Bailey's Blog


The College Acceptance Rate 

If a college has a national acceptance rate of 20%, a student has a 1 in 5 chance of being admitted to that school, right? Right? 

One of many important parts of a high school counselor's job is helping students (and parents) create and build a balanced list of colleges to apply to. Personally, I have been helping people with this process since 2010 at Ridgewood High School and can say the task is more difficult than it ever has been. It takes individual, honest counseling and research and analysis on data trends, especially with the highly rejective schools (those with an admit rate under 20% of applications). 

Rick Clark, Assistant Vice Provost and Executive Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech recently wrote a powerful blog titled “College Admission: 3 Messages You Need to Hear”. Rick wrote, “People complain that college admission is not clear or transparent. I disagree. Admission decisions are incredibly easy to explain and understand. They come down to two fundamental driving principles: supply and demand and institutional mission." 

Let's focus on institutional mission - what a school values and their vision for the future. How does a student know what the institutional mission is of a school they are applying to and if they fit into that mission? One way is to listen to what, and who, the school is bragging about. You can ask the question directly when you are visiting campus, sitting in on information sessions, talking to counselors at college fairs or high school visits, or interviews. You can also view the college’s press release and/or profile of the last years’ admitted class and ask yourself two questions. 1. What type of students are they highlighting? 2. Am I like any set of those students? 

Let’s look at Brown University as an example to understand more. For the most recent cycle, the Class of 2027 at Brown (Press Release Example) had an overall admission rate of 5%. Let’s suppose you are a student from a public high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, an immediate suburb of New York City, who is near the top of your high school class with a strong academic transcript, strong test scores (if you choose to send), and overall highly competitive application (extracurricular activities, leadership roles, letters of recommendation, interview, demonstrated interest, etc.). You match the profile of a student at Brown and, all agree, you would be an added value to the school inside and outside of the classroom. Brown University should still be categorized as a “Reach School” for you and ALL students. After all, they will most likely deny more valedictorians than they accept each year. However, reasonably you would think you have a 1 in 20 chance (5%) of admission based on the national average.  

Let’s take a closer look at some of the 2,609 students (5%) accepted last year.

11% International Students - 360 students

9% Division 1 Athletes -  237 students

18% First Generation Students - 589 students

8% From Rural Areas - 270 students

40% Private or Parochial High School - 1174

There is some overlap here. For instance you could be a first generation, division 1 athlete from a rural area who went to a private high school, but it is helpful to see where you may or may not fit in at a particular school. The takeaway here is if you do not fit into one of these categories, than already your chances of admission are less than the 5% acceptance rate. 

Let’s look at a second example.

UNC - Chapel Hill welcomed 4,700 first year students to campus this fall for the Class of 2027. Official data is still not out yet but the admission rate at UNC is approximately 18%. A qualified student applying to UNC could reasonably assume they have a 1 in 5 chance of being admitted. 

However, UNC is a public school in the state of North Carolina, meaning they must abide by the state’s 82/18 rule, mandating that no more than 18% of incoming first-year students can be non North Carolina residents. This policy was created in 1986. Therefore, a student applying to UNC from New Jersey will be in that 18% pool, or 846 accepted students out of 63,217 total applications. UNC on average has a 43% yield rate, meaning how many students accepted actually attend the college. Using the 43% yield, approximately 1,960 students were accepted last year out-of-state. By my numbers, a student applying who is not a resident of North Carolina has an estimated acceptance rate of 3.1%, not the 18% acceptance rate that the public sees. For last year's class of 2026, the overall published acceptance rate was 16.8 percent – 43.1 percent for North Carolina applicants and 8.2 percent for out-of-state applicants. 

Ridgewood High School is considered by most metrics, rankings, and by reputation as one of the top public high schools in the state of New Jersey. Here is how students applying to UNC from RHS have fared since 2016. 159 applications started - 6 students accepted, an acceptance rate of - wait for it - 3.77%.

The takeaway: Be intentional in gathering numerical data and qualitative data (institutional mission) on the schools you are interested in applying to when building your list of schools. Ask questions and find people who can help you with this process. The good news! The majority of colleges in our country accept the majority of applications and this will continue to increase in the next decade. Find a school that has a mission you want to be a part of and who makes you feel like they want you to be an important part of it. 

September 14, 2023

Each year the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) surveys member four-year colleges to rank the most important factors considered when making admission decisions.

Two points on this data:

1. The high school curriculum rigor continues to consistently be the most important factor in determining admission to colleges. This has stayed true for decades now. The high school transcript allows college admission counselors to project how a student would fare academically at their college based on their academic journey through high school.

2. On the scale of "considerable importance" in factors in admission decisions, take a look at the "Admissions Test Scores (ACT/SAT) importance. This has plummeted from 56% in 2012 to 5% in 2023. 30.8% responded "No Importance" and 38.9% answered "Limited Importance."

Takeaway for students:

1. I advise that all high school students prepare for and continue to take the ACT/SAT exams. In the test-optional world of college admissions it cannot hurt students to take the exam from an admissions perspective. We can decide for individual schools to send the scores in or not.

