A common refrain we’ve heard for many years in the world of highly selective college admissions goes like this: “It gets harder and harder each year to get in.” And it’s not like the people who sing this refrain are looney-tunes. They just happen to be incorrect. It does not in fact get harder and harder to get into America’s elite colleges with each successive year — such a a statement only serves to boost anxiety surrounding the admissions process and perpetuate a misconception. While admission rates do tend to drop each year (though this year might prove to be an exception!), declining admit rates do not — in themselves — indicate it’s more difficult to get into an Ivy League or other highly selective institution. Rather, as we have long argued on the pages of our college admissions blog, elite colleges are just getting better and better each year at inspiring unqualified applicants to apply. And the more students who apply — irrespective of their qualifications — invariably the lower the admit rates will fall. But, to go to an extreme to make our point, more C students in an elite college’s applicant pool doesn’t make it more difficult for an A student to earn admission to said college.
Elite Colleges Buy Students’ Names to Market to Them
A November 5, 2019 piece by Douglas Belkin for The Wall Street Journal entitled “For Sale: SAT-Takers’ Names. Colleges Buy Student Data and Boost Exclusivity” shines a bright lantern on how our nation’s colleges will market themselves to America’s high school students, including by buying lists of SAT and ACT test-takers from College Board and ACT, respectively. As Belkin writes, “For 47 cents, the College Board will sell an individual’s information, feeding admissions frenzy.” They sure will. Belkin is spot on and his piece is worthy of a read.
Elite Colleges Often Argue They Only Market to Qualified Applicants
And when admissions officers at our nation’s elite colleges say they don’t market themselves to students who don’t have a shot on God’s green earth of ever earning admission, know that admissions officers — like all human beings — don’t always tell it like it is. In fact, in a piece for The Dartmouth entitled “Admissions director asserts College does not market unfairly,” Lauren Adler writes, “Dartmouth and other elite colleges and universities across the country hope to admit top students. But according to a Nov. 5 Wall Street Journal article, some of these institutions will market themselves to weaker applicants as part of the numbers game of acceptance rates in college admissions. When asked about this practice, Dartmouth’s director of admissions Paul Sunde said that Dartmouth does not engage in it. He also argued that other schools likely do not engage in it as well.”
But the Truth is Elite Colleges Will Indeed Market to Unqualified Students to Boost Allure
And that, of course, is nonsense — not that Dartmouth is any more guilty of this practice than any other elite university in America (all colleges are businesses!). Indeed each and every highly selective institution in America engages in this practice. Because why? To lower their admit rates. To make their institutions seem even more desirable than they already are. To boost their US News & World Report college ranking. To build that long line outside the coveted nightspot so everyone knows it’s the hottest spot in town. And so, the next time you receive a brochure from an elite institution in your mailbox, don’t get so excited. Keep your expectations in check. It doesn’t mean that school wants necessarily to admit your child. It means that school wants your child to apply.