2018-19 College Acceptance Rates: Notable Admissions Trends

Padya Paramita

2018-19 College Acceptance Rates: Notable Admissions Trends

The past few weeks have been very busy and exciting for high school seniors, as admissions decisions have rolled in from universities and liberal arts colleges across the country. Incredibly, the college acceptance rates at many of the top schools continue to break records. Colleges that many would consider target, or even safety schools, are now more selective than ever.

Whether you are reflecting on the admissions decisions you made or preparing to apply, it’s all the more important to understand this competitive landscape. I will go over the acceptance rates at top schools, take a look at some notable admissions trends and changes, and discuss what it takes to get into these schools.

2018-19 College Acceptance Rates:

Let’s let the numbers tell the story. Below are the college acceptance rates that are currently available for the top ranked national universities and liberal arts colleges, in order of competitiveness. We will continue to update this list as more data becomes available.

School Name 2019 Acceptance Rate
Harvard University 4.5%
Columbia University 5.1%
Duke University 5.7%
Princeton University 5.8%
University of Chicago 5.9%
Yale University 5.9%
Vanderbilt University 6.3%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6.6%
Brown University 6.6%
University of Pennsylvania 7.4%
Johns Hopkins University 7.7%
Dartmouth College 7.9%
Swarthmore College 8.7%
Northwestern University 8.9%
Bowdoin College 8.9%
Rice University 9.0%
Colby College 9.5%
Cornell University 10.6%
University of Southern California 11.0%
Amherst College 11.0%
Middlebury College 12.0%
Williams College 12.4%
Pitzer College 13.2%
Harvey Mudd College 13.4%
Barnard College 13.7%
Georgetown University 14.0%
Washington University in St. Louis 14.0%
New York University 14.5% (New York, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi), 16% in New York only
Tufts University 14.6%
University of Notre Dame 15.4%
Wesleyan University 15.8%
Haverford College 16.0%
Boston University 18.0%
Northeastern University 18.0%
Washington and Lee University 18.0%
Georgia Institute of Technology 19.0%
Wellesley College 20.0%
University of Virginia 24.0%
Emory University 26.4%
Boston College 26.8%
Villanova University 28.0%
Scripps College 29.8%
Macalester College 31.0%
University of Florida 34.1%
University of Georgia 45.0%

These numbers are quite ridiculous! You might be surprised to see Duke rank third in terms of competitiveness, or Boston University have such a low acceptance rate. This means they rejected 94.3% and 82% applicants respectively. That is a very high portion of applications on the “no” pile!

Let’s take a look comparing this year’s numbers with the acceptance rates at this year’s 25 most competitive colleges from 5 years ago:

School Name 2019 Acceptance Rate 2014 Acceptance Rate
Harvard University 4.5% 5.9%
Columbia University 5.1% 7.0%
Duke University 5.7% 11.0%
Princeton University 5.8% 7.3%
University of Chicago 5.9% 8.0%
Yale University 5.9% 6.3%
Vanderbilt University 6.3% 12.0%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6.6% 8.0%
Brown University 6.6% 8.6%
University of Pennsylvania 7.4% 10.0%
Johns Hopkins University 7.7% 15.0%
Dartmouth College 7.9% 11.5%
Swarthmore College 8.7% 17.0%
Northwestern University 8.9% 13.0%
Bowdoin College 8.9% 17.0%
Rice University 9.0% 14.0%
Colby College 9.5% 28.0%
Cornell University 10.6% 14.0%
University of Southern California 11.0% 13.0%
Amherst College 11.0% 13.0%
Middlebury College 12.0% 17.0%
Williams College 12.4% 18.0%
Pitzer College 13.2% 17.0%
Harvey Mudd College 13.4% 14.0%
Barnard College 13.7% 24.0%
Georgetown University 14.0% 14.0

It’s very obvious that the acceptance rates have gone down for all of them, and some of the admissions stats have dropped very significantly. Colby College accepted 28% of students in 2014, and took 9.5% this year. That is mammoth-sized cut! It really goes to show that you have to bring your A-game when applying to college.

College Acceptance Rates - Admissions Trends:

Of the universities and colleges nationwide, Harvard, Columbia, and Duke had the lowest acceptance rates. This year, Duke received its record highest number of applications, and accepted only 5.7%, a significant decrease from last year’s 8.3%. Columbia also had a record high number of applicants this year - 4,2569, a 2,366 increase from last year. The University of Pennsylvania was also in the record club with an all time high number of applications, along with a record low acceptance rate at 7.4%.

The University of Chicago actually received an all time low number of applications, with a 1.3% drop from last year. This was UChicago’s first admissions cycle being test optional and interestingly also saw its highest SAT score ever. With the school going test optional, only the applicants with extremely high scores are submitting them, making the school median go up. Although information on the University of California schools is yet to be released, the UC system overall saw a 3% decrease in applications. The number of applications to UC Berkeley decreased by 2.5%, which is the first time their applicant number has decreased in the past decade.

Since introducing admission into two new colleges, 2019 marked Yale’s third year of admitting larger class, with Class of 2023 being 15% larger than recent classes. Stanford University announced last year that they would no longer be publicizing admissions data to reduce the emphasis placed on acceptance rates.

