Why Do Selective Universities Choose to Remain Small? (Part 1 of 2)

Year after year, the applicant pool gets larger and stronger with rising GPAs, SAT scores, and class ranks. This year, applications exceeded 30,000 respectively at Harvard and Stanford (with an expected admit rate to be below 7%), along with increased number of applications in many other selective universities.

Given this situation and the high cost of tuition at the nation’s top universities, you might argue that the solution will be simply to expand the freshman classes. All other things being equal, it is good to spread the benefits of an outstanding education to more people. By having more students, the selective universities will also produce more graduates who will become leaders in their fields, adding to the institutional reputation as world leaders in teaching and research.

Stanford’s admit rate last year, for example, is about 7.5 percent, which seems low until we notice that Julliard’s is about 6% and Harvard’s is 7 percent. But expansion isn’t on their radar screens. In other parts of the world, a few prominent Asian universities have even lower acceptance rates. For example, India’s Institutes of Technology (IIT) often receives over 300,000 applications for only 5,000 seats, a 1.7 percent admit rate.

It is deplorable that the most selective universities will have to turn away many qualified applicants each year. But from an institution’s point of view, they would rather have a high rejection rate and a low acceptance rate.


Wan Chen, Admissions Advisor

(Read Part 2 about institutional complexities at top research universities.)

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