As we move into the “decision letter” season, colleges begin to publish statements on how competitive the admission was or will be this year at their institutions. Students and parents need to keep aware that those statistics can be deceiving.
First, colleges are delighted to publish how many students applied for a specific number of freshman spaces. While the numbers are correct, the colleges fail to be transparent about the fact that they usually have to admit three to four times that number in order to get enough students to “yield” that number of enrolled freshmen. This obfuscation makes a college appear more competitive for admission that it really is and thus heightens the anxiety among students and parents about admission. See the following Furman press release, http://furman.edu/press/pressarchive.cfm?story=s_274140_2892120_3029539, that gives the impression that the University’s admission rate is <20% when in reality it is about 50%, as an example.
Another statistic that colleges produce about admission is the “average” or "mean" SAT/ACT score for students. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has a policy that colleges should report test scores in ranges covering the middle 50% of the admitted class. A score range is much more realistic for students considering where they might fall in an admission pool because a mean score automatically puts at least half of the qualified students in a “below average” position. Again, reporting only an average or mean makes a college seem more competitive than it is in reality.
Because parents (and students) frequently mistake competitiveness for admission with quality, these practices mentioned above tend to discourage students from feeling “qualified” to attend college. Whether the college is Harvard, Furman, or