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Lower Acceptance Rates: What Do They Mean?

It seems that every year now acceptance rates at the top colleges drop even lower. In 2014, Stanford University accepted just 5% of applicants, a record low. An article in the The New York Times noted that chances at other elite schools aren’t much better: Harvard and Yale are around 6%, Columbia and Princeton about 7%, and MIT and the University of Chicago are both at around 8%.

But what does all this mean for your chances? The good news is that great schools are still looking for the same thing: passionate, exciting applicants who stand out. So what’s the cause behind the drop?

In a quote in the same NY Times article, the former admissions dean of Pomona College offers an explanation for dropping acceptance rates: “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot…So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.” Don’t be frightened by this vicious cycle. Remember:

1) It’s not a crapshoot.

Lower acceptance rates do not mean that admissions is a crapshoot, that it’s random, that it’s a lottery, or even that your chances are that much different. A difference of a couple of percentage points is nothing in the larger picture, and nothing in the individual case. Admissions officers are still looking for the applicants that excite them; a few more applications in the stack doesn’t change this.

2) You should still apply.

Don’t give up on your top choice because you feel you have no chance. If you think you have no chance, then you simply make it so by thinking. Your chances are still the same, and if you envision yourself at the school of your dreams, and convey in your application why you would thrive there, you’ll raise your chances exponentially.

3) Your passion rules.

Greater competition doesn’t mean that the rules have changed. Admissions counselors still want to be wowed by applicants—by their uniqueness, their passion, their verve. That’s why your passion, the thing that most excites you, is still what will get you in at the best schools. Don’t lose sight of this in your applications.

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