Preparing for College

How Tough Is It?

In my work as an independent college admissions counselor over the years, I never see an application season go by without its usual group of applicants who come to me with a list of candidate schools that includes what I call "the usual suspects": Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and, lest we forget, The Big Three: Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. Of course I'm talking about the Ivy League, whose member schools shimmer in the distance like an oasis of cool water before legions of status-thirsty applicants and their families, who have been blinded to the offerings of myriad other (translation: "lesser") colleges and universities. Oh, the price of "prestige."

Alrighty, then. If you're going to play with the high rollers, it's time to confront the odds. Just how hard is it these days to get into one of these august institutions? Let's take a look. spells it out rather clearly. Ivy admission has always been difficult, but now it's even harder than ever:

Admissions rate hits record low

The College has admitted 11.5 percent of applicants to the Class of 2014, the lowest acceptance rate in College history. The Admissions Office accepted 2,165 of a record 18,778-person applicant pool, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris.

College administrators are considering increasing the size of the Class of 2014 as a way to generate additional revenue for the College in the budget planning process, but they have not yet made a decision on the issue, Laskaris said.

“Certainly additional students will bring additional revenue," Laskaris said. “But with the need-blind financial aid process we also don't know the amount of aid needed for students."

Conversations concerning class sizes will continue throughout the Spring term, Laskaris said, adding that the class size is projected to be between 1,100 and 1,140 students, while previous class sizes have ranged between 1,090 to 1,135 students.

The College accepted 461 students in December through the early decision program, compared to 401 accepted early decision for the Class of 2013, The Dartmouth previously reported.

The 18,778 applicants this year constitute a 3.5 percent increase from the 18,130 applications submitted last year, making it the largest applicant pool in Dartmouth history, Laskaris said. The 11.5 percent selection rate marks a decline from 12.5 percent for the Class of 2013, she said.

Several of the College's peer institutions also saw a decrease in their admissions rates this year. Harvard University accepted 6.9 percent of its applicants for the Class of 2014, down from its 7 percent acceptance rate last year, The Harvard Crimson reported.

Columbia University admitted 9 percent of applicants, down from 10 percent last year, while Brown University had a 9 percent acceptance rate this year, compared to 11 percent for 2009, according to BusinessWeek.

The University of Pennsylvania accepted 14 percent of applicants for the Class of 2014, down from 17 percent for the year before. Cornell University's acceptance rate dropped from 19 percent to 18 percent this year, according to BusinessWeek. Stanford University accepted the smallest percentage of students in its history, 7.2 percent. Yale University has not yet released its admission rate, but it was the only Ivy League school to experience a decrease in application numbers, receiving 134 fewer applications this year, BusinessWeek reported.

Over the past decade, the number of applicants to Dartmouth has grown by 80 percent, according to Laskaris.

“When the Class of 2010 applied, the applicant pool was just under 14,000 applicants — this year it was almost 19,000 applicants," she said. “Our selectivity has gone from about 15.5 percent to about 11.5 percent. It's more difficult now to be admitted."

About 50 percent of admitted Dartmouth students will receive need-based financial aid from the College, according to a College press release issued Tuesday. Dartmouth's 2010 fiscal year budget includes $78 million earmarked for financial aid, which represents a 10 percent increase over the amount given in fiscal year 2009. College admissions are need-blind, promising to meet 100 percent of a student's financial need.

The College accepted 1,083 men and 1,082 women. Fourteen percent of students admitted are from the New England area, 27 percent are from the Mid-Atlantic, 11 percent are from the Midwest, 17 percent are from the South, 22 percent are from the West and 7 percent are international students, according to the release.

The growing number of applications is due to outreach and recruitment efforts by the admissions staff, tour guides, student bloggers and alumni volunteers representing Dartmouth in college fairs around the country, Laskaris said. Dartmouth has also increased its involvement in social media outlets, such as Facebook and video chat web sites, according to Laskaris.

The average SAT scores for the admitted students were 733 for the critical reasoning section, 741 for mathematics and 740 for the writing section, while 39.9 percent of applicants ranked by their secondary schools were first in their class, according to the press release.

For the past two years, the Admissions Office has hired additional application readers and reviewers to assist in the admission process. Four out-of-state former Dartmouth admissions staff members from Alaska, North Carolina, New York City and Boston evaluated applications this year, according to Laskaris.

“The pool of applicants has grown, but no one has given us more time [to review the applications]," she said. “Having experienced readers to jump in has been very helpful."


As if the Ivies weren't bad enough, consider Stanford this year:

Stanford admission rate is most competitive ever

Stanford University announced today that 2,300 candidates have been offered admission to its undergraduate Class of 2013.

The figure, which includes 689 candidates admitted in December through Stanford's Restrictive Early Action Program, represents an admission rate of just 7.6 percent, the most competitive in the university's history.

The university received an unprecedented 30,428 applications. The Office of Undergraduate Admission initially anticipated approximately 25,000 applications but experienced a 20 percent surge, possibly because of enhanced financial aid programs that make Stanford more affordable for low- and middle-income families.

"We expected a modest increase in interest in Stanford this year, but a volatile economy certainly made things unpredictable. We never imagined a 20 percent surge in applications," said Richard Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid. "Our new financial aid programs, aimed at families with incomes below $100,000, have raised the level of awareness of Stanford. These enhancements, combined with a much more comprehensive global outreach effort, have increased the visibility of Stanford throughout the world."

Admitted students are invited to spend an April weekend on campus and have until May 1 to respond to their admission offer.


Seven point six percent. The deck has just become even more stacked. In fact, in some people's opinion, this deck make that of the Titanic look inviting! If you're considering applying to the big leagues, it may be time for you to adjust your thinking . . . or maybe even think again.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.