Cornell was the only Ivy League school with an acceptance rate in double digits, and it saw an increase in its Diversity Rate. NYU has its most diverse and selective class in history at its New York campus (16%) with no ethnic group making up more than 22% of the admitted freshman class. 95% of Vanderbilt’s accepted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class. First-generation students make up 16.4% of Harvard’s and 16% of Dartmouth’s incoming class. Colleges are becoming more selective than ever, and thinking more and more about the composition of the student body.

For liberal arts colleges, Wellesley received its second highest ever number of applications, while Barnard’s acceptance rate at 13.7% saw its most selective admissions process in history. Bowdoin experienced a slight increase in its number of applications, while the acceptance rate was at a record low. 93% of Swarthmore’s acceptance students were in the top 10% of their graduating class. 58% of Harvey Mudd’s acceptances, 53% of Wellesley’s accepted students and 49% of Wesleyan’s admits are students of color. 

Most of the top schools continue to be generous with their financial aid offerings. More than half of Harvard’s incoming freshman class will receive need-based grants. Yale’s Class of 2023 has the highest ever number of Pell Grant recipients.

Listen to Joel Butterly, the Co-Founder and CEO of InGenius Prep, discuss recent college acceptance trends and the current state of college admissions in our podcast:

So, what does it take to get into these top schools?

With so many schools having record high increases in applications and shockingly low acceptance rates, the stats for the top national universities and liberal arts colleges are quite jaw-dropping. Several national universities are more competitive than some of the Ivy League schools, as shown below:

School Name Ivy League School(s) It Is More Competitive Than
Duke University Princeton, Yale, Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell
University of Chicago Yale, Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell
Vanderbilt University Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell
MIT Brown, UPenn, Dartmouth, Cornell
Johns Hopkins University Dartmouth Cornell
Northwestern University Cornell
Swarthmore College Cornell
Bowdoin College Cornell
Rice University Cornell

As you can see, rankings and reputation don’t always determine competitiveness, and this year’s acceptance rates show just that.

In the same vein, for liberal arts colleges, Colby College, which previously had an acceptance rate of 16%, is now at 9.5%. Acceptance rates have also significantly gone down for Swarthmore College (11% to 8.7%), Pitzer College (16% to 13.2%) and Washington and Lee University (22% to 18%).

If you are about to make your college list, review these numbers carefully. Since the admissions process is getting more and more cutthroat every year, make sure you have a tiered list of colleges where you see yourself being happy. Of course you shouldn’t pick schools where you don’t see yourself fitting in, but don’t just apply to the top 10 schools!

Have different kinds of options on the table. Do your research and have a good amount of target and safety schools It’s natural to have a dream school, but it’s also very important to be realistic. High standardized test scores and GPAs are no longer enough to get into top schools, and aren't unique in the applicant pool. Almost everyone who applies to top schools has accumulated impressive extracurriculars, excelled in their classes, has compelling personal statements, and glowing letters of recommendation. Let’s look at the 50th percentile SAT scores for some top national universities:

School Name 50th Percentile SAT Score
Harvard University 1535
Columbia University 1530
Duke University 1530
Princeton University 1530
University of Chicago 1545
Yale University 1548
Vanderbilt University 1535
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1535
Brown University 1490
University of Pennsylvania 1510
Johns Hopkins University 1505
Dartmouth College 1505
Northwestern University 1465

This table reflects that numbers do not always make or break your application. Even if you have an SAT score on the lower side, a compelling background or impactful achievement can put you among the top candidates. Once your score is out, don’t waste time beating yourself up over it. Work on things you do have control over. There are other areas where you can shine!

So, do you need to invent teleportation or find the cure cancer to get into college these days? Well, that wouldn’t hurt your chances. But, if that’s not a possibility right now, what’s important is that you show a tangible impact in your extracurriculars, have a strong passion that shines through, make a difference in your community, and stand out from other applicants. If you’re currently in high school, you should begin preparing for the application process far in advance. Start pursuing extracurriculars in ninth grade so that you can commit to them and make a meaningful impact as you take on more leadership positions. Explore more extracurricular activities outside school: whether it's starting your own non-profit, seeking an internship, or pursuing research or fieldwork opportunities.

While your numbers can’t make you stand out, a top-notch application definitely can. With acceptance rates running rampant, it is now more important than ever to invest time and effort into your college applications. A big part of conveying your narrative is writing an incredible personal statement that is unique to you. Start brainstorming about your personal statement sometime mid-junior year of high school so that you have plenty of time to formulate an essay and get plenty of drafts out of the way before your final polished piece. Don’t write about how your grandfather rescued someone from a fire in the 60’s - you weren’t even born then! Talk about an experience that might have shattered your worldview. Talk about a time you were faced with a difficult choice. Talk about beating the odds when you were an underdog. Your personal statement can help you stand out if you bring a perspective that is unique to you. Tell your story in your voice and show admissions officers how you can be an asset to their institution.

When you Google searched for the 2019 college acceptance rates, you were probably shocked by the results. I know I was. The competitiveness chart is, well, off the charts. However, don’t let the numbers discourage you. The newest acceptance rates should act as an extra motivator for you to buckle down and excel in all areas of your application. If you are an outstanding candidate, no record low acceptance rates should stop you from getting into the top schools!

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