Across the country this year, admit rates plunged from an enormous influx of applications. Stanford was no exception. While the university has increased its number of applicants on a consistent basis, the university has truly surpassed all expectations, increasing the applicant pool by more than 20% to 30,428 applications for the Class of 2013.
Unfortunately for applicants, the entering class size is not keeping pace with the increasing number of students seeking to enter Stanford’s gates. Due to the economic crisis and commensurate endowment losses, Stanford actually decreased the target size of the incoming freshman class to 1630. While this number returns the freshman class to its historical size, it is far fewer than the entering classes of the past two years (1722 in 2007 and 1703 last year).
In order to reach that class size, the university expects that 70.9% of accepted students will eventually matriculate to Stanford. That number is practically identical with last year’s final yield.
The increase in applicants and the decrease in admission slots led to a record-low admit rate of 7.6%, down from 9.5% in 2008.
Similar Scenes Around the Country
The number of applications also surpassed most of Stanford’s peer institutions, even while the admit rate remained higher. Harvard University received 29,112 applications and accepted just 2,046 students – a final admit rate of 7%. Yale University followed the same trend, increasing their applications to 26,000 exactly and accepting 7.5%.
The numbers were less rosy—or better depending on perspective—at Princeton University. There, the admit rate actually increased to 9.79%, and the admissions office only received a few hundred more applications than last year.
The fact that such a top-ranked institution failed to follow the national trend rankled many. Within hours of the Princeton announcement, angry students and alumni wrote comments on the associated Daily Princetonian article. At the time of this writing, there are more than 280 comments, most expressing outrage over the changing social scene and grade deflation.
Getting admitted this year was harder across academia. American universities are facing tough choices of handling record application numbers while simultaneously slashing budgets. The University of California system is cutting enrollment by 2,300 students, despite seeing a significant rise in the number of students applying for admission. Similar themes were found at many other state universities.
As high school seniors apply to more colleges to try to increase their chances—and colleges decrease their admit rates to compensate—there is a strong question of whether the current situation is sustainable in the long-term.
The continuing decrease in admit rate has begun a debate, started in the past few years and gaining in voice, about how low is too low. The element of chance has been a common theme.
In a recent editorial with InsideHigherEd, a well-trafficked higher education news site, Education Sector policy associate Chad Aldeman voiced his concern at the current state of affairs. “At many institutions […] it is a far more random process than colleges would like students to believe. The myth of a meritocracy, on which the selective admissions system is built, is substantially a lie.”
He called for a lottery system similar to the residency match system used at medical schools. “College admissions are already random; let’s just admit it and begin developing a more effective system. A lottery might be the answer.”
Such radical ideas are unlikely to be implemented anytime soon given the reception of a similar idea a few years ago by a Swarthmore professor. But this perceived element of chance does not go unnoticed by students applying to selective schools.
Alexandra Zeitz, a senior at the Hotchkiss School, did not let the prestige factor push her in any direction. “Am I aware of the prestige of different admit rates? Yes. [However], I would like to say that prestige was not too important.” She thinks that chance does not play much of a role in admissions. “There is the knowledge that what you have learned in high school will lead to a college that is right. You can tell your peers about it—there is pride in it.”
Crossett tried to beat the increasing application trend by focusing his applications on a few well-written ones as opposed to applying to as many schools as possible. “I actually applied to a lot less schools than a lot of my peers who are applying to American schools. I really wanted to focus on the applications that I was doing. Because the admit rates are dropping, people are applying to more schools to raise the odds. I applied to specific programs [instead].”
Other factors may make the situation more palatable for future admission cycles. The baby boom echo is starting to subside, reducing the number of graduating seniors and theoretically reducing overall application numbers.
Of course, all of these statistics cannot hide the truly human face behind each of those applications. As one science fiction character said, “Never tell me the odds.” Crossett, who was deferred in early action and later accepted, said “My parents were so sure of me getting in [early]. They bought me a San Francisco guidebook, which they gave me now.” A parental gut feeling, interesting international experiences, and a tad of luck might just be the recipe for admission.