2020 College Acceptance Rates: The Latest Admissions Trends

Padya Paramita

2020 College Acceptance Rates: The Latest Admissions Trends

It’s that time of the year again. Students who applied to college this admissions cycle have spent the last couple of weeks anxiously checking their email and clicking links in various portals to hopefully find good news awaiting them. Most colleges are done sending out their letters and acceptance rates have started to be released! Unsurprisingly, the top schools have continued to be incredibly competitive, while other colleges that have previously been considered target options are more selective than ever.

You may have just applied and gotten your decisions, or you’re preparing to take on the process and want to know how tough the admissions landscape currently looks. In this blog, we have outlined the 2020 college acceptance rates, analyzed this year’s trends in admission compared to the past, and gone over how you can prepare your application for top schools, especially if you are applying in the time of COVID-19.

2020 College Acceptance Rates

The table below outlines the 2020 college acceptance rates for the top national universities and liberal arts colleges that have been publicized so far, arranged in order of most selective to least selective this year. We will continue updating the table as more schools announce how competitive the pool has been for the class of 2024.

School 2020 Acceptance Rate
Harvard University 4.9%
Princeton University 5.6%
Columbia University 6.1%
University of Chicago 6.2%
Yale University 6.5%
Brown University 6.9%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7.3%
Duke University 7.7%
University of Pennsylvania 8.1%
Bowdoin College 8.3%
Dartmouth College 8.8%
Johns Hopkins University 8.8%
Swarthmore College 8.8%
Northwestern University 9%
Vanderbilt University 9%
Colby College 9.4%
Rice University 10%
Barnard College 10.9%
Amherst College 12%
Washington University in St. Louis 13%
New York University 15%
Georgetown University 15%
Tufts University 15%
University of Southern California 16%
University of Notre Dame 16.5%
Boston University 18.5%
Northeastern University 19%
Wellesley College 19%
Wesleyan University 19.8%
Georgia Institute of Technology 20%
University of Virginia 20.6% (in-state: 33%, out-of-state: 15%)
Emory University 20.7%
Boston College 24%
University of Florida 29%
Villanova University 29%
Macalester College 37%
University of Georgia 46%

Analysis of the 2020 College Acceptance Rates

Continuing the pattern of their shocking results from last year, Colby College, Duke University, and Boston University are all institutions that have kept up their competitive streaks. Barnard College — which is ranked number 25 on the US News list of liberal arts colleges — is a big surprise this year with its admit rate of 10.9%. This number has even surpassed the rate at Amherst College, which is ranked the second-best liberal arts school! 

The top schools are celebrating diversity in their new classes. Princeton announced that 17% of the admitted students are first-generation, while 61% of admits are students of color. At Harvard, 30% of accepted applicants identify as black or Latino, while 25% are Asian American. Women make up 52% of Harvard’s Class of 2024 and 20% of the admits qualified for federal Pell grants for low-income students. At Tufts, 50.1% of admitted US students are people of color, while the number of first-generation students admitted increased by 30%. 

Cornell University has joined Stanford University in the list of colleges which will no longer publicize their acceptance rates. But, both of these universities are consistently selective (last year Cornell admitted 10.6% of students, while Stanford accepted 4.7% of applicants in 2018) and you can bet that this year is no different. 

Pomona College currently states that it admitted 745 students without revealing the number of applications received. Considering last year 726 applicants were accepted and the acceptance rate was 7%, we can presume that this year’s data is similar.

The Latest Admissions Trends

Now that you’ve gone over the list of the 2020 college acceptance rates, you might be wondering how these numbers compare to last years. The following table highlights how some of the most competitive schools fared this year alongside how selective they were in 2019. 

School 2020 Acceptance Rate 2019 Acceptance Rate
Harvard University 4.9% 4.5%
Princeton University 5.6% 5.8%
Columbia University 6.1% 5.1%
Yale University 6.5% 5.9%
Brown University 6.9% 6.6%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7.3% 6.6%
Duke University 7.7% 7.7%
University of Pennsylvania 8.1% 7.4%
Bowdoin College 8.3% 8.9%
Dartmouth College 8.8% 7.9%
Johns Hopkins University 8.8% 7.7%
Swarthmore College 8.8% 8.7%
Northwestern University 9% 9%
Vanderbilt University 9% 9.1%
Colby College 9.4% 9.5%
Rice University 10% 9%
Barnard College 10.9% 13.7%
Amherst College 12% 13%

It’s quite interesting to note that for many of the Ivies and highest tier schools, the 2020 college acceptance rates are higher than last year’s. Some of the changes are comparatively insignificant, such as Brown’s going up to 6.9% from 6.6%, or Harvard changing to 4.9% from 4.6%. But some of the changes are more noticeable — for example, Columbia going up to 6.1% from 5.1%, MIT moving to 7.3% from 6.6%, and Yale’s change from 6.5% to 5.9%. The increased rate for Yale is less surprising, as the university is on its fourth year of expanding its freshman class size since the opening of the Paul Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges.

