The Misconceptions On College Acceptance Rates

By Sherry Zhang

Many people who are unfamiliar with academia commonly believe the lower the acceptance rate, the better the school. In other words, schools with higher acceptance rates are “bad.” However, one of the reasons why many schools have high acceptance rates is because of low student yields. These colleges know that most students they admit will not enroll in their institution. Thus, these colleges accept more people to make up for the loss. In other words, accepting more people means the school will have enough students to fill the incoming freshman class. Another reason why a college may have a high acceptance rate is simply because the school has enough space to accommodate most of the students that applied. 

Then what about the schools with lower acceptance rates? Schools only have so much space to house students. Let’s say X school only has 1,000 spots open for incoming freshmen. In 1980, the school had 2,000 applicants. That means the school’s acceptance rate in 1980 was 50%. However, in 2020, a total of 20,000 students applied to the school. The acceptance rate from 1980 to 2020 dropped by 45%—from 50% to 5%. Simply, low acceptance rates mean there are way more applications than spots available. 

Furthermore, a low acceptance rate does not necessarily indicate how good a school is. In a Forbes article, a former admission officer at Amherst College shares, “low acceptance rate, along with high scores, grades and other characteristics, indicates inputs, not outputs.” In other words, the acceptance rate of a college does not give any meaningful information on how good a school is. An acceptance rate cannot tell students how stellar a school’s undergraduate or graduate programs are. An acceptance rate cannot tell students how much research a university conducts every year. An acceptance rate cannot tell students how successful a school’s students are after graduation. The article merely suggests that acceptance rates are more of a measure of status than an indicator of the quality of education at the school. 

Instead of choosing colleges based on acceptance rates, students should learn to research their intended majors and see which academic institutions provide the best programs for it. Acceptance rates cannot fully represent a college; one number alone cannot tell the whole story.