Harvard, Stanford, and Yale are harder to get into every year


Princeton head in hands
It’s harder than ever to
get into elite colleges, according to experts.


  • Early admissions decisions for the Ivy League class of
    2022 were announced in December.
  • The acceptance rate declined another year in a
  • It’s harder than ever to get into elite colleges,
    according to experts.

It was the hardest year on record for students to gain an
acceptance into the Ivy League. 

Both the early admissions acceptance rates for the class of 2022 — released in
December — and the regular decision rates for the class of 2021 — released in
March — saw declining rates.

But it’s not as shocking a fact as one might think. The
acceptance rate drops nearly every admissions cycle at elite
schools. Take Harvard and Stanford, for
example. For the class of 2001 (meaning students were
accepted in 1997) the admission rate at Stanford was 15.5%, and
the rate at Harvard was 12.3%. For the class of 2021, Stanford
posted a 4.7% acceptance rate and Harvard a 5.2% acceptance

Former Ivy League admissions directors say it’s harder than ever
to get in.

“Admissions have gotten more and more competitive in the past
decade,” Angela Dunnham, a college admissions counselor at

InGenius Prep
and former assistant director of
admissions at Dartmouth College, told Business Insider via email.
“In addition to the sheer number of applicants applying, the
expectations for candidates have increased.” 

The steady uptick of college applicants, especially at elite
schools, is stark, driven in part by the emergence of Common App,
which allows students to apply to many schools at once.

Take, for example, an article in the Harvard Crimson about the
acceptance rate for the class of 2000. “The class was chosen
among a pool of 18,190 applicants, making Harvard’s admission
rate a paltry 10.9 percent — the lowest in College history,”

The Crimson wrote.

Twenty years later, the authors of that story are likely to be
aghast that the acceptance rate has spiraled ever lower. With
more than double the applicants,
about 95% of students who applied to Harvard were rejected.

Ivy League admissions 2017BI

In addition to the sheer number of applicants which make the
field appear more competitive, the academic credentials of
students are also becoming more impressive, in part due to the
increase in international students who have begun to flood US
colleges and universities.

“I met a Korean freshman who scored a 2400/2400 on the SAT,
after taking it once,” Dunnham said. “She also was conducting
impressive research and loved debate.”

yale harvard football
Elite colleges are
becoming even more competitive.

Getty / Jim Rogash

However, there may be reason to view this lowering acceptance
rate with some skepticism, Cat McManus, a counselor
InGenius Prep
and a former assistant dean and regional
director at The University of Pennsylvania, told Business
Insider via email.

Selective colleges may have ballpark
figures they hope to achieve (and not surpass) when it
comes to the percentage of an incoming class that can be
comprised of international students, McManus explained. The
increase in international applicants, therefore, while it may
drive down the overall acceptance rate, likely has less impact
on US applicants than is sometimes believed.

“The rise in the number of international applicants to the most
selective institutions in the US has inflated the number of
overall applicants, as well as, in some cases, the GPA and
testing profiles, which makes schools appear more selective
from a purely statistical standpoint,” McManus, who was also an
admissions officer at Princeton, said.

And while in many cases it looks like GPA and standardized test
score averages are increasing, some of this should be
attributed to the test prep era, which is ubiquitous in the
college admissions process.

“Whether applicants are actually ‘stronger’ is tough to say,”
McManus said. “There is also a lot of essay ‘help’ that goes
on, both domestically and internationally.”

Still, while the increase in students utilizing test prep to
boost scores doesn’t necessarily mean these applicants are
inherently stronger students than they were a decade ago, it
does mean that average test scores are inching up, potentially
harming students who don’t have the means to pay for extra


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