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Isn't College Admission supposed to be Getting Less Competitive?

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Replies to: Isn't College Admission supposed to be Getting Less Competitive?

  • CaliDad2020CaliDad2020 Registered User Posts: 849 Member
    @lvvcsf the increased numbers is also true for SAT.

    And clearly there was an increase in # of US students applying to college from 1997 - 2009/2010 or so.

    But the stats are pretty clear that the # of US HS students applying to college from 2010-present have flat-lined or even slightly decreased (basically flat as trend-line).

    So, if college competition is getting more competitive (at top schools) since 2009 it has to be due to (aside from increased international, which is a contributor at some schools) a wider US based geographical trend (ie. more Fla tops students going to/applying to Harvard/Stanford rather than just UofF or Duke, perhaps.) or kids getting better at test taking, or all of the above plus others.

    But I think it's pretty clear from various stats collectors that the # of US 18-24 attending 2 and 4 year colleges has leveled since 2010.
  • ZinheadZinhead Registered User Posts: 2,610 Senior Member
    edited July 12
    The distribution of ACT scores is presented on page 14 the profile reports.

    http://forms.act.org/newsroom/data/2012/pdf/profile/National2012.pdf

    In 2012, 781 out of 1,666,017 or 0.047% scored a 36.

    http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Natl-Scores-2014-National2014.pdf

    In 2014, 1,407 out of 1,845,787 or 0.076% scored a 36.

    https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/P_99_999999_N_S_N00_ACT-GCPR_National.pdf

    In 2016, 2,235 out of 2,090,342 or 0.107% scored a 36.

    The number and percent of 35 and 34's increased dramatically as well. That is why when you see average ACT scores at universities change dramatically over the same time period; the increase is a function of the expansion in the total number of higher test scores, not necessarily that they are getting more competitive.
  • northwestynorthwesty Registered User Posts: 2,749 Senior Member
    Zin -- do you know if that data is for unique test takers? Or is it just the number of ACT tests?

    If kids are taking the test more often and prepping more, you'd expect that the number of high test scores would increase. That behavior would still be a sign that competition is still keen. If it wasn't keen, kids could still get admitted to their target college with the good old one-and-done like in the olden days.

    But you are right that there's about 6500 more 35 scores in 2016 than there were in 2012. And 9,000 more 34 scores in 2016 vs. 2012. So maybe the prepped/multi-sitting 35 circa 2016 (10,993 scores) is the new one-and-done 34 circa 2012 (9,604 scores).

    At the high end, it does seem that things have escalated. You may have the same overall chance as before, but you have to do more to have that chance.
  • ZinheadZinhead Registered User Posts: 2,610 Senior Member
    @northwesty - The heading on the table on page 14 states "Graduating Class 2016" and "Total Number of Students in Report".

    Page 2 states "This report provides information about the performance of your 2016 graduating seniors who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors; and self-reported at the time of testing that they were scheduled to graduate in 2016."

    I asked this question earlier, and @bclintonk stated "those numbers represent the number of unique graduating seniors in a given who took the ACT at least once"
  • dfbdfbdfbdfb Registered User Posts: 3,181 Senior Member
    So, if college competition is getting more competitive (at top schools) since 2009 it has to be due to (aside from increased international, which is a contributor at some schools) a wider US based geographical trend (ie. more Fla tops students going to/applying to Harvard/Stanford rather than just UofF or Duke, perhaps.) or kids getting better at test taking, or all of the above plus others.

    But I think it's pretty clear from various stats collectors that the # of US 18-24 attending 2 and 4 year colleges has leveled since 2010.
    Right, it has—but the number of US citizens aged 25+ attending (full- or part-time) college has increased. It occurs to me that this fills up seats at the open-entry colleges—so has there perhaps been pressure from beneath? That is, a chunk of kids who would have gone to noncompetitive-entry schools as a default get frozen out of those, and so aim for minimally-competitive-entry schools, freezing out some from those possibilities, so the ones frozen out in turn have to aim a notch higher, and so on.

