Most Students Get into Their First Choice Colleges

on May 11, 2017

It’s not so tough getting accepted into a four-year college.


According to a national survey of the latest crop of college freshmen, 75 percent got into their No. 1 college.


This statistic, based on the latest annual UCLA survey of freshmen, might shock you even more:


More than 93 percent of freshmen received acceptance letters from at least one of their top three picks.


Don’t Believe Conventional Wisdom


These figures certainly poke holes in the conventional wisdom that college admission standards have grown increasingly impossible.


This perception has caused many ambitious teenagers to assume that they must mold themselves into superhuman applicants. The colleges that demand perfection, however, represent a tiny minority of institutions.


In fact, based on data from the 2015 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), fewer than 100 four-year colleges accept less than 25 percent of their applicants. In contrast, more than 500 universities accept more than 75 percent of applicants.


According to the UCLA study, private universities accepted about two-thirds of their applicants for the 2016-2017 school year.


College Freshmen


Here are more highlights from the survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) that was designed to represent the views of more than 1.5 million first-time, full-time undergraduates who began college at more than 1,568 four-year public and private non-profit institutions last fall.


Turning Down a Dream College


A record percentage of freshmen in the class of 2016-2017 concluded that they couldn’t afford their No. 1 choice college. Some 15 percent said the cost of their first choice was too great. That represents a 60 percent increase from 12 years earlier when 9 percent of student had to walk away from their first choice because of money.


For a variety of reasons, about 57 percent of freshmen ended up attending their first-choice college and about 27 percent enrolled in their second choice. Ten percent registered at their third choice.


More Students are Stressed


Twelve percent of freshmen said they felt depressed “frequently” and 35 percent said they frequently felt anxious.


The fixation that ambitious students have in taking extremely rigorous course loads to get into brand name research universities has undoubtedly helped to fuel the increase in the number of freshmen who are experiencing anxiety and depression.


The UCLA survey, however, showed that one in four college freshmen didn’t take any Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. The biggest group took one to four AP classes (44 percent) and 25 percent took five to nine of the AP courses.


Another group experiencing stress is undoubtedly the growing number of first-generation students attending college. Almost 19 percent of freshmen identified themselves in the survey as students whose parents did not have college degrees.


Paying for College is a Huge Concern


Not surprisingly, another source of stress for college students is the cost of a bachelor’s degree.


More than half of the freshmen surveyed (56 percent) expressed concern about covering college costs while 13 percent had “major” concerns. A quarter of Latino students and 22 percent of black students said they had major concerns about paying for college compared to nine percent of white students.


Curiously enough, more women (16 percent) expressed major concerns about the price than men (10 percent).


When completing the UCLA survey, 54 percent of students estimated that their parents made under $100,000 a year. In contrast, 17 percent of students said their parents made at least $200,000 a year. The greatest percentage of the richest students attended private universities.


Private research universities, according to College Board price figures, are the most expensive institutions. The average tuition and room/board for private research universities is $54,560 in 2016-2017 while private colleges costs an average of $43,440. The average public research university costs $21,350 compared to $17,100 for the typical public college.    


More Students Expect to Work


In the UCLA survey, women also were more likely to say there was a “very good chance” they will work in college (57 percent) versus men (43 percent). Three out of five first-generation students expected to seek employment.


Studies have shown that working at a job in college is positively correlated with student engagement. Being employed on campus for 10 to 12 hours a week can not only enrich a student’s experience, but even improve grades.


Working too much in college, however, can endanger the ability of students to graduate. Roughly 40 percent of undergraduates work at least 30 hours a week. According to Georgetown University research, working more than 25 hours a week can jeopardize academic success. This is particularly true for low-income students.


The UCLA survey suggests that many students, who would otherwise qualify for campus work-study jobs, aren’t taking advantage of it. Even though 28 percent of students said they received a Pell Grant, which is designated for students with modest household incomes, less than 20 percent received work-study jobs, which are designed for students who qualify for financial aid.


Students who hope to work on campus should make sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Without completing the FAFSA, you won’t be eligible for federal work-study jobs.


Most Students Stay Close to Home


Although coastal universities capture most of the buzz, the majority of freshmen attend colleges close to home.


Thirty-eight percent of freshmen enrolled in colleges within 50 miles of their homes. Thirteen percent attend college within 10 miles of their home. Only 17 percent of students ended up at colleges that were more than 500 miles away.


Freshmen who attended private universities traveled the greatest distance. Forty percent of these students enrolled in universities located more than 500 miles away.


The students most likely to travel great distances for college score higher on the SAT, according to a 2014 study by Niche, a college-advice website. Students who scored at least 2,100 on a 2,400 scale enrolled in colleges that were on average 526 miles away.


Not only are more students attending colleges closer to home, more of them (almost 19 percent) will be living with family members. That’s more than a three percentage point jump from the previous year. The findings suggest that these students are more likely to forego the opportunity of attending their first-choice college.


Families shouldn’t assume that the closest colleges and universities will always be the cheapest. You can learn more about this by reading the article, Warning Signs You’re Paying Too Much for College.


Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on

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