NACAC Report Sheds Light on College Admission Process

Shanda Ivory

Arlington, VA (Nov. 8, 2018) — How do colleges build a freshman class? The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) provides answers to that question in its annual State of College Admission report, offering students, parents, and others a peek at the various factors weighed when reviewing applications.

Now in its 15th year, the report continues to emphasize the importance of academic performance in the admission process. Altogether, colleges on average accept nearly two-thirds of first-time freshmen, with students’ grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weighing more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending.

But other factors also play a role. For example, 22 percent of colleges rated the high school a student attended as at least moderately important in admission decisions for first-time freshmen. And roughly half of all colleges attributed some level of influence to alumni relations when accessing the applications of such students.  

“This report reminds us that college admission decisions are highly contextualized, institution-specific endeavors that make simplistic descriptions difficult,” said NACAC CEO Joyce Smith. “Admission officers consider a wide range of factors when reviewing applications. Understanding the context in which a student’s record exists is an important component of evaluating what might make a student successful in higher education.”

Other noteworthy findings include:

  • Early Decision and Early Action Activity Increases: Between Fall 2016 and Fall 2017, colleges reported an average increase of 4 percent in the number of Early Decision applicants and 5 percent in ED admits. The number of Early Action applications increased by 9 percent and the number of students accepted through EA increased by 10 percent.
  • Wait List Activity Increases; Likelihood of Wait List Acceptance Remains Low: For the Fall 2016 admission cycle, 40 percent of institutions reported using a wait list. Institutions accepted an average of 25 percent of all students who chose to remain on wait lists. From Fall 2016 to Fall 2017, the number of students offered a place on an admission wait list increased by 12 percent, on average.

The report also delves into the factors colleges consider when admitting transfer and international students and examines student-to-counselor ratios and college counseling activities in US high schools. The analysis which offers an update to NACAC’s State-by-State Student-to-Counselor Ratio Report reveals the average public school counselor is now assigned 470 students and juggles myriad professional responsibilities unrelated to postsecondary advisement.

“As we move to and through another college admission cycle, the need to hire, train, and equip school counselors and college advisers remains a top priority,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, the ability of counselors to support all students who need their help continues to be constrained by high ratios and diminished resources.”

Download NACAC’s 2018 State of College Admission report.


The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), founded in 1937, is an organization of more than 15,000 professionals from around the world dedicated to serving students as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to maintaining high standards that foster ethical and social responsibility among those involved in the transition process, as outlined in the association's Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

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