Admission to Top Colleges: Toughest in History
Life + Money

Admission to Top Colleges: Toughest in History


Thought Harvard was tough to get into? It just got a whole lot tougher.

Many of the nation’s most elite universities recently announced the lowest admissions rates in history for freshmen entering school next fall.  Even as colleges increase tuition and send graduates into an uncertain job market, the best ones are becoming less accessible for more Americans.

Harvard’s admissions rate dropped to an all-time low of 5.9 percent, down from last year’s 6.2 percent. This is the seventh consecutive year it’s fallen. The application pool was actually slightly down by 1.9 percent, yet 100 fewer freshmen were admitted than last year. Other schools that announced their most competitive admissions rates ever include Yale (6.8 percent), Princeton (7.86 percent), Dartmouth (9.4 percent), Northwestern University (15 percent), Georgetown (16.5 percent) and Barnard College (21 percent).

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The public University of California, Berkeley, had a record number of applicants – nearly 10,000 more than last year – and admitted only 19.5 percent, down from 25.7 percent last year.


One factor driving the new competition is a rise in international applicants. The number of Chinese undergraduates in the U.S. has tripled between 2007 and 2010, and many universities have seen an uptick in students from South Korea and India. At Princeton, international students, who pay full tuition, made up 12 percent of admitted students this year. In-state students are also faced with more competition from out-of-state students, as universities look to attract those who are willing to pay higher costs.

The Daily Beast reports that the group this trend is affecting most is “unhooked” white girls, or the smart young women who have good grades and high SAT scores but lack a “hook,” such as  being a math star, concert pianist or the first in their family to attend college. With women outnumbering men at many college campuses, female applicants are having a tougher time distinguishing themselves from the rest of the crowd.

“Do [these girls] deserve to get in? Sure. Would they do well if admitted? Absolutely,” Scott Farber, the president and founder of A-List Education told The Daily Beast. “But colleges are not looking for the well-rounded kid; they want the well-rounded class. And unless you are a superstar in some area, you’re just one of thousands of smart, all-around, but unhooked white girls. It may be unfair, but that’s life.”