Is College Admission Getting Competitive? The Truth Behind the Controversy

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College Competitiveness Makes the Headlines

Over the last few years, various publications have printed articles about college admission getting competitive. For example, Newsweek printed an article in 2008 entitled “Getting In Gets Harder,” which discusses the fact that colleges across the US are getting higher numbers of applications each year, leading to a more competitive college application process. After several media sources began discussing similar stories – straight-A students who didn’t get any acceptances, high school students struggling to get the best credentials in order to up their chances – the nation grew scared. After all, college is the first stepping stone to living the American dream! How can it be that such high caliber students would get rejected from so many colleges?

Explaining the Competitiveness

The Newsweek article mentioned above explains how the competitiveness began by citing the baby boomer generation as the main cause. How can that be? After all, baby boomers are no longer in college! The Newsweek article, and other similar ones, explains that in the early 1990s, the baby boomers were having their own little “boomlets,” or children. These children, who are more in number because their parents were more in number, are now in high school or junior high school. So that’s why the number of graduating seniors is rising each year, why colleges are receiving more and more applications, and why getting accepted to the college of your choice is more and more difficult.

The Other Side of the Controversy

But is it really true that college admissions are getting more competitive? In January of 2010, the Center for Public Education studied the data to see how college admission is tougher today than it was a decade ago. The verdict? It’s not. A well-qualified applicant in 2004 would have the same chances of getting into a particular college as he or she would have in 1992. In fact, not only that, but the top ten percent of students applying to college in 2004 had a higher chance (68% vs 61%) of getting into a highly competitive college as an applicant at the same level in 1992.

So how does the study explain the data that the other headlines had been relying on? The study concludes that the high number of rejections cited in those articles probably stems from the fact that students today apply to so many more colleges than they did a decade ago.

The study had some bad news, however. It turns out that minority and low-income students have a much lower chance of getting the credentials they need (such as high SAT scores and plenty of extracurriculars) to get into a good college. In fact, only 37 percent of minority students and 38% of low-income students would have a chance of getting into those schools, compared to a 73% of high-income, non-minority students.


The Center for Public Education. “Chasing the College Acceptance Letter.”

District Administration. " Despite the Headlines, College Acceptance Is Not More Competitive."

Peterson’s College Search. “College Admission Requirements Get More Competitive.”

US News. “Rich Students Will Get More College Acceptance Letters in 2010.”

Newsweek. “Getting In Gets Harder.”

This post is part of the series: Applying to College

Applying to college can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences you’ll ever go through. This series examines different parts of the college application process, including how to write a stellar college essay and how to ace a college interview.

  1. Writing an Autobiography for a College Application
  2. Tips and Sample Prompts for Writing the Perfect College Essay
  3. Competitiveness in College Admissions: Is It Tougher to Get in Than It Used to Be?