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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 01/22/2010

'Chasing' college acceptance

By Valerie Strauss

Many of you who have a child nearing college age (and even some of you with much younger kids) may already be anxious about the admissions process and may be wondering whether your child, who hasn’t cured cancer or started a successful business already, will get into a good school.

A new report, “Chasing the College Acceptance Letter,” gives some insight into what it calls “the college admissions game.” It focuses on the chances of the average student getting accepted to a competitive four-year college; according to the most recent national data available, the average applicant earned a 21 on the ACT, completed trigonometry and chemistry, and earned a 3.12 GPA. But it also looks at lower-achieving students and high-performing applicants seeking admission to elite schools.

The report was done by the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the not-for-profit National Schools Board Association. The center provides research, data and analysis on education issues; the association is a federation of state associations of school boards across the United States.

Because Friday is List Day on the Sheet, here is a list of some of the report’s most interesting conclusions:

*The average applicant as well as the lower-achieving student have about the same chance of getting into a competitive college as a decade ago. High-achieving students have a slightly easier time today getting into the nation’s most selective schools than they did in 1992, and the same as a decade ago.

*Taking harder and higher-level courses, especially in math and science, will do more to increase a student’s chances of being accepted to a competitive school than would a higher GPA.

Lower-achieving students could increase their chances from 52 percent to 57 percent if they completed trigonometry instead of stopping math at Algebra II. And if an average applicant was able to pass pre-calculus instead of stopping at trigonometry, his or her chances would have increased from 75 to 79 percent.

*The increase in the number of applications does not necessarily mean there are fewer spots for qualified students. Some researchers note that the number of open slots at colleges has increased at nearly the same rate as the increase in the number of high school graduates. Moreover, many applicants send applications to schools for which they are not qualified.

The report says: “Does a C student sending an application to Harvard decrease the school’s acceptance rate? Yes. But does it decrease the chances of a straight-A student getting admitted? Doubtful.”

*Well-prepared minority applicants have just as good of a chance of getting into a competitive college as well-prepared white students, but a much smaller percentage of minority students earn the necessary credentials.

*There was almost no difference between the acceptance chances of low and high-income applicants with the same qualifications in 1992--but by 2004, high-income students were much more likely than their low-income classmates (80 and 67 percent, respectively) to simply get admitted into a competitive college.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 22, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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