Selectivity: Good for my degree, poor for your morale

Just a few days ago, Pitzer College’s Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid sent out an email to the Pitzer community with this year’s admission statistics. The acceptance rate?


That is 15.7% accepted out of 4,227 applications

My first reaction was positive. This kind of selectivity can propel an institution forward. I’m no rankings monkey, but in a world where the job market is as competitive as it is, a little name recognition can go a long way. I don’t need validation that Pitzer is great, but it’s nice when at least people have heard of it. Considering that Pitzer’s acceptance rate last year was 24%, this is a significant drop.

However, at a certain point selectivity becomes a poor metric. There is a point where selectivity really doesn’t mean anything. For example, Stanford University’s acceptance rate in Fall 2010 was 7%. That is out of over 34,000 applicants.When your selectivity is this low, there is little that can justify who you are accepting or denying. Out of that vast applicant pool, many are qualified for admission. You could probably replace the 7% they accepted with a different 7% of the pool and still be fine. So what does the admission “process” become?


Students and parents need to understand that acceptance or denial from a selective college or university is not a character judgement. Many parents and applicants are still viewing this process with an old-fashioned lens: that if you got good grades and stayed involved, you are guaranteed admission. This is simply not the case in 2012.

When a school has so many people to choose from, they can practically construct the class piece by piece. We want x number of athletes, of artists, of scientists, of activists, etc. The number of applicants gives that freedom, but it also changes the nature of the process.

Many schools, including Pitzer, are open about using a ‘holistic’ process that involves every factor imaginable. As the number of applicants rises, it’s not just about being a great student or community member, it’s about fit. I predict that all schools, both traditionally small liberal arts colleges and large research universities, will eventually have to shift to a holistic process to sift through applicants.

Although selectivity can drive an institution to the proverbial top, it also demonstrates how flexible admission is. I might be happy to see a low acceptance rate for my degree, but I also realize that this figure means that many more people with hurt feelings or broken dreams.

With the continuing trend of students applying to more colleges than ever (applying to 10+ different schools rather than 3 or 4), I expect admission rates to continue to drop across the nation. It may make you feel “special” going to a selective college, but I don’t want selectivity to be the defining factor.

Of all the metrics that can describe a school, you learn very little from how many people it accepts. For Pitzer, the low acceptance rate is a great development, but it just shows that lots of qualified people want to go here.

To find out why, one has to look past the numbers. Behind the numbers, you find a unique educational community. That’s what matters most.


About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 03/27/2012, in College, Commentary, General and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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