It’s college application season – that nail-biting period when millions of high school seniors are busy applying to colleges and universities all across America.
They are not just preparing for college admissions, of course. Students and their families also contemplate the ever-increasing costs of college.
For both U.S. and international students, the entire college admissions and financial aid process is a massive amount of work and stress.
There are essays to be written, letters of recommendation to be secured, and grade transcripts to be sent, not to mention possibly taking last-minute college admissions exams, such as the SAT or ACT.
There are scholarships to be researched, deadlines to be met, and even campus visits to be made. Families will have to fill out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and perhaps the CSS Profile, too.
Keeping tabs on everything is practically a full-time job. At the very least, it’s an organizational feat requiring spreadsheets, calendars, reminders, notifications, email tracking, and more.
While navigating the college admissions process, students are trying to stay on top of their coursework, maintain good grades in their regular, honors, or AP classes, juggle sports or extracurricular activities, and keep up with passion projects, such as volunteer work or community service.
As a Mom of a 17-year-old college-bound daughter who is now completing her college applications, I know the stress and pressure that teens and their parents face. I also have two older kids who’ve graduated from college – and my husband and I are college graduates. So this isn’t our first rodeo.
Additionally, because of my work as an author and Money Coach, I’ve written several books on college admissions and paying for college.
Therefore, I have a bit more perspective than most people.
Based on my personal and professional experience, I know that parents and their students often share two primary concerns:
Will the student get into the school of their dreams?
How are we going to pay for it?
Read on to learn about some crazy college admissions statistics and facts about paying for college that may help ease some of your worries.
Over 80% of colleges in the U.S. admit over 50% of applicants.
Read that statistic again: It tells you that the vast majority of colleges and universities in America – more than 8 out of 10 schools – say “Yes” to more than half of all the students who apply.
So don’t freak out and think you or your child won’t get accepted anywhere.
I know you’re used to seeing the crazy low admit rates at Ivy League schools or prestigious institutions, such as Duke, MIT, Stanford, or the University of Chicago. But the truth is, getting into most colleges is less competitive than the top 25 or 50 schools in the U.S.
There are nearly 1,700 nonprofit four-year colleges and universities in America. Even a school ranked in the top 100 is still a very good school. And frankly, the educational difference between a school ranked, at say 30, versus a school ranked at 100 is not as stark as it may seem.
College is about what the student makes it in terms of taking advantage of all the resources and opportunities on any given campus.
Just make sure you or your child is applying to a mix of reach, target, and safety schools, and they’ll be fine. They will definitely get in somewhere, and it will wind up being a place where they can thrive.
Ivy League schools admit less than 8% of applicants, but they meet 100% of your financial need.
Even though I just basically told you – in so many words – to not just focus on the ultra-selective top 25 colleges, I realize that many high-achieving students still have big aspirations. And so do many parents.
I get it. My daughter has a couple of Ivies on her college admissions list, and we’ll see how it goes.
But we’re both extremely aware of the long-shot odds of admission because here’s the reality: It’s a crapshoot to get into any of the 9 Ivy League colleges these days. It doesn’t matter if you or your kid is the Valedictorian with an impressive 4.0 GPA and a perfect 1600 SAT score. The numbers are simply NOT in your favor from an admissions standpoint.
Case in point: For the Class of 2027, the Ivy League colleges had acceptance rates that ranged from 3.4% at Harvard to about 8% at Cornell. In other words, these schools REJECT more than 90% of all students who apply – even the very talented ones who could definitely do the work.
But let’s say your kid has the good fortune to actually be admitted to an Ivy. You probably shouldn’t be overly concerned about costs. In fact, you should probably be jumping for joy because you likely hit the college jackpot, financially speaking.
Ivy League schools (and certain top, elite colleges like Stanford) have huge endowments and extremely generous financial aid packages. These institutions all cover 100% of demonstrated financial need for admitted students.
