For Immediate Release
Media Contact:
David Hawkins

 College Admission Trends for 2011: Uncertain Times Lead Colleges to Lean More Heavily on Wait Lists; Acceptance Rate for Four-Year Colleges Declines Slightly, NACAC Finds

October 19, 2011 (Arlington, VA) -- After remaining stable for three admission cycles, the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges and universities declined by one percentage point to 65.5 percent, according to the 2011 State of College Admission report released today by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Meanwhile, uncertainty during a prolonged economic downturn seems to have further increased colleges’ reliance on wait lists.

“Colleges and universities, like most organizations and institutions in the US, are operating under stressful and uncertain conditions,” noted David Hawkins, NACAC Director of Public Policy and Research. “While that uncertainty may create some short term changes to the admission process, counselors, students and families can rely on the knowledge that the fundamental requirements for college admission remain constant.”

Uncertainty for colleges is also manifested in yield rates—the percent of admitted students who enroll—that have declined steadily over the past decade. The average yield rate for the Fall 2010 admission cycle was 41 percent—down from 49 percent in 2001—meaning that institutions, on average, are enrolling smaller proportions of their admitted students. The rise in applications submitted by individual students has made it difficult for colleges to predict how many accepted students will ultimately enroll.

The 2011 State of College Admission also documents changes in colleges’ use of wait lists that may reflect a response to the trend of declining yield rates and concern about the effects of a prolonged economic downturn on students’ choices. For the Fall 2010 admission cycle, 48 percent of colleges reported using a wait list, up from 39 percent for Fall 2009 and 35 percent for Fall 2008. The 2011 State of College Admission also shows a decrease in the percentage of students accepted from wait lists—28 percent for Fall 2010, down from 34 percent in Fall 2009. Wait lists help college admission offices to ensure that they meet enrollment targets, but they also may complicate students’ college choices by creating overlapping deadlines and additional complexity in the process.

Overview of the 2011 State of College Admission report:

  • Number of High School Graduates Continues to Decline: The number of high school graduates in the US reached a peak of 3.33 million in 2008-09 after more than a decade of steady growth. An estimated 3.28 million students graduated in 2010-11. The number of graduates will continue to decline through 2014-15, and will remain below 2009 levels through at least 2020-21.
  • Application Growth Continues: A large majority of colleges (73 percent) reported increased application volume for Fall 2010 as compared to Fall 2009. With few exceptions, approximately three-quarters of colleges have reported increases each year for the past decade.
  • Colleges Accept 65.5 Percent of Applicants: The average selectivity rate—percentage of applicants who are offered admission—at four-year colleges and universities in the United States was 65.5 percent for Fall 2010. The average institutional yield rate—percentage of admitted students who enroll—was 41 percent.
  • Online Applications Continue to Increase: For the Fall 2010 admission cycle, four-year colleges and universities received an average of 85 percent of their applications online, up from 80 percent in Fall 2009, 72 percent in Fall 2008, 68 percent in Fall 2007 and 58 percent in Fall 2006.
  • Early Decision Activity Declines; Growth in Early Action Continues: Only 38 percent of colleges with ED policies reported increases in the number of students accepted through Early Decision for Fall 2010, down from the previous three years when about half of colleges reported increases. Thirty-six percent reported increases in ED admissions, compared to 65 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008. However, 72 percent of colleges with Early Action policies reported increases in EA applications, and 68 percent reported increases in EA admissions.
  • At Colleges with Early Decision (ED) Policies, Gap In Acceptance Rates Between ED and Regular Decision Applicants Narrows Considerably: For the Fall 2010 admission cycle, colleges with Early Decision policies reported a 7-percentage point gap in acceptance rates between ED applicants and the overall applicant pool (57 percent versus 50 percent). For the Fall 2007 through Fall 2009 admission cycles, the gap had grown from 12 to 15 percentage points.
  • Admission Offices Identify Grades, High School Curriculum and Test Scores as Top Factors: The top factors in the admission decision were (in order): grades in college preparatory courses, strength of curriculum, standardized admission test scores, and overall high school grade point average. Among the next most important factors were the essay, teacher and counselor recommendations, extracurricular activities, class rank, and student’s demonstrated interest.

The State of College Admission report is an annual analysis of surveys of colleges and universities nationwide. The data helps counselors, admission professionals, students, and parents examine the transition process to postsecondary education. The 2011 edition contains analysis of key trends in the admission process, including information on high school graduation, college enrollment, the cost of applying, factors in the admission decision, social media trends in the admission process, and more.

NACAC is an Arlington, VA-based education association of almost 12,000 secondary school counselors, independent counselors, college admission and financial aid officers, enrollment managers, and organizations that work with students as they make the transition from high school to postsecondary education. The association, founded in 1937, is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice.

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