One of the reasons behind this change might be schools’ anticipation of students’ reactions to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Many students, particularly international admits, may not be able to travel if the social distancing protocols continue through the fall. Colleges want to maintain a high yield rate and ensure that they are still able to fill as many spots as they had originally allotted for while planning for all outcomes. For instance, Harvard has openly discussed there being uncertainty in the admissions office when it came to planning yield and the role the virus played in the drop in selectivity. The school has particularly expressed concern about the possibility of admitted students not being able to travel or move across the country during this chaotic time.  

Colleges that brought big surprises in acceptance rates last year, such as Duke University, Boston University, and Colby College maintained similar numbers, demonstrating that admission at these institutions will stay competitive as interest in these schools continues to grow.

How to Prepare Your Application for a Top School

If you’ve got your eyes on one of the highly selective colleges, you can see by looking at the 2020 college acceptance rates that you’ve got your work cut out for you. The number of applications at most colleges are at a record high — NYU received over 85,000 applications across its three campuses, while the University of Virginia received 40,971 — while their acceptance rates remain low. Of course, you need to perform as well as you can in your schoolwork — challenge yourself by taking the most rigorous courses offered, such as AP and IB classes. Plus, you should practice hard to achieve a high SAT score. The top schools have high median numbers, as displayed in the following table:

School Median GPA Median SAT Range
Harvard University 3.9 1460-1580
Princeton University 3.9 1460-1570
Columbia University 4.0 1450-1560
Yale University 4.0 1450-1560
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4.0 1520-1580
Duke University 3.9 1500-1560
University of Pennsylvania 3.88 1460-1550
Bowdoin College 3.92 1420-1550
Dartmouth College 3.8 1440-1560
Johns Hopkins University 3.93 1480-1550
Swarthmore College 3.9 1400-1540

As you can see, the GPAs and scores for these schools are very strong. If you’ve got your eye on one of these colleges, you’ve got to bring your A-game. But standout numbers aren’t enough, as most students bring impressive statistics. You have to shine outside the classroom as well. Make sure you build your application profile to suit your unique interests. You must pursue leadership positions and truly commit to activities that interest you. 

The Admissions Process and COVID-19

That said, if you’re preparing to apply to college this upcoming fall, things aren’t the easiest with the COVID-19 outbreak. Your classes have moved online, standardized tests are experiencing changes in format, admissions policies are changing, and more. These transitions might play a role in how your grades shape up. Not to mention the fact that SAT and ACT administrations keep getting canceled or postponed, and your activities might not be able to operate as usual! You could be wondering about the impact of the Coronavirus on college admissions

First, know that colleges are well aware of these changes — many schools, such as Boston University, Tufts University, and the University of California schools have already made the call to make SAT/ACT scores optional due to the pandemic. This definitely takes the pressure off a little bit. It will be interesting to see the statistics for these schools next year and how the changes in policy will impact their acceptance data. Even if schools do not change their testing requirements, they will still read your application in light of the Coronavirus.

Building Your Profile During COVID-19

Use COVID-19 as an opportunity to make an impact and stand out as a memorable candidate. The situation may not be ideal, but the strongest students will use this time continue moving forward with their pursuits. Admissions officers will want to see who has stepped up despite the circumstances. Your summer plans and activities may be disrupted — but you must find ways to continue building your profile remotely. This blog contains ideas that can help you explore different options. Even though you’re at home, you’ve got the time to think about how to best utilize the resources in your arsenal and step out of the box. 

Take advantage of the various technologies available to spearhead community initiatives with your classmates, start a creative project you’ve never had the time to before, or participate in activities or programs online. If the 2020 college acceptance rates are any indication, colleges will consider the current circumstances when evaluating your application, especially because you’re more directly being affected than students who applied in 2019. But, you should still try hard to strengthen your profile to the best of your abilities!

The 2020 college acceptance rates are undoubtedly competitive. Despite some schools accepting more students than last year, the top colleges are still oh so selective and hold students to the highest of standards. Admission into universities that you might have considered targets or even safeties is tougher than ever. As you work towards your application, continue working hard in your classes, explore remote extracurricular availabilities, and carefully consider these numbers to prepare your list of reach, target, and safety options. Good luck!

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