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Does the High School You Attend Matter to Colleges? (And Other Juicy Nuggets That Factor into Colleg



Back in November, the ever-important 2018 State of College Admission report from the National Admissions for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) was released. The report primarily uses data collected from two annual NACAC surveys and is a terrific tool for school counselors, college admissions officers, parents and students, in helping understand the factors that go into college admissions decisions.


As the 2019 school-year winds down, and our class of 2020 dives into their college applications, I have peeled away a number meaningful data points worth acknowledging: (See the full report here.)


  • Colleges accept nearly two-thirds of first-time freshmen, on average. Translation – it is not hard to get into college. The percentage of applicants offered admission at four-year colleges and universities in the United States—referred to as the average selectivity rate—was 65.4% for fall 2016.

  • Waitlist activity increases while the likelihood off getting off the waitlist remains low. For the fall 2017 admission cycle, 40% of institutions reported using a wait list. Institutions accepted an average of 25% of all students who chose to remain on wait lists. From fall 2016 to fall 2017, the number of students offered a place on an admission waitlist increased by 12%, on average. Translation – if you are waitlisted, do not expect to get off it. However, if you are waitlisted, you do have some semblance of control. Read my suggestions for the waitlist here (April 12, 2018).

  • Admission offices identify grades, high school curriculum, and test scores as top factors for first-time freshmen. Fact – grades will always be the number one factor in determining admission to a particular college. The top factors in the admission decision were: overall high school GPA, grades in college preparatory courses, admission test scores, and strength of curriculum. Among the next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities.

  • Student-to-counselor ratio: According to US Department of Education data, in 2015-16 each public school counselor (including elementary and secondary) was responsible for 470 students, on average. In some counties, like Westchester County where I work, we are far below the national average at around 200:1. If you are a high school student in Arizona, ugh, it is approximately 900:1. Translation – if you are at a high school where you have limited access to your school counselor, you are at an unfair disadvantage.

  • Application volume increases have created a growing burden on admission office staff who evaluate prospective students for admission. According to Admission Trends Survey results, the average number of applications for each admission officer for the fall 2017 admission cycle was 791 for public institutions and 426 for privates. Translation – the Common Application and application tools like it have made it easier for students to apply to a lot more schools, along with students Fear of Not Getting In, which has put a burden on college admissions offices.

  • 22% of colleges rated the high school attended as at least moderately important in first-time freshmen admission decisions. Translation – the high school you attend, could very well factor into how admissions officers view a student’s transcript.

  • Between fall 2016 and fall 2017, colleges reported an average increase of 4 percent in the number of early-decision applicants and of 5 percent in those admitted through early decision. The number accepted through early action went up 10 percent. Among all colleges with early decision, their regular admit rate was 50.7%, but the rate for early decision was 62.3%. For colleges with early action, the overall admit rate was 64.1% and the rate for early-action applicants was 73.6%. Translation - applying through the early plans gives students a bump, in some cases a significant bump, in the selection process.

Overall translation? Grades in rigorous courses still reign supreme; colleges are seeing a deluge of applications, and applying through the early application plans gives viable candidates a better shot of getting in, especially at schools that are more selective.

The good news? The vast majority of colleges in the country accept many more students than they deny, and there are so many great colleges from which to choose. Focus on finding those right-fit schools and everything will fall into place!

Please reach out if you are looking for support and/or if you are student entering senior year and are in the Westchester County area this summer, think about our College Starter Admissions and Application Academy at the JCC in Scarsdale.

5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

August 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15

Click here for more details!

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