The State of College Admissions in 2015

By Rachel Fenton

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) recently released a report summarizing findings from two annual surveys of its membership, the Counseling Trends Survey and the Admission Trends Survey.  The findings are related to the transition from high school to postsecondary education in the United States.  The report also includes data for transfer and international students.  The major topics featured in the report include college application rates, recruitment and yield strategies, factors in admission decisions and college counseling in secondary schools.

Highlights from the report are below:

  • The volume of applications submitted for college admission continued to increase. The number of college applications submitted by first-time freshmen increased by six percent from the Fall of 2014 to the Fall of 2015.
    • Applications submitted by transfer students increased by four percent and the applications submitted by international students increased by 23%.
  • Prospective college students applied to multiple colleges. Of the first-time freshmen who enrolled in college, 36% applied to seven or more colleges in Fall 2015, an increase of 19 percentage points since 2005.
    • More than three-quarters (80%) of first-time freshmen applied to at least three colleges.
  • This increase in application volume might be attributed to the ease of submitting applications online. Four-year colleges and universities received almost all applications online in Fall 2013 (94%), almost double the percentage received online in 2005 (49%).
  • Colleges accepted about two-thirds (65.8%) of first-time freshmen on average in Fall 2014, which is comparable to the average acceptance rates in Fall 2013 (64.7%) and Fall 2012 (63.9%).
  • The “yield rate”, which measures the number of accepted first-time freshmen applicants who enrolled in college, increased slightly from Fall 2013 (35.7%) to Fall 2014 (36.2%). In contrast, the yield rate in Fall 2002 was 48.7%.
  • Colleges rated using email and their website as the most important recruitment strategies for first-time freshman, transfer and international students.
    • More than half of colleges also rated hosting campus visits, outreach to school counselors, visiting high schools, direct mail and attending college fairs as considerably important recruitment strategies.
  • The admissions decision factors colleges used to evaluate applications from first-time freshmen students, including grades, test scores and high school curriculum, have remained the same over the past 20 years.
    • International students were evaluated similarly to first-year freshmen, with English proficiency and writing samples also being important decision factors.
    • For transfer students, the decision factors differed significantly from first-year freshmen since the only decision factors rated considerably important by the majority of colleges were the overall GPA at prior colleges and the grades received in transferable coursework.
  • Over the past 10 years, the ratio of school counselors to students has not changed (436-to-1 at public secondary schools), but there is wide variation in the student-to-counselor ratios by states. For example, in 2013-14, the ratios at public schools ranged from 941-to-1 in Arizona to 211-to-1 in Wyoming.
    • Taking part-time counselors into account, the average student-to-college counselor ratio was 350-to-1.
    • 30% of public schools reported having a dedicated college advisor, compared to 73% of private schools.