By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

The National Association of College Admission Counseling has released its report on the State of College Admission as of 2018, a document stuffed with plenty of vital information not only for educators but also for families undergoing or contemplating the college admissions process. The statistics show that the applicants and the admissions officers are busier than ever, that the need for patience seems to be increasing, that decisiveness pays off, and that high school counselors continue to be understaffed and overwhelmed, as we reported earlier this year in Scams, Scandals, School Counselors, and Us.


For those not brave enough to ingest the full report, the executive summary should be more than enough. We ingurgitated the whole business and extracted some of the findings that struck us as most relevant:

Applications are up, especially for private colleges.

A survey of college admissions trends in 2017-18 found institutions reporting an average increase, since the previous year’s survey, of 4 percent in applications from first-time freshmen, with transfer applications increasing by 3 percent. Private colleges and universities reported greater increases in both categories than public institutions did. Applications from international students rose by 8 percent.

More than a third of first-time freshmen applied at seven or more schools. For the last five years, 80 percent of freshmen have applied at three or more colleges.

College admissions officers are still in a hurry.

The fast pace and hectic schedule of admissions officers that we reported on in Meet the Deciders: College Admissions Officers and What They Do continued unabated. The average number of applications per staff member, including administrative staff, was 791 at public colleges and universities and 426 at private institutions. Not surprisingly, the larger the college, the more applications per staffer. Perhaps surprisingly, the more selective the school, the more applications per staffer.


Selectivity is alive and well.

The national average acceptance rate for first-time freshmen is about 65 percent. Public institutions admit 69 percent on average, private colleges 63 percent. While 36 percent of all applicants seek admission to the most selective colleges—defined as those accepting fewer than half of their applicants—only 21 percent of all first-time freshmen end up enrolling at those selective institutions.

what are trends in college admissions
Being rejected by a prestigious college can ruin your whole day, so don’t pin all your hopes to one school.

The early birds are eating heartily.

More than a fifth of the colleges in the survey offered early decision, but with a striking difference between private institutions (30 percent) and public ones (6 percent). More than half of the most selective schools have ED as an option. Among schools offering ED, only about 5 percent of all applicants choose it. Applicants who choose early decision are accepted at a higher rate than those at the same schools who forgo it—62 percent to 51 percent.

More than a third of the colleges surveyed offer early action. They reported that 44 percent of their applicants chose that option, and 74 percent of the EA applicants were admitted, as opposed to 64 percent of non-EA applicants.

Between fall of 2016 and fall of 2017, early-decision applications rose four percent overall, with early-decision admits increasing by 5 percent. Early actions were up by 9 percent, with the number of students accepted via early action rising by 10 percent.

Wait lists are increasingly a fact of life.

Forty percent of colleges use wait lists, with the tendency trending upward rapidly: From fall 2015 to fall 2016 the percentage rose 16 percent, and the following cycle witnessed a 12 percent bump. Ten percent of all applicants now are wait-listed, a more common practice with private schools (43 percent) than with public ones (33 percent). About half of all wait-listed applicants choose to remain on the list, but only a quarter of those applicants are subsequently admitted. The more exclusive the school, the longer the odds of leaping from the list to the freshman class.

Factors in college admissions offers vary considerably.

About 81 percent of colleges treat grades in all courses as highly important in deciding who gets in, with 71 percent emphasizing college-prep course grades. More than half rate test scores and strength of curriculum highly.

A second set of factors were most often considered to be moderately important. These factors tend to provide insight regarding personal qualities and interest of students, as well as more details regarding academic performance. They include essays or writing samples; teacher and counselor recommendations; student’s demonstrated interest; class rank; and extracurricular activities.

Subject test scores, interviews, portfolios, and work experience “were given, on average, moderate or considerable importance by a small percentage of institutions, likely because they are relevant only to a small subset of colleges.” For example, many schools can interview few if any of their applicants, but The Coaching Educator stands by our assertions in How to Get the Most Out of a College Visit and Cleaning Up Well: Appearance, Speech, and Demeanor at College Interview Time that interviews can be highly influential and that  applicants should arrange for them if at all possible. This is especially important with smaller and more exclusive colleges:

Smaller colleges rated the interview, teacher/professor recommendations, and demonstrated interest more highly for each applicant group…[I]nstitutions that were more selective placed more emphasis on the essay, interview, and extracurricular activities [emphasis added].



