On Admission Rates Approaching Zero

Back in 2016, opinion writer Frank Bruni wrote a satirical piece in The New York Times about how Stanford University’s admission rate had hit zero. As he opined in his piece entitled “College Admissions Shocker!,” “Cementing its standing as the most selective institution of higher education in the country, Stanford University announced this week that it had once again received a record-setting number of applications and that its acceptance rate — which had dropped to a previously uncharted low of 5 percent last year — plummeted all the way to its inevitable conclusion of 0 percent. With no one admitted to the class of 2020, Stanford is assured that no other school can match its desirability in the near future.” And while Mr. Bruni wrote this piece in good humor just a little over five years ago, after this year’s historic admissions cycle, the satirical is on the cusp of nearly becoming reality.

Harvard’s Diminishing Admission Rate Through the Years

Admission Rates, Harvard Admission Rate, Declining Admission Rates
Harvard’s admission rate fell to an all-time low this year.

You may get a kick out of this but in the world of elite college admissions, some admissions officers at schools with low single digit admit rate dub their institutions penny schools. They refer to schools with low double digit admit rates as dime schools. But in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, the dime schools became nickel schools and the nickel schools became, well, penny schools. And it’s not like the writing hasn’t been on the wall. Just take a look at the admissions statistics we compile through the years at the eight Ivy League schools. As a case example, let’s take a look at Harvard University’s diminishing admission rate through the years. For the Class of 2025, Harvard’s overall admission rate plunged to 3.43%. This same figure stood at 4.9% for the Class of 2024, 4.5% for the Class of 2023, 4.6% for the Class of 2022, 5.2% for the Class of 2021, 5.2% for the Class of 2020, 5.3% for the Class of 2019, 5.9% for the Class of 2018, 5.8% for the Class of 2017, 5.9% for the Class of 2016, 6.2% for the Class of 2015, 6.9% for the Class of 2014, 7% for the Class of 2013, 7.1% for the Class of 2012, 9% for the Class of 2011, 9.3% for the Class of 2010, 9.1% for the Class of 2009, 10.3% for the Class of 2008, 9.8% for the Class of 2007…are you getting the idea? At this pace, Harvard’s overall admission rate is going to be below 1% in no time. Admissions officers will even have to coin a new term for it…maybe it’ll be called a fraction school.

The Wanting What One Can’t Have Phenomenon

And don’t let admissions officers at these schools — who so often claim they don’t care about their admission rates or their ranking in US News & World Report — fool you. They absolutely care about their admission rates. They absolutely care about their standing in US News & World Report. If they didn’t care, the numbers wouldn’t tell the story they so vividly tell. Of course Harvard loves the fact that there’s a line out the door and people got turned away left and right. Of course Studio 54 loved the fact that there was a line out the door and people got turned away left and right. People want what they can’t have. It’s a basic tenet of psychological science. They want the super cute girl dancing as though there’s nobody else on the dance floor. They want into the members-only San Vicente Bungalows where photos are strictly forbidden and punishable by expulsion. They want into the elite universities, many of which date back to before our nation’s founding. The admission rates may continue to diminish over time — they will in fact. But the same principle that inspired the young people waiting in line to get into Harvard decades ago still holds true today.

 
 

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