Warning for those used to reading only 140 characters at a time:
This post has analysis and data on Ivy League applications for the last five years, as well as on the most popular U.C. campuses and a couple of interesting alternative schools (particularly for tech and engineering students). It may feel like reading War and Peace for those of you whose reading does not generally extend beyond Twitter and text messages. On the other hand, for the labor, you will get a good overview on the trends in elite Ivy and U.C. schools, as well as free advice for saving yourself a lot of application misery–which starts with looking at the data on schools and on yourself. For more, read on.
For some things, the past is no longer such a great predictor of the future–the weather, for example. I just came back from ten days in the Sierra Nevada and the weather reminded me of the monsoon: thunder, lightning and rain daily, with green grass in the arid ghost town of Bodie–in July. Go figure.
For other things, the past is still a good predictor of the future–take college applications as an example, in which the forecast is for admissions to be incrementally tougher every year–if you are going to the most competitive schools. If you are not, relax and enjoy the application process (As much as possible. Think about it as a challenge, as an opportunity for growth, as . . . a lot of work).
Some Examples That Show the Trends (and Why Averages are not Necessarily for the Average Applicant)
Turning to some specifics for this year, the tale is pretty much the same as it has been for over a decade: if you want to go to one of the super select colleges, the going is tough and tougher. Stanford, for example, came close to breaking into the 4% admit range this year, dropping to an all-time low of 5.05% of applicants admitted. Of course, they do have a relatively small undergraduate population and are a worldwide brand pretty much on par with Disneyland, which means that your average 4.0 GPA can expect to be rejected, but . . . it’s even worse when you look at their average GPA and test scores and realize that they have under 8,000 undergrads and a very full and vibrant athletic program, among other things, which means for the average student, the GPA and test scores listed are not really averages for the average applicant.
Why? Because those average numbers are skewed by hundreds of athletes, many of whom (but not all, for sure) have somewhat lower GPA and test scores. And special categories for admits are not just for athletes. For those who are upset at this, I believe this is actually fair–for one simple reason: no money, no university. Universities need to build a happy alumni and athletics are a big part of brand and of donations, and these donations and the happy supporters with their fond memories of tailgating, et al, pay for all kinds of things, including new facilities, scholarships athletic and otherwise . . . and not only that, many kids who excel athletically but are somewhat underperforming academically for admission to the elite schools they get to attend will still go on to to exceptional work as adults.
And special admits are not just for jocks. A math prodigy who is mediocre at other things (yep, they exist) may also jump past an accomplished generalist when it comes to admits. And a high performing kid from a rough neighborhood may also get a boost–which is okay by me. It’s fair play for universities to have special categories for everything from athletic branding to social justice. Their game, their rules. This is true in many areas of life. Your task is to decide whose game to play.
So getting back go forecasting and data for this year, one easy prediction for your application experience is this: if you are less concerned with brand and just want a good education, you have no worries–last year I had multiple clients with C+ averages make it into multiple universities, and clients in the solid B range doing very well with multiple accepts to multiple well-known brands–not in the Ivies or Stanford of course, but getting accepted into a broad range of good schools, public and private.
It’s all about finding a broad range of colleges that will allow you to fulfill your ultimate ends and settling on a good list for your final applications, then having good supplemental materials. Turning to one of the other popular options in California as a more sane option than Stanford, U.C. Berkeley had roughly a 17% acceptance rate for fall 2015 (still bad, but compared to the Cardinal, this looks very reasonable).
Your Takeaway in Only 633 Characters:
Before I get to this year’s data but let me give you my takeaway for this whole post now:
To avoid misery, create good goals and keep those goals in mind when planning for factors that you cannot control (like what the colleges are looking for to fill specific categories this year), without obsessing about fairness. And be sure that you do not focus only on getting into HYPSM. These are great schools and offer unique opportunities for their students, but so do most respectable colleges. And finally, use the CollegeAppJungle cushion formula when creating your college list: for every Stanford or top Ivy on your list, have one school for which you are average and one school for which you are above average. You then can reach for your dreams, with a safety net.
Admissions Data for 2015 and Beyond
Okay, that’s enough of the preparatory remarks already; here’s quick rundown of some recent admissions data:
Pretty Scary Data: Ivy League Results for the 2014-2015 application season (these students will be enrolling for fall semester, 2015-in a couple of months, in other words).
30,397 applied; 8.5% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 30,291 applications; 8.6% admitted–see what I mean by incrementally more difficult each year–this is pretty consistent throughout what follows.)
