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Drastic Changes in College Acceptance Rates in Recent Years

As we all know by now, many colleges and universities in the United States became much more selective during the most recent application cycle, largely due to a surge in applications resulting from both short- and long-term changes. But the extent of that change can be hard to see, especially when acceptance rates are already so low at so many schools.

To that end, we’ve compiled the most recent data on acceptance rates at top schools and how they changed from the prior year. Note that the “Change” column represents the total magnitude of the change, not the arithmetic difference. That is, a drop from a 30% admission rate to a 28% admission rate represents a less significant change than a drop from 5% to 3%, because that 2% accounts for a much larger share of the total applicants in the latter scenario.

Changes to Overall Acceptance Rates

The overall acceptance rate at a school is the total number of admitted students divided by the total number of applicants, including both early and regular applicants. As you can see in the table below, the majority of top-100 universities saw their acceptance rates drop, some precipitously so. On the other hand, a handful did rise, even in this challenging year.

School Most Recent Overall Acceptance Rate Prior Year Overall Acceptance Rate % Change in Likelihood of Acceptance
Boston College 19% 24% -20.8%
Boston University 18% 19% -5.3%
Brandeis University 30% 31% -3.2%
Brown University 5% 7% -28.6%
California Institute of Technology 7% 6% 16.7%
Carnegie Mellon University 17% 15% 13.3%
Case Western Reserve University 30% 27% 11.1%
Columbia University 4% 5% -20.0%
Cornell University 11% 11% 0.0%
Dartmouth College 6% 9% -33.3%
Duke University 6% 8% -25.0%
Emory University 18% 18% 0.0%
Georgetown University 12% 16% -25.0%
Georgia Institute of Technology 18% 20% -10.0%
Harvard University 3% 5% -40.0%
Johns Hopkins University 7% 9% -22.2%
Lehigh University 45% 32% 40.6%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4% 7% -42.9%
New York University 13% 15% -13.3%
Northeastern University 20% 18% 11.1%
Northwestern University 7% 9% -22.2%
Pepperdine University 32% 31% 3.2%
Princeton University 4% 6% -33.3%
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 47% 43% 9.3%
Rice University 9% 10% -10.0%
Santa Clara University 51% 48% 6.3%
Stanford University 5% 4% 25.0%
Tufts University 11% 15% -26.7%
Tulane University 11% 13% -15.4%
University of California-Berkeley 18% 17% 5.9%
University of California-Davis 47% 39% 20.5%
University of California-Irvine 30% 27% 11.1%
University of California-Los Angeles 14% 12% 16.7%
University of California-San Diego 38% 32% 18.8%
University of California-Santa Barbara 30% 30% 0.0%
University of Chicago 6% 6% 0.0%
University of Florida 29% 29% 0.0%
University of Georgia 39% 46% -15.2%
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign 59% 62% -4.8%
University of Miami 33% 27% 22.2%
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 26% 23% 13.0%
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 24% 23% 4.3%
University of Notre Dame 15% 16% -6.3%
University of Pennsylvania 6% 8% -25.0%
University of Rochester 30% 29% 3.4%
University of Southern California 12% 16% -25.0%
University of Texas-Austin 32% 32% 0.0%
University of Virginia 21% 21% 0.0%
University of Wisconsin-Madison 54% 53% 1.9%
Vanderbilt University 7% 10% -30.0%
Villanova University 25% 29% -13.8%
Wake Forest University 30% 30% 0.0%
Washington University in St. Louis 13% 13% 0.0%
William and Mary 42% 38% 10.5%
Yale University 5% 7% -28.6%

Changes to Early Acceptance Rates

However, as you no doubt know, overall acceptance rate is not the only statistic that matters.      During such an uncertain and unprecedented time, many schools relied more heavily on early admission applicants than ever, at least where offered. Nevertheless, even early acceptance rates fell at most schools, particularly the most selective, or else remained the same.

In addition, these data also show another interesting trend: namely, that a growing number of colleges are not reporting their early acceptance data. In almost all cases, early admission rates are higher than the overall rate, and much higher than the regular decision rate. But exactly how much higher is not something that schools necessarily want to advertise.

School Most Recent Early Acceptance Rate Prior Year Early Acceptance Rate % Change in Likelihood of Acceptance
Boston College Not Reported 37% No Data
Boston University 33% 28% 17.9%
Brandeis University 56% 42% 33.3%
Brown University 16% 18% -11.1%
California Institute of Technology 10% 10% 0.0%
Carnegie Mellon University 25% 19% 31.6%
Case Western Reserve University Not Reported 39% No Data
Columbia University 10% 15% -33.3%
Cornell University 24% 24% 0.0%
Dartmouth College 22% 21% 4.8%
Duke University 17% 21% -19.0%
Emory University 39% 33% 18.2%
Georgetown University 11% 12% -8.3%
Georgia Institute of Technology 21% 21% 0.0%
Harvard University 7% 7% 0.0%
Johns Hopkins University 20% 29% -31.0%
Lehigh University 73% 66% 10.6%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5% 7% -28.6%
New York University Not Reported 28% No Data
Northeastern University 38% Not Reported No Data
Northwestern University 24% 25% -4.0%
Pepperdine University 61% 48% 27.1%
Princeton University 14% 14% 0.0%
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Not Reported 47% No Data
Rice University 16% 22% -27.3%
Santa Clara University 69% 82% -15.9%
Stanford University 7% 7% 0.0%
Tufts University Not Reported Not Reported No Data
Tulane University 23% 32% -28.1%
University of California-Berkeley N/A N/A N/A
University of California-Davis N/A N/A N/A
University of California-Irvine N/A N/A N/A
University of California-Los Angeles N/A N/A N/A
University of California-San Diego N/A N/A N/A
University of California-Santa Barbara N/A N/A N/A
University of Chicago 20% 20% 0.0%
University of Florida N/A N/A N/A
University of Georgia 59% 43% 37.2%
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign Not Reported Not Reported No Data
University of Miami Not Reported Not Reported No Data
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Not Reported Not Reported No Data
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 28% 31% -9.7%
University of Notre Dame 22% 26% -15.4%
University of Pennsylvania 15% 20% -25.0%
University of Rochester 33% 33% 0.0%
University of Southern California N/A N/A N/A
University of Texas-Austin N/A N/A N/A
University of Virginia 33% 35% -5.7%
University of Wisconsin-Madison Not Reported Not Reported No Data
Vanderbilt University 18% 21% -14.3%
Villanova University 56% 56% 0.0%
Wake Forest University Not Reported 41% No Data
Washington University in St. Louis 29% 37% -21.6%
William and Mary 51% 49% 4.1%
Yale University 11% 11% 0.0%

Final Thoughts

Broadly speaking, gaining admission to top colleges is more competitive than ever these days, which means that it’s more important than ever that students stand out from the thousands of other applicants to these highly selective colleges. The more they can identify and articulate what makes them outstanding scholars and unique individuals, the more likely they will be to rise to the top of the pile and join the ranks of that year’s accepted students.

Spark Admissions college counselors are dedicated not only to closely tracking this data, but also to helping students use it to their advantage.  Despite the challenges this year, our acceptance rates at top schools remain significantly higher than the national average. If you want to know how these changes may affect your college admission plan, contact us for a free consultation today.

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