Increased application rates of highly selective schools and the fixed number of spots available have led to speculation that the recent decline in Harvard’s acceptance rate shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.
The College accepted a record low 5.8 percent of applicants this year, the seventh consecutive decline.
“I do think it’s going to get worse before it’s going to get better,” said Bari Norman, the president of Expert Admissions, a professional college advising service for students.
“The lower [a college’s admissions rate] goes, the more enticing it becomes.”
Norman, a former admissions officer at Barnard College, said that the increasingly unpredictable nature of college admissions everywhere acts as an impetus for students to “cover their bases” by applying to more schools.
Michael Goran, director and lead educational consultant at IvySelect, attributed the growing attractiveness of highly selective schools to “the name, and the prestige of the institutions,” saying that most students don’t “get caught up in that decreasing number.”
Norman explained that the increasingly unpredictable nature of college admissions everywhere as an impetus for students to be apply to more schools just in case, a potential cause behind the increasing application numbers.
While in the past the average student would apply to five or six schools, Sarah Rath—an admissions consultant at Top Test Prep—said that in her experience, the average for students now is closer to 15 or 20.
“The fact that Harvard has one additional supplement, in cases when Columbia has three and Brown has quite of few...gives students the allure of any Ivy without being daunting,” Goran said.
Norman said that admissions rates are likely to continue to decline even if application numbers drop slightly.
“As places like Harvard become more selective and therefore less predictable in terms of what students can expect back—even when they are in the good range for being considered for admission—they’re going to apply to more places,” Norman said.
The strategy of applying to more schools is a good one for students, Norman said. Still, she said that the effect of this strategy is that acceptance numbers can be expected to decrease across the board because the number of spots to fill does not increase.
At Harvard, the relatively high acceptance rate for students who apply early makes the regular acceptance rate seem that much smaller. Since it was reinstated two years ago, the program has seen a steady 18 percent acceptance rate.
As more students are accepted under the early admissions program, increasingly fewer are drawn from the regular applicant pool.
Still, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said that applying early does not improve an applicant’s chances. Rather, the early pool’s credentials are “stronger than the credentials, on average, of regular action applicants,” according to Fitzsimmons.
Norman predicted that Harvard’s admission rate will continue to decline and that other highly selective schools will continue to hover close by.
“[Harvard] does tend to anchor everything else,” she said. “If it moves, other places will move with it.”
—Staff writer Zohra D. Yaqhubi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zohradyaqhubi.