36,250 applied; 6.1% admitted
(2013-2014: 32,952 applications; 6.94% admitted)
41,907 applied; 14.9% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 43,041 applications; 15.2% admitted)
20,504 applied; 10.3% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 19,235 applications; 11.5% admitted)
37,307 applied; 5.3% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 34,295 applications; 5.9% admitted)
37,267 applied; 9.9% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 35,788 applications; 9.9% admitted)
27,290 applied; 6.99% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 26,641 applications; 7.28% admitted)
30,237 applied; 6.49% admitted–making Yale a bit of an outlier as their numbers softened slightly this year.
(2013-2014 data: 30,932 applications; 6.25% admitted)
And for you uber-STEMers, here is M.I.T:
18,306 applied; 8% admitted
(2013-2014 data: 18,356 applied; 7.9% admitted)
The numbers above could be described as ranging from tough to terrifying, if you are obsessed with the Ivy League and M.I.T. But keep in mind that there are up to a thousand decent to superb colleges in the Americas, particularly if you break them down by schools or majors (e.g. Colorado College of Mines, the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan, among others, Oh Engineers). Also be aware when assessing data that all colleges must estimate how many of their admits will actually choose to attend, which affects their admits–this is called yield, and I have written about this here: Why Yield Still Matters. Ivy League colleges have very high yield, relatively speaking, and so have an even lower level of admits compared to schools with lower yield.
Of course, if you are not totally obsessed with the Ivy League, this data is merely interesting, and using it, along with, say, a scattergram from Naviance, you can do a cost-benefit analysis based on your chances of admission. I say, Go for it, given that your average app costs only 50-75 dollars, but have a healthy list of non-super-selective colleges, guided by a healthy perspective on why you want to go to college and what you expect to get from it.
Compare the last two years’ data to a three year trend that takes us from 2013 back to 2011:
Brown–2011: 8.70%; 2012: 9.60%; 2013: 9.16%
Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013: 6.89%
Cornell–2011: 17.95; 2012: 16.2%; 2013: 15.15%
Dartmouth–2011: 10.14%; 2012: 9.79; 2013: 10.05
Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%
Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012: 7.86%; 2013: 7.29%
U Penn–2011: 12.26%; 2012: 12.32; 2013:10.05
Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%
And here is data for M.I.T: 2011: 9.6%; 2012: 8.9%; 2013:8.2%; 2014: 7.7%
M.I.T’s West Coast competitor, Cal Tech, had 11% admitted in 2013, 8% for 2014, for you STEMers who need another point of comparison. I will update with this year’s data for CT when I get it.
The trend is clear: steadily down for the most competitive schools, and the seeming upward trend in a couple of cases may be due to the fact that they admit more because more students use them for a backup school, choosing to attend another school after admissions offers go out–universities have to calculate this into the admits, much like an airline figuring out how to slightly overbook flights–the difference being that, if a school misses their admit/yield target, they either lose money when they under enroll, or have to find a way to house and provide classes to their excess new students–U.C. Berkeley had a bit of a fiasco with yield some years back and had freshman students living off of cots in rec rooms and hallways of dorms for quite awhile. See my post on Yield, above, for more on yield.
If the current trend continues, the top three Ivies will all be under a 5% admit rate a year or so before the next Winter Olympics roll around. Fear not, however, for I will conclude with some recommendations for dealing with this in a moment–but before I do . . . . let’s get to this:
Getting back to REALLY Scary Data: Stanford
Stanford–2011: 7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69% 2014: 42,167 applicants; 5.07% admitted–and in 2015, only 5.05%, or 2,144 out of 42,487 applicants were admitted.
As I said, really close to that 4% barrier and really likely to break it this year, based on the trend. They could decide to forestall this by adjusting and making some space for a slightly larger freshman class, but nothing currently suggest this will happen. Stanford is the go-to destination for today’s Future Masters of the Universe, really–anybody who wants to launch a good STEM career has Stanford at or near the top of their college list. So expect yield at Stanford to stay high, and for the Cardinal to drop below 5% during your application season as Stanford turns down many students who look perfect in terms of numbers. Other factors, like essays and extracurriculars will play in important role in application results here. So will institutional needs.
Inconsistent Admission Results
I did have six of my clients be admitted to Stanford in 2013-2014, which was a new high for me, but two of them were outstanding female athletes as well as good students, and the others were nearly perfect, with outstanding essays and interesting backgrounds. This year, so far three have reported admissions, but I have only had formal reports back from about 70% of my clients as of July, so I hold out hope for those who may still be too giddy to respond to my June e-mail request for results and decisions.
