Covid Brings All-time Low Acceptance Rates

The majority of top colleges in the U.S. have announced their acceptance rate for the class of 2026. The Ivy League schools have always been difficult to get into, but the coronavirus pandemic has made admission considerably more difficult for applicants. In addition, several U.S. universities have made SAT or ACT scores optional over the last two years, resulting in a surge in applications and record-low acceptance rates.

On the last day of March, the eight Ivy League schools — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale — released their admission statistics, with several reporting the lowest acceptance rates in their history.

According to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s admission recorded the lowest acceptance rate of 3.19 percent since it was founded in 1636, as a record number of candidates applied in the 2021-22 admission cycle. Yale and Brown also announced historic low acceptance rates, while Columbia’s acceptance rate remained constant at the previous year’s record low of 3.7 percent. Although Dartmouth reported that its acceptance rate slightly rose to 6.24 percent, it is still among the lowest in the school’s history.

However, it is not just these prestigious schools that are more difficult to get into than ever before. Many schools in the U.S. also reported record-low acceptance rates this year after adopting the test-optional policy, which allowed students to apply even without an SAT or ACT score.

Michelle McAnaney, president of college consulting firm The College Spy, told CBS, “Students who normally would self-select out of the admissions pool — they would look at the average SAT score and not apply — those kids are applying.”

College applicants across the U.S. are experiencing a steep increase in competition. Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel / Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Many independent educational consultants, according to McAnaney, noticed a greater percentage of waitlisted candidates this year, possibly indicating that institutions are having trouble estimating their yield rate — the percentage of accepted students who actually matriculate to the school.

She further noted that the trend, of selective schools becoming even more selective, has also been reported by non-Ivy League schools. For instance, Rice University in Texas and Tufts University in Massachusetts announced record-low acceptance rates of 8.56 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Future of test-optional policies

After trying test-optional policies during the peaks of the pandemic, MIT recently announced that it will require SAT or ACT scores again. The institution noted that the tests help the admissions to better evaluate applicants’ academic ability.

Stu Schmill, the dean of admissions at MIT, elaborated on the school’s decision. He wrote in his blog, “[The tests] help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.” He believes that the test requirement provides a “more equitable and transparent” admission process than test-optional policies.

In the meantime, other colleges, such as Boston University, are continuing test-optional policies or eliminating exams entirely from the admission process. For instance, starting last year, all 10 schools under the University of California system stopped accepting standardized test scores. The university system announced in February of this year that it had received a record number of applications for the 2022-2023 academic year, with a substantial increase in socioeconomic diversity.

Although the college admission process has become increasingly competitive for students, McAnaney pointed out that most universities in the U.S. still accept the majority of applicants. She noted that the problem exacerbated as “people are looking at the rankings” and subsequently applying to only those at the top 30 to 50 colleges. She said, “If you look outside them, there are wonderful hidden gems.”

Read more: How Will Test-Optional Affect Students?