In the 2015 edition of NACAC's annual State of College Admission report, you'll find up-to-date information about the admission process for first-time freshmen, transfer students, and international students in the US. Learn more about factors in the admission decision, acceptance rates for college applicants, common recruitment strategies, and the status of college counseling in secondary schools.
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Explore the latest admission statistics for four-year US colleges and universities including selectivity and yield rate trends.
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Growth in Application Volume Continues: Between the Fall 2014 and Fall 2015 admission cycles, the number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6 percent; applications from prospective transfer students increased by 4 percent; and international student applications increased by 23 percent, on average.
Online Applications Are the Norm: For the Fall 2014 admission cycle, four-year colleges and universities received an average of 94 percent of applications online, up from 68 percent in Fall 2007 and only 49 percent in Fall 2005.
Colleges Accept Nearly Two-Thirds of First-Time Freshmen Applicants; Slight Decline in National Average Acceptance Rate Stabilizes: The average selectivity rate—percentage of applicants who are offered admission—at four-year colleges and universities in the United States was 65.8 percent for Fall 2014. The national average acceptance rate has edged up from 64.7 percent in Fall 2013, after reaching a low of 63.9 percent in Fall 2012.
Decline in Average Yield Rate for First-Time Freshmen Stabilizes: The average yield rate for Fall 2014 (36.2 percent) increased slightly after a long and steady decline from 48.7 percent in 2002 to 35.7 percent in Fall 2013.
Transfer Acceptance Rate Slightly Lower than Freshmen Rate; Yield Much Higher: Among institutions that enroll transfer students, average selectivity for Fall 2015 was 61 percent, compared to 65 percent for first-time freshmen. However, more than half (55 percent) of transfer applicants who were admitted ultimately enrolled, compared to only 29 percent of freshman admits.
International Student Acceptance Rate is Low; Yield on Par with Transfer Students: At institutions that enroll first-time international students, the Fall 2015 admit rate for this population (34 percent) was much lower than the overall freshman acceptance rate. The average yield rate for international students is 52 percent.
Recruitment and Yield Strategies
College admission offices use a variety of strategies to recruit prospective students, particularly those who would be likely to attend if admitted. Colleges are broadening their recruitment efforts to bring in more transfer and international students.
Beyond the High School Graduate: Nearly two-thirds of Admission Trends Survey respondents indicated that transfer students are considerably important to meeting overall recruitment goals, and almost 40 percent rated international students as considerably important.
Top Recruitment Strategies: Email and institutional websites are the primary means by which colleges recruit transfer and international students. Email and websites are also the top two recruitment strategies for first-time freshmen. However, colleges employ a broader range of strategies when recruiting these domestic high school students. For this group, five other factors were each rated as considerably important by more than 50 percent of colleges in 2015—campus visits, high school counselors, high school visits, direct mail, and college fairs.
Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) Activity Increases: Between Fall 2014 and Fall 2015, colleges reported an average increase of 10 percent in the number of Early Decision applicants and 11 percent in ED admits. The number of Early Action applications and the number of students accepted through EA each increased by 7 percent.
Wait List Activity Increases; Likelihood of Wait List Acceptance is Low: For the Fall 2015 admission cycle, 39 percent of institutions reported using a wait list. Institutions accepted an average of 32 percent of all students who chose to remain on wait lists. From Fall 2014 to Fall 2015, the number of students offered a place on an admission waitlist increased by 16 percent, on average, and the number admitted increased by 41 percent.
Factors in Admission Decisions
The factors that admission officers use to evaluate applications from first-time freshmen have remained largely consistent over the past 20 years. Students’ academic achievements—which include grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores—constitute the most important factors in the admission decision. Admission decision factors for first-time international students are similar to those for domestic students, but the transfer admission decision process differs in significant ways.
Admission Offices Identify Grades, High School Curriculum, and Test Scores as Top Factors for First-Time Freshmen: The top factors in the admission decision for the Fall 2015 admission cycle were: grades in college preparatory courses, strength of curriculum, overall high school GPA, and admission test scores. Among the next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and class rank.
Top Factor for International Students is English Proficiency Exam Scores: After English proficiency, the factors for admission decisions with international applicants are remarkably similar to those for domestic students, with one notable exception. A greater proportion of colleges rated the essay/writing sample as considerably important for international applicants, likely because of the additional confirmation of English skills that the essay provides.
For Transfer Admission Decisions, College Grades Matter Most: The only transfer admission decision factors that were rated considerably important by a substantial proportion of colleges were overall GPA at prior postsecondary institution(s) and average grades in transferrable courses.
College Counseling in Secondary Schools
Access to college information and counseling in school is a significant benefit to students in the college application process. For many students, particularly those in public schools, college counseling is limited at best. Counselors are few in number, often have large student caseloads, and have additional constraints on the amount of time they can dedicate to college counseling.
Student-to-Counselor Ratio: According to US Department of Education data, in 2013-14 each public school counselor (including elementary and secondary) was responsible for 476 students, on average.
Time Spent Counseling for College: On average, public school counselors spent 22 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling in 2014, while their private school counterparts spent 55 percent of their time on college counseling.
College Counseling Staff: In 2014, 30 percent of public schools reported employing at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 73 percent of private schools.
Counselor Professional Development: Thirty-seven percent of high schools reported that counselors responsible for postsecondary counseling were required to participate in related professional development. However, only 41 percent of schools with this requirement paid all costs associated with the professional development; 43 percent paid some costs.