I also had other clients who did not get into Stanford, some of whom were admitted into places like Harvard and Yale, and of course those who had admits to both/and. My Stanford admits were not admitted to some of the Ivy League schools on their list while being admitted to others. The upshot on this is simple: you cannot count on admission to any specific school in the usual short list of top universities–so you should widen your application list. Do some deep breathing. Remember that life is not about what college sticker you put on your car.
Have a Good Backup Plan
Let’s start with what West Coast applicants applying to the Ivy League think of as “backup schools:” U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. (Personally I find the idea that the U.C.’s are somehow second-rate to be hilarious. Berkeley has been ranked as the top school in the world overall by some ratings systems–not that I am all that impressed by ratings, which usually focus on incomes of graduates and a bunch of less clear metrics, none of which guarantee a good outcome for any individual. But back to our topic . . .)
U. C. Berkeley–2011: 25.54%; 2012: 21.13%; 2013: 20.83%; 2014: 17.3% admit rate, with 12,795 admitted for fall 2014 out of 73,771 applicants; of these, 65.6% were California residents and 4,401 were out-of-state students; this year’s admits had a weighted average GPA of 4.18, ACT composite average of 31 and SAT reading of 677, Math of 703 and Writing of 691.
Berkeley Update for fall 2015 enrollment: 78,918 freshman/1st year applicants, 13,321 admitted for a 16.9% admit rate, a new low. Yes, a large, “state” school with many applicants and an incrementally more difficult admissions rate, but a much better admit rate than in the Ivies. Llike the Ivies, the trend is toward tougher admissions, and the drop in admits at Berkeley is even steeper over recent years than at most other schools–a result of the Ivies, et al, having such low rates of admission that more and more students are dropping out of the Ivy League app race and going straight for the great public universities. The average unweighted GPA for these admits was 3.91 with an average ACT of 31 and an average SAT of 2093. For transfers, Berkeley had 17,239 applicants, 93% of whom came from California community/junior colleges; 3,763 or 21.8% were offered admissions this year; compare that to about 23% transfer admits last year and the theme of incrementally increasing difficulty reappears here as well.
U. C. L. A.–2011: 25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10; 2014: 18.23% admit rate, with 15,778 admitted out of 86,537 applicants–4,110 of these admits coming from out-of-state. Weighted average GPA for U.C.L.A. in 2014 was 3.94. For a complete look at U.C.L.A.’s test average (SAT/ACT) and other data up through 2014, which is rendered in more detail than Berkeley, see this: U.C.L.A. Averages.
U.C.L.A. Fall 2015 Update: 17.3% admitted, including 16,027 freshman admits out of 92,722 applicants. This is a pretty good jump downward in admits and upward in applicants for U.C.L.A. U.C.L. A. also admitted 4,905 out of 20,063 transfer students (mostly J.C. transfers). Again, you see a relatively easier admissions challenge relative to the Ivies, but also a relatively steep decline in admits in recent years.
Some Other Schools to Look At
This will be more focused on STEM majors, not because I think STEM is the only way to go (far from it), but rather because so many want a STEM major, and it provides an easy way to focus on a small selection of the thousands of colleges in North America and beyond.
University of Washington
Why not, STEMmers and others? For you STEM folks who think that Berkeley or Stanford are the only way to go to get a foot in the door of the West Coast Tech Industry, you might have heard of those guys at Amazon and Microsoft up there in the Seattle area (Of the latter, I know, I know, so Old School, but still–one of the biggest and most important tech companies in the world.) Not to mention those biotech companies and internet companies like Zillow, Expedia, et al and so forth. Specifically of interest to you computer science and programming folks, U.W.’s Comp Sci school has a truly fantastic new building and a large degree of protected funding dedicated to Computer disciplines–a good thing in today’s challenging world of educational finances. For more on that, look here: U Washington Computer Sciences.
Here’s a quick look at UW data:
2012: 26,138 applications, 16,679 offered (55% acceptance rate) with a yield of 6.225; 2013: 30,200 applications, 16,679 accepted (59% acceptance rate) and a yield of 6,049; 2014–Applied 31,611, Accepted 17,451 (55%) Yield 6,361 or 36.4%.
2015 data is pending as of July, 2015–a relaxed approach from a university that is pretty relaxed compared to the Ivies and Berkeley.
Looks doable, doesn’t it? Of course, some majors will be far more challenging to get into–like those in the computer disciplines–but still not even nearly as tough as the Ivies, Stanford, or the U.C.’s, especially Berkeley, if you are a STEMmer. Of course, there is some rain, but the good coffee and access to excellent salmon offset that . . .