    I have no idea, really. But if it were to turn out that competition at the highest end is fed even slightly by competition on the utterly noncompetitive side, I would be having amusement gigglefits for weeks.
  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk Registered User Posts: 858 Member
    "The number and percent of 35 and 34's increased dramatically as well. That is why when you see average ACT scores at universities change dramatically over the same time period; the increase is a function of the expansion in the total number of higher test scores, not necessarily that they are getting more competitive."

    Well it could be both, if you have more kids applying with 34 or higher than in the past, you'd have to think at the top-end it's getting more competitive. BTW, I think California which was a pure SAT state if you will, now has many of the top test takers taking both and then possibly taking one of them a second time, a point brought up earlier. It would be interesting to see how many of the additional 1500 perfect scores came from traditional SAT states - Cal, NY, Mass etc..
  • ZinheadZinhead Registered User Posts: 2,610 Senior Member
    edited July 13
    @theloniusmonk -
    It would be interesting to see how many of the additional 1500 perfect scores came from traditional SAT states - Cal, NY, Mass etc..

    The ACT provides this information on a state by state basis. For 2012, there were 72 36 scores in California. In 2016, there were 319.

    https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/P_05_059999_S_S_N00_ACT-GCPR_California.pdf

    http://forms.act.org/newsroom/data/2012/pdf/profile/California.pdf

  • dragonmom3dragonmom3 Registered User Posts: 281 Junior Member
    I would have to agree with a few earlier posters about the increase in test scores being directly related to the number of first and second generation Asian and Indian populations in CA. There are many schools in the tech hot spots around the country with the same phenomena.
    These kids are highly motivated to put it mildly. They take multiple SAT ACT and subject tests, hire private tutors and in many cases consider anything less than a perfect score(especially in Math2 SAT 2) a cause for despair.
    At many of the local public and private schools the average scores are above the 95th national percentile and math courses beyond Calc BC are fairly common.
    Nothing against these kids and their families but it is a real issue in the pressure to achieve higher and higher profile applicants for top colleges.
    I grew up in this area and this is relatively new-last 15 years or so.
  • turtle17turtle17 Registered User Posts: 98 Junior Member
    I think this gets back to the definition of competitive. If there are the same number of UCs, and the number of 36s has gone up without the test changing, then it is more competitive to my mind. Doesn't matter if it is because of increased test prep, more test sittings, more fanatical families, if the bar is raised, it is more competitive.
    As I've said before, I think this can happen without an overall change in the number of students, simply by having more students being really aimed for the top. This is clear in the Midwest, where the student population has changed less than in CA, but where the top state flagships and few top privates have seen dramatic increases in their ACT ranges, while almost everyone else - mid-level state schools, and most privates have been flat.
  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk Registered User Posts: 858 Member
    I think you're mis-characterizing the top-performing Asians, they may take one test twice after they've taken the SAT or ACT once to see which one they're better at. However most don't take them twice because they do really well the first time. They don't usually take more than 3 subject tests but you're right that a 790 on the Math 2 is considered really bad.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 8,075 Senior Member
    And on a sheer numerical basis- here in the Northeast I am observing that the kids who a decade ago would have been heading off to Hofstra, Adelphi, Pace, (all private colleges, for those of you in the rest of the country) are getting prepped and tutored to a fare-thee-well to get into the more competitive SUNY's and other strong public colleges (Baruch, Hunter). Families don't want to pay full freight private for a B student. They want that B student to get into one of the strong publics. Both because they are cheaper, AND because they believe that the name recognition of Binghamton will do much more for the kid professionally than a private college which is relatively unknown outside of the NY suburbs.

    And its corollary- the ramping up for kids to get into Fordham and Holy Cross, not one of the lower tier Catholics which used to be "just fine" for families who wanted that. I think Holy Cross was always a tough admission but I see kids who wouldn't have even been targeting that level now focused on moving the GPA and scores up enough to squeeze in.

    All of this puts pressure-- on the kids, the parents, the colleges-- and especially the high schools who aren't necessarily putting resources behind "pushing B students like they are A students".
  • dfbdfbdfbdfb Registered User Posts: 3,181 Senior Member
    turtle17 wrote:
    I think this gets back to the definition of competitive. If there are the same number of UCs, and the number of 36s has gone up without the test changing, then it is more competitive to my mind.
    I realize you were speaking more broadly than what you mention specifically, but at a specific level, there aren't the same number of UCs (or at least seats at UCs) as there were back in the day, whenever that day was—UC Merced was established in 2005, and the number of seats at some of the UCs has been going up.

