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What Do Low College Acceptance Rates Show?

On Monday, we looked at a list of the top twenty schools with historically low acceptance rates. Remember what we saw? Two things were the conspicuous absence of public universities and the absence of many top private institutions like Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, and Tufts. Keeping an open mind is important in the college application and admission process – as we’ve discussed previously on the Top Test Prep blog, ratings and lists are useful but knowing how they are constructed is essential. So what can we learn from looking at institutions with historically low acceptance rates?

First – Academic Competitiveness

Low acceptance rates mean colleges can be selective about who comes to their school. With a large applicant pool, admission counselors can admit students who are motivated, productive, and likely to succeed in a challenging learning environment. Not only is gaining admission into these schools competitive, the work and intellectual foundation will be, too. Whether or not this means you will be in the best learning environment for your style of learning is up to you to decide.

Second – Respected Reputation

Competition starts somewhere, and for competitive schools with low acceptance rates, this is largely built from their reputation. Reputation can take years to establish and promote. In the academic world, good advertising is not enough – the product (the graduates) must show results and success in careers and future academic endeavors. Successful graduates – in and of themselves – promote and give their institution credibility.

Reputation is not everything – many schools outside of top 20 or top 100 lists, turn out astute scholars and CEO executives– but reputation does carry weight both in academic and professional worlds.

Third – Wide Popularity

If a school is academically competitive and has a respected reputation, it might still have a high acceptance rate. In those cases, colleges generally have a more self-selected type of student body. One of the driving forces in creating low acceptance rates is the large number of applicants (who flock to these schools because of their competiveness and reputation). With a large group of applicants and a limited amount of spots for the incoming class, acceptance rates are driven down – as we’ve seen happen this year. Wide popularity and name recognition are important parts of increasing the number of applicants.

The factors that create low acceptance rates are all interconnected. A competitive program without an established reputation – or a solid reputation in specialty circles, but not widespread popularity – will not create low acceptance rates. These schools with low acceptance rates tend to be famous, name-branded ones, which is also important. That does not mean students should rule out a college if its acceptance rates are higher than 20%. Low acceptance rates are one way to view schools. If you are a student who thrives in a rigorous academic environment and expects college not only to produce a solid academic foundation, but a strong alumni network and recognition on your resume and transcript – colleges with low acceptance rates might be your kind of school.



This post is titled, “What Do Low Acceptance Rates Show?” It was written by Marta Casey, a writer on Top Test Prep’s team.

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