Every fall, thousands of high school students and their families begin the agonizing process of applying to college. Whether families are navigating the admissions process for the first or fifth time, it’s always a journey that requires a lot of research and patience. While college enrollment has declined in recent years, throughout the 2000s and 2010s both public and private university enrollments reached record highs.
EDSmart has identified 10 colleges that have shown the largest decline in acceptance rates between the 2001 and 2020 admissions cycle. The data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Only colleges and universities with at least 1,000 applicants were included in the analysis. For each college, we’ve included offers that could make a school more attractive to applicants, from affordability to academic programs.
It is difficult to quantify the exact reasons why these colleges have experienced record growth in applications over the past 20 years. For many students over the decades, pursuing a high school diploma is a pathway to improving their careers and earning opportunities. Indeed, a 2018 College Board report found that the median annual income of workers with a bachelor’s degree was $24,900 higher than those whose highest degree was a high school diploma. Although many factors come into play in addition to level of education, such as career type and personal characteristics, the report also found that the unemployment rate for workers aged 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree has always been half the rate of high school graduates.
The growing interest in college applications may also be influenced by the widespread adoption of the Common Application, a single standardized online application form introduced in 1988. More than 900 colleges accept the Common Application, which leads to a 10% increase in applications for schools. once they have adopted this system. The common application simplifies the process for colleges and applicants, as prospective students can complete one form for multiple institutions. For high schoolers, saving time during the process can be appealing. It can also lead to applying to more schools, as they don’t need to spend extra time adding a few extra “safety” or “reaching” institutions to expand their chances. Each school on this list allows applicants to apply with the common application.
The conversation around declining acceptance rates has spurred discourse within the higher education community. Several Ivy League schools seek to undercut their admissions rates in the single digits by withholding their admissions data. Stanford University started the same practice in 2018 in hopes that students would feel less anxious about applying. Even though many institutions are enjoying growing popularity with record numbers of applications, they continue to improve their offerings, from student life to academic rigor. Read on to see the list of schools that have seen the biggest change in competitive admission rates and learn more about each institution.