In fact, several of them have “no loan” pledges – meaning they only dole out scholarships, institutional grants, and work-study awards. Among no-loan colleges, their aid doesn’t even include loans, so students can graduate debt-free.
Case in point: Columbia covers 100% of demonstrated financial need for all four years of attendance. For students attending Columbia in the 2023-2024 school year, tuition is free for all students from families coming from families with incomes of less than $150,000. Furthermore, if your family’s income is less than $66,000 a year, parents are not expected to pay anything toward the cost of a student’s attendance (that includes tuition, fees, room, and board).
As a reference, the total cost to attend Columbia in 2023-2024 was a whopping $85,200. So you can see how much money this Ivy League school is doling out to support families financially. The school says it’s providing $250 million in financial aid for its students.
Stanford University accepts less than 5% of applicants, but over 20% of admitted students come from families with annual incomes under $125,000.
Since I mentioned Stanford, it’s worth noting that not all of the students attending this celebrated institution come from uber-wealthy families. Again, the school does an outstanding job of providing financial support to those who need it.
That’s a good thing, too, since tuition and fees alone totaled $62,484 at Stanford for the 2023-2024 academic year. Nonetheless, thanks to its very generous financial aid policy, the school ranks highly among U.S. News’ Best Value Schools.
At elite liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst, over 50% of students receive need-based financial aid, averaging over $50,000 per student.
Research institutions aren’t the only ones with terrific financial aid packages. You can find great financial support at the country’s top liberal arts programs as well.
Be sure to take a close look at these schools and add some to your college list if they fit you academically.
Only 9% of colleges nationwide have admission rates under 25%.
I’ll put this statistic another way: out of the roughly 1700 colleges and universities in America, only about 150 of them let in fewer than 25% of all applicants. So why put all your energy into exclusively chasing colleges with ultra-low admit rates?
As mentioned previously, the vast majority of colleges have admit rates above 50%. Adding some of these takes the pressure off.
Their average in-state acceptance rate is over 75%.
Is your kid thinking of going to a college or university in the state where you live? You’ve definitely stacked the odds in your favor. Public state universities are required by law to admit in-state applicants who meet minimum requirements.
All of these vary across the country, of course, and some schools are more selective than others. But generally speaking, going in-state as a resident gives you an admissions advantage over out-of-state applicants.
MIT admits only 7% of applicants, but over 90% of undergraduates receive financial aid, averaging more than $50,000 each.
Do you have a son or daughter whose heart is set on attending MIT?
Again, it’s one of the schools that is hyper-competitive to get into, but if they get in, expect generous financial support.
The national average admission rate for 4-year colleges is 65.4%. Far more say “Yes” than “No.”
And guess what? Once your child is accepted, many schools will offer tuition discounts through scholarships, grants, or institutional aid that does not have to be repaid.
This means you won’t be paying the sticker price or the published rate that you see on a college’s website. Your out-of-pocket costs will be far less than the stated tuition price.
Less than 1% of U.S. colleges have admission rates under 10%.
Even top schools admit thousands to create the class they want each year. But again, the challenge for students and parents is to break out of thinking that a college-bound first-year student should only be applying to schools with sub-10% admit rates.
Sure, you may get an ego boost and feel like your child accomplished something great. But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Find a school that is a good academic, social, and financial fit – one that offers the curriculum, community, and style of learning that matches the student’s needs.
Over two-thirds of colleges use “holistic” reviews.
This means that grades and test scores are not the only factors in a student’s college admissions review. Extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations also count.
So don’t despair if you don’t have the highest class rank or over-the-top grades and test scores. Colleges really are looking at the complete student and all of their attributes in and outside the classroom.
In summary, applying for college and thinking about how you will pay for higher education can be an anxiety-inducing process for both students and parents.
But putting the numbers in perspective can reassure you that there are plenty of great college options with reasonable admit rates and financial aid.
Hopefully, some of these surprising statistics about the college admission process bring you some mental relief – or at least take some of the anxiety out of the equation as your family prepares for the next chapter in your student’s life.