
I totally agree. I remember skipping the Yale application in '77 because it was too long and looked like a pain to complete. Now it's Common Ap and Cut and Paste for the most part. Also, sticker prices are a scandal. You feel like a schmuck if you're actually paying it. A hidden progressive tax of some magnitude.
Actually, of those 26,000 applicants, probably no more than a thousand or fewer would be eliminated on purely academic grounds. It is likely that the admissions office could have assembled four or five completely different but similarly capable groups of admits. The frenzy to apply to schools with perceived high status is very acute in many communities, and the amount of grooming and preening that takes place is orders of magnitude greater than even when my daughter started college a decade ago. A really smart kid who has had a normal childhood in which he or she did not participate in competitive academics or extracurriculars at the near-professional level is at a great disadvantage.
Yale's acceptance rate was 7.5% this year, according to stats sent out to alumni interviewers.
And I agree that there are so many thousands of equally qualified rejected students. I have heard the same from admissions people for years. That just means that there are a lot of exceptional people showing up at a lot of "unknown" campuses all over the country. They will get a fine education, with, perhaps, a broader perspective on the world...?
...and Stanford clocked in at one in fourteen.
The primary impact of these sorts of admission rates will be to make formerly second tier schools the new first tier (as the old class of first tier has moved now into the realm of pure crapshoot), and old-time "safe" schools will become very difficult admission efforts. Eventually the bubble will burst and these schools will all come back to earth, I would imagine.
As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Outliers, there is no measurable difference in success rates (Nobels, CEOs, Pulitzers, etc) for those who graduate Harvard and those who applied and were rejected.
If I am not mistaked, there are proportionally more success stories among the next two tiers of schools, which have much larger classes.