    Now yes, I realize that Merced doesn't really "count" for some people, but that just gets to the fact that this very often isn't an issue of competitiveness anyway, it's an issue of signifying social status.
  • CaliDad2020CaliDad2020 Registered User Posts: 849 Member
    @zinhead those figures might, though, be part of a reason the appearance of increased comp. If a 34 in 2014 was more likely to get 5 of your HS top kids into Stanford, then suddenly in 16 the 5 that got into Stanford had 35s, it "seems" more competitive while staying basically the same. I'd also note there seem to be fluctuations by year. ACT is particularly sensitive to movement since the increments are 1/36 while SAT increments are 1/160. ACT is much more blunt.

    For the heck of it - (and yeah, it's tiny sample and I admit won't tell us much, but what the heck), I looked at my kid's 95-100 student class HS school to see where recent grads attended (doesn't tell you all acceptances, only where they SIRed) for the past couple of years. I pulled out for "Ivies + 2" - and added 'Stanford for reference, cause I happen to know the '17 number offhand)

    2017 6 Stanford
    .....
    2014: 6 Stan = 19 Ivy+2
    2013: 5 Stan = 29 Ivy+2
    2012: 7 Stan = 29 Ivy + 2
    2011: 4 Stan = 21 Ivy + 2

    So, based on the slimest of evidence, not much of a trend line in selectivity. Not sure it tells us anything. I'll see if I have other years saved anywhere.

  • turtle17turtle17 Registered User Posts: 98 Junior Member
    We might just agree to disagree, but I don't think there is evidence the ACT has become easier, so I'd say the 34s who are now 35s got there by knowing they needed to prepare more to keep up, which qualifies as more competitive to me. There is also the evidence at least in the Midwest that a higher fraction of the top scorers by percentile are more concentrated into fewer schools.
    I think do agree that if the international student fraction has gone flat, and the number of students has gone flat, at some level the same number of kids get into schools. However, I would define competitiveness by how hard it is to be in the top say 2%, not just whether it has gone from top 2% to top 1.5% (although I also think the flight to quality is real).
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,311 Senior Member
    So, if college competition is getting more competitive (at top schools) since 2009 it has to be due to (aside from increased international, which is a contributor at some schools) a wider US based geographical trend (ie. more Fla tops students going to/applying to Harvard/Stanford rather than just UofF or Duke, perhaps.) or kids getting better at test taking, or all of the above plus others.

    Another explanation (offered by several people upthread) is simply a "flight to quality." The most selective colleges have long claimed that their applicant pool includes far more highly qualified applicants than they can admit. That's why they cherry-pick, using holistic admissions to select not only those they deem "most qualified," but those among a broader group they consider "highly qualified" who help them achieve various institutional objectives, e.g., excellence in competitive intercollegiate sports, racial and ethnic diversity, keeping alums happy, creating a ladder up for first-gens, geographic diversity, a class that is balanced and diverse in interests, talents, etc. Some of these factors are "hooks." Others aren't. but they may nonetheless be factors that tip the balance in individual cases as the school chooses among similarly-credentialed candidates.

    But I think every one of these schools would readily acknowledge that there are a lot more "highly qualified" college-bound HS seniors out there who, for whatever reason, don't apply to that particular institution. That's why they do aggressive outreach efforts to try to expand the applicant pool, knowing they'll get some additional applicants they don't consider highly qualified, but hoping to get some additional highly qualified applicants---not because there's any shortage of them, but because they'd like to be able to cherry-pick from a broader pool of highly qualified applicants to achieve other institutional objectives..

    So how do they get there? Well, recruiting more international applicants and focusing on domestic geographic diversity may be part of it. But there are also other demographic factors to consider. Go after first-gens, as many schools now do. Work harder on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. Try to draw in the top students at HSs that have not traditionally been feeders for elite private colleges.. And so on.


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