2. Focus on the present and what you can control. Enjoy the high school experience, get involved, challenge yourself, lead - don't follow, and focus your energy on doing the best you can in the classes you are enrolled in. It is a special time in your life and there are many colleges out there who are going to be lucky to have you on their campus one day.

September 5, 2023

Looking at data of recent years in college admissions can help students build a more balanced list by looking at the facts and taking the emotions and opinions of others out of the process.

Students should read college's announcements on their previous class. Every year each college publicizes a press release announcing the results of their latest class that they post on their website. In these announcements, they talk about the characteristics of the incoming freshman class. What they highlight and brag about in these announcements is what they care about and what they want in future classes. Do you fit what they are looking for?

Let's use Boston College as an example. Below is their most recent announcement on the Class of 2027.

The Class of 2027 saw 36,525 students apply. 5,511 students were offered admission. 15% - the lowest rate in the history of Boston College.

By comparison, The Class of 2026 saw a record 40,477 applications of which 17% were accepted. Four years ago, the Class of 2023 saw 35,500 applications of which 27% were accepted. Just six years ago, the Class of 2021 featured 28,454 applications and 32% of those were offered admission.

In six years the admission rate at Boston College has more than cut in half.

For the Class of 2027, out of the 5,511 students offered admission 9% were international students and 12% are first in their family to attend college. More than half of the students in the Class of 2027 were admitted Early Decision. 94% of students admitted reported ranking in the top 10% of their high school class with the average ACT for students who submitted scores being 34 and the average SAT being 1511.

BC Admits Class of 2027 Announcement

August 29, 2023

Students - control what you can control in the process.

Make sure you have a person who will give you honest, data-backed feedback on the balance of the list of schools you are applying to.

So much media coverage, national attention, and student/parents stress comes from the Ivy League application process.

Here are the facts - the overall acceptance rates at each of the Ivy League schools last cycle:

Brown - 6.6%

Columbia - 5.1%

Cornell - 10.6%

Dartmouth - 7.9%

Harvard - 4.5%

Penn - 7.4%

Princeton - 5.8%

Yale - 5.9%

More high school valedictorians will be rejected than accepted to Ivy League schools this year.

This information is not meant to demoralize, but liberate students.

Students should not feel defeated if they are not admitted to an Ivy League school.

Students should have a balanced list of schools so that come spring of their senior year they have multiple options of schools that match their needs. 

Forbes Article - 3 Things Every High School Senior Should Know Before Applying to Ivy League Schools

August 8, 2023 

On June 29, 2023, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (6-3) that colleges/universities can no longer consider the race of a student when making an admission decision.

In the summary of the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a student “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual - not on the basis of race.” He went on to write, “Although both universities (UNC-Chapel Hill & Harvard) contend that an applicant’s race is never a negative factor, college admissions are zero-sum. A benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter.” 

Since late June, one of the most common questions we have received is how this decision by the highest court in our country will affect the next college admissions cycle. One area we have noticed a change in already is the common application school specific questions (supplemental essays). 

Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that schools can still consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise” if it can be tied to that student’s courage and determination.

Colleges have adapted quickly, creating different ways for students to give background of who they are instead of simply checking a box under “race”. Here are a few examples of questions that seniors applying to college will be asked this year:


Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?

Elon: What cultural traditions, experiences or celebrations are important to you? How have they influenced your understanding of self?

Notre Dame:  What is distinctive about your personal experiences and development (eg, family support, culture, disability, personal background, community, etc)?  Why are these experiences important to you and how will you enrich the Notre Dame community? 

Duke: We recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you.

Penn State: Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. 

Stanford: Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better.*

Michigan: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. *

Boston College: In her November 2019 Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimananda Ngozi Aichi warned viewers against assigning people a “single story” through assumptions about their nationality, appearance, or background. Discuss a time when someone defined you by a single story. What challenges did this present and how did you overcome them?

Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you? 

Sarah Lawrence:

In the syllabus of a 2023 majority decision of the Supreme Court written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the author notes: "Nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university." Drawing upon examples from your life, a quality of your character, and/or a unique ability you possess, describe how you believe your goals for a college education might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court's decision.

Did you find this post helpful?

During the month of August, I will be meeting with seniors around northern NJ to ensure they are organized, on schedule, and have a balanced list before they apply to colleges this fall. This session is FREE. I look forward to helping as many students as I can! 

Register below: 

August 23' College Application Process Review

July 30, 2023

Building a list of colleges to apply to can be daunting for students with hundreds of schools to choose from.

Here are three valuable resources to use when starting the process that students (and parents) often do not know about.

1. The Common Data Set: 

The Common Data Set (CDS) is an annual collection of standardized questions about a college or university's admissions and financial aid process, graduation rate, student demographics, and more. The CDS was created by the College Board in partnership with several higher education associations and organizations, including the U.S. News & World Report.

Simply google “Common Data Set (Any School’s Name)” and check out the data on the most recent admissions cycle to see how you potentially fit in.

Example: Lafayette College’s CDS -

- Check out page 13 for specific information on what Lafayette College ranks as very important in an application.

