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What to Know About College Acceptance Rates

We’ve all watched scenes in movies and TV shows where a high school student runs to the mailbox and discovers a large packet from their dream college. They rip it open and jump up and down when they read, “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted.”

Seeing actors portray this excitement and anxiety on the big screen is incredibly relatable. But, when you are choosing where to apply, how do you know if what you’ve accomplished in high school is enough to get you into the school of your dreams? To get an idea of your chances of being accepted, let’s look at acceptance rates—what they are and what they can tell us about different colleges.

So, what is an acceptance rate?

The acceptance rate reflects the percentage of applicants admitted to a college in a school year. Some colleges are very selective, meaning they are harder to get into and have low acceptance rates, while less selective colleges, like many four-year public colleges, have a much higher acceptance rate.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the average acceptance rate of four-year, not-for-profit colleges in fall 2021 was 73%. Public colleges had a higher acceptance rate at 78%, while private colleges averaged 70%. This is a broad glimpse of all reporting colleges, and it’s important to remember that the percentage will differ from college to college. In fall 2022, U.S. News & World Report shared that Harvard University and California Institute of Technology each had a 3% acceptance rate, while many colleges and universities across the U.S. had a 100% acceptance rate.

As you can see, acceptance rates vary widely, and they’re dependent on a variety of factors like the strength of the applicant pool, the number of applicants, the number of openings for first-time freshmen and transfer students, the admissions requirements, and the type of college. You can expect they’ll fluctuate each year, as well.

If you’re interested in applying to a school with a lower acceptance rate and are curious if you’ll meet the college admissions requirements, talk with your school’s guidance counselor. They can help you determine what you need, from your GPA and standardized test scores to your involvement in extracurricular activities and the quality of your personal essays.

What else should I look for in a college?

While the acceptance rate is certainly one factor to consider when choosing colleges to apply to, there are many other things you should consider as a prospective student, such as college size, campus culture, academic programs offered, location, and cost. Focus on finding a college that aligns with your personal goals and interests. And keep in mind, a college’s acceptance rate doesn’t necessarily reflect its quality or the educational experience it offers.

To get a sense of what to look for in a college and help you make an informed decision of where to apply, check out “Eight Things Every Student Should Know Before Choosing a College.

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