School counselors are run ragged.

The NACAC found that 33 percent of public high schools employed at least one person—not necessarily full-time—whose sole responsibility was college admissions advising. The figure for private schools was more than twice as high, at 68 percent.

While the American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio no greater than 250:1, we reported with dismay in Scams, Scandals, School Counselors, and Us that “most schools are nowhere near even that. The national high school average is 311:1, and only one student in five is enrolled in a school with sufficient counselor staffing. That’s 11 million kids. Only three states—New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming—have statewide averages better than 250:1.”

For counselors as a whole, the NACAC study indicates that those in public school spent one-fifth of their time advising students on post-secondary matters, while private-school counselors spent a bit less than half their time so engaged. Considering the ever-growing complexity of the college admissions and financial aid process, high school students increasingly need hands-on attention to their post-secondary needs from school counselors, but most counselors must tend to a multitude of other counseling duties in addition to their administrative tasks. As Education Week puts it, “Without knowing their options, students inadvertently may miss out on the best path forward or simply make no choice at all. Unfortunately, some counselors are so overworked that they themselves may struggle to stay abreast of the latest trends and programs available.”

That’s where The Coaching Educator comes in. Our founder and president, Rebecca M. Carroll, is a certified school counselor of long experience, and we regard ourselves not as a replacement for the school counselor but as an energetic and specialized helper. We’re in our tenth year of assisting students with college admissions, financial aid, and wise career choices, and our relationship with school counselors is important to us.

To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school. We’ll give you something to smile about.

what are trends college admissions

Paul Culp, who slightly resembles the guy in this photo, is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Photos: Sheldonian Theatre by Alamy, angry head by Depositphotos, happy head by J. Engler

Recommended Reading About College Admissions

Carroll, Rebecca M., and Paul Culp. “Getting Serious About a Lighthearted Approach to the College Admissions Essay” on The College Light Bulb, audio podcast, The Coaching Educator, accessed 8 March 2019, http://tce.local/podcasts/

Carroll, Rebecca M., and Paul Culp. “Scams and Scandals in College Admissions” on The College Light Bulb, audio podcast, The Coaching Educator, accessed 23 April 2019, http://tce.local/podcasts/

Culp, Paul. “Getting to Know You: the College Admissions Essay,” The Coaching Educator, 8 June 2018, http://tce.local/2018/06/08/getting-to-know-you-the-college-admissions-essay/

Culp, Paul. “How to Get the Most Out of a College Visit,” The Coaching Educator, 8 February 2019, http://tce.local/2019/02/08/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-a-college-visit/

Culp, Paul. “Meet the Deciders: College Admissions Officers and What They Do,” The Coaching Educator, 27 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/27/meet-the-deciders-college-admissions-officers-and-what-they-do/

Culp, Paul. “Not So Fast: When Colleges Rescind Acceptances,” The Coaching Educator, 31 January 2019, http://tce.local/2019/01/31/not-so-fast-when-colleges-rescind-acceptances/

Culp, Paul. “Scams, Scandals, School Counselors, and Us,” The Coaching Educator, 16 March 2019, http://tce.local/2019/03/16/scams-scandals-school-counselors-and-us/

Culp, Paul. “Ten Common Mistakes You Must Avoid in Applying for College,” The Coaching Educator, 31 August 2018, http://tce.local/2018/08/31/ten-common-mistakes-you-must-avoid-in-applying-for-college/

Culp, Paul. “Technology, Intangibles, and the Brave New World of College Admissions,” The Coaching Educator, 29 May 2018, http://tce.local/2018/05/29/technology-intangibles-and-the-brave-new-world-of-college-admissions/

Culp, Paul, “Under the Table and Over the Top: The Other College Admissions Scandals,” The Coaching Educator, 25 March 2019, http://tce.local/2019/03/25/under-the-table-and-over-the-top-the-other-college-admissions-scandals/

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