If you haven’t heard of this place, they know it well in Silicon Valley. And while it is tougher than Berkeley and far tougher than Washington, its data shows that it is a good alternative school for those convinced that the Ivies are the Cat’s Pajamas. Here some data:
2013: 3,539 applicants; 18% admitted; 2014: 3,678 applicants; 524 admitted (14.2% admit rate); as of July, I am still waiting for HM to report stats for fall, 2015 enrollment. One additional point–more than two men apply for every woman who applies to HM (2,588 men for fall 2014 vs. 1,090 women), but the number of women who were admitted in the last available class (fall 2014) was 255 vs. 269 for the men. So the advantage is to you ladies. Though the admit total is admittedly small in both cases.
H.M is a beautiful, small school in a Southern California setting (807 undergraduate students last year), and while both private and expensive, has pretty generous financial aid (32,000 has been the average aid package in recent years, according to HM, apparently an upgrade from the old HM 25 k package). If you can pay for an out-of-state public school, you can likely afford HM. The steep recent decline in admits does suggest that HM has been discovered, with a rising rate of out-of-state applicants, but still: worth adding if you have some space on your target school list and are interested in a small school.
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
One of my favorite, small, public colleges and also a favorite of Silicon Valley employers, as well as companies like Bechtel, Webcor, Kiewit, et al. Look em’ up, if you are curious, Oh engineering types. The school is well-known for programs ranging from Architecture to Electrical Engineering, has a highly ranked business school and a number of very strong humanities programs. Here’s some CPSLO data:
2013: 40,402 applications, 13,939 accepted (35% accepted) with an average wieghted GPA of 3.96, ACT composite average of 29 and SAT 1 average of 1311. 2014: 51,707 applicants, 14,749 admitted (28%-this is a record low for CPSLO), with a weighted GPA of 3.97 on average and SAT Reading and Math of 1318–the ACT composite was 29. Fall 2015 Update: 46,799 applied; 14,386 admitted; 4.0 GPA average (weighted); ACT average of 30; SAT Reading and Math average of 1332.
Cal Poly has (finally) started to offer more detailed information on student data by fields of study–click here for information by school: Cal Poly Data Breakdown.
Your Takeaway: Diversity, Diversity, Diversity–and a somewhat longer list than the old “10 is the max” standard.
As in recent years, the takeaway for this is to develop a longer list of target schools and add some diversity. I suggest 12-15 as a minimum on your target list, not the old ten maximum list.
After all, it’s the 21st Century, Friends, and as you can see, the admit rates at my alternate schools are also declining, a trickle-down effect of both increased expenses at some of the more popular schools and the very low likelihood of admissions to the most competitive schools–students and parents are getting the message and are looking for the hidden gem or overlooked schools like the few I showed you in this post.
So look for the overlooked, look across borders and over the sea, as well as in your backyard. Don’t limit your search to the United States.
As in recent years, I strongly encourage students to look at Canada–the University of British Columbia, U of Toronto and McGill come immediately to mind, and are cheaper on average than going out of state within the U.S. A West-Coast flight to Vancouver, or an East Coast flight to Toronto is actually pretty affordable, so parents can visit with ease, if necessary, and Canada is on average a safer place to live than the U.S., even if they do have more guns per capita. Must be that relaxed and friendly attitude.
And don’t take the various university rankings too seriously, even if you are a STEM person, which some of the best known university rankings weight over other factors (money being the other dominant metric). Nobody knows how to measure the real value of an education, and there is a degree to which the Ivies, particularly Yale, Harvard and Princeton, demonstrate a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to income–income and some other stuff that is used to rank universities does not necessarily reflect the quality of your undergrad education. Having said that, you might want to check out international rankings for British and Irish universities, and check out some specialty programs, like the accelerated medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland–an example only if you want to be a surgeon, of course.
Moving back to the role income plays in university rankings, a school from a western state, particularly if it has a smaller population, will obviously have folks with lower incomes–it’s cheaper to live there and more of the students from, say University of Washington or Oregon will be from those states and likely continue to live in the Northwest, which has a great standard of living, but lower average incomes than, say, New York or Mass. If you went to school in Seattle, but took a job in Cupertino, your income would reflect that.
Keep that in mind and ask what you want from your college experience–a good job is huge, but a good experience is as well, and it starts with having a good list of backup schools to ease the stress of applications. Good luck and come back soon.