- See pages 16-17 for standardized testing information.

- Page 25 gives a look into student life.

2. College Scorecard:

Attending college is one of the largest purchases you will make in your life. How much is your degree worth at a particular college? What is your return in investment for pursuing a particular degree at a school? How much debt will you take on? How much will you have to pay?

3. Occupational Outlook Handbook -

College is an investment in yourself, but also in the school you will be attending. You want to make sure you do all of your homework before investing in a particular school. Don’t just rely on rankings.

Some important questions to consider: What skills are needed for the particular career you are thinking about? What majors are most common for that career? What is the job outlook in that field? What is the projected growth rate?  What is the median salary?  

July 9, 2023

School leaders, you should always be reflecting on your mission. Keeping your “Why” at the forefront of your mind allows you to consistently handle the micro decisions, responsibilities, interactions, and curveballs that come your way each day. Recently, I reviewed some notes from the end of my first year as a school administrator (May 2021). 

June 29, 2023

An important decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the world of college admissions today. 

Wall Street Journal Video: Supreme Court bans Affirmative Action: What It Means for College Admissions

June 4, 2023

The Pareto Principle: 80% of outputs are the result of 20% of inputs. Also referred to as the 80-20 rule. Think about this rule with these real life examples below: 

20% of your clients are responsible for 80% of your business.

20% of patients use 80% of healthcare resources.

20% of planning causes 80% of a project’s success. 

20% of a company’s workers are responsible for 80% of a company’s output.

20% of your most focused effort results in 80% of your desired outcome. 

20% of people in your life cause 80% of your problems.

20% of your friends produce 80% of inspiration.

20% of your wardrobe is worn 80% of the time.

20% of your time leads to 80% of your happiness.

3 Takeaways to Consider:

May 16, 2023

10 thoughts on the college admissions process a high school student should consider in 2023. 

I hope you found these thoughts helpful. Remember, the school you attend is a stop along your journey. It will be an important part of your story but it will not define who you are. There is a great fit for you out there that will help you grow as a student & person. Good luck! 

April 25, 2023

Did you know that there are many colleges still accepting applications at this time of year with May 1st deposit deadlines just a few days away?

Check out this up to date list from NACAC.

April 23, 2023

I have helped hundreds of students and families at Ridgewood High School in Bergen County, New Jersey since 2010. Ridgewood High School is one of the top public high schools in the state of New Jersey. I may be biased but I know Ridgewood High School can compete with any high school around inside and outside of the classroom. Families move to Ridgewood for multiple reasons but typically on that list is for the quality of the schools. For these reasons, there are also high standards, competition, and pressure for students and adults, especially when it comes to college admissions. 

May 1st is next week, the day when high school seniors around the country will officially put down a deposit and make a decision on where they will be attending college in a few short months. This is always an emotional time in a young person’s life. There is excitement, uncertainty, pride, anxiety, and so many other feelings as another milestone of senior year passes. 

My message to all of the seniors out there is a message I share with all of my students and families:

The college you attend will be a stop along your journey but it will not be the final destination. The college you attend will not define you. The college you attend will be a part of you, and hopefully a very positive part of you, but it will not be the most important part of you. The people you surround yourself with at college, the work you put in the classroom as you begin the path towards your career, the new experiences you create, the connections and relationships your form, the adversities you persevere and overcome will all be far more important to your future than the name or ranking of the college you attend. Enjoy this moment in your life. You have earned it. Your best days are ahead of you!

February 25, 2023 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” This quote has been credited to both authors Ernest Hemingway and Ursula K. Le Guin. It is a quote that I keep on a wall in my office, as a reminder to try to live in the present moment. The past is gone, although we can learn from it. The future is not here yet, although we can prepare for it. The present moment is where our feet are right now and all that we can truly control. 

The University of Alabama Head Football Coach, Nick Saban, refers often to the precious, present moment. On the football field he talks about each individual play lasting approximately six seconds and having a life of its own within the overall game. A player must focus only on those six seconds. He cannot control the outcome of the play before or the play that will come next. All he can control and should focus on is the current play he is in. That is where all of his energy and mental focus should be, where his feet are. 

In keeping with the football theme as the Super Bowl approaches next weekend, during Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s retirement speech he said “Our children are small now, but as they grow up, we’re going to teach them to enjoy the little things in life, because one day they’ll look back and discover those were really the big things.” Peyton Manning won two Super Bowls and a record five regular season Most Valuable Player awards yet on the day he retired it was the people, the relationships, and the little moments and memories that he made along the journey that left the deepest impression on him. Trophies and awards are great but memories and relationships are more valuable to a human being, in the end. 

So what are the lessons here?

January 1, 2023

The Journey.

The journey is the reward. You need a destination to look forward to as a target however the secret is having a target to aim for but never reach or changing the target just as you are about to reach it. The secret is that the journey to get to that target is the ultimate reward. Your focus and energy today, therefore, must be on what you can control, the journey, with your target/destination far ahead on the horizon to be used as a compass. Your focus should be on the process, not the results; the journey not the destination; today here and now, not tomorrow.