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Research Suggests Admissions Competition May Be Overblown

October 27, 2009

by Agnes Jasinski

It may not be more difficult to get into the college of your choice these days. In fact, at least half of the nation's colleges are actually less competitive than they were over the last 50 years, according to an expansive research project published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The effort, conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby, an economist at Stanford University, shows that only a small number of private colleges have become more competitive over the last several decades, and that a more substantial number are actually less competitive. The study looked at data from 1955 through today and focused on information on SAT scores rather than the anecdotal evidence we've come to accept on whether it's tougher to get into college. Hoxby claims that students' choices about where they go to college today are based more on the specific characteristics of that college, such as the study body or the resources available to them at a particular school, rather than its location and distance from home. That means some schools saw more applications - often smaller, private schools - while others - often larger, public institutions - have seen a decrease in applicants.

It also means students are spending more to go to college, or requiring more financial aid to do so, since they're going out of state for their educations. An article in Inside Higher Education today suggests that the typical student shouldn't be concerned about rising admissions selectivity, but rather another finding of the study - falling standards of achievement. Students are less prepared than ever to go to college, despite much attention on getting high school students thinking about higher education earlier and earlier.

So how do you explain recent data from reputable organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling that show declining acceptance rates at four-year colleges? Hoxby says her data looks at the big picture, which shows that traditionally selective private schools have and will remain selective as more students leave their hometowns for more elite institutions. But most students shouldn't focus on the idea that college is impossible to get into. Simply put, it isn't - according to this round of data, of course.

Check out our college search tool to find schools that fit your specific interests, whether you're hoping to attend school in a particular state or look for colleges with the programming you're interested in.


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