Colleges Rates and Requirements

Find the right college for you.

Core College Requirements for Competitive Acceptance Rates

As you start thinking about which colleges to apply to and how to put together your college applications, don’t forget to familiarize yourself with current admissions requirements and acceptance trends. You may have seen recent headlines about college acceptance rates and how low they were for students who applied to the most selective colleges and universities. It’s important to remember that while admissions requirements for the most competitive schools didn’t change, the number of students applying to these types of institutions has gradually increased. As a result, acceptance rates of colleges, particularly elite universities, decreased. You should also keep in mind that due to the covid-19 pandemic, most institutions saw a spike in applications. This has caused acceptance rates to further decrease.

The headlines shouldn’t deter you from moving ahead with the application process. Although it might feel seem like there’s more competition than ever before, it’s important to remember two things: Acceptance rates vary among colleges, and most colleges accept two-thirds of applicants. Once you understand what college entrance requirements are and how to interpret college admission rates, you'll be better prepared to find the right school for you.

Understand These Key Requirements for College Applications.

Each college uses its own formula when evaluating applicants, and these practices vary from school to school. In addition, many colleges over the last few years have begun instituting "test optional" and "test flexible" policies for the SAT and ACT. Despite these factors, colleges still look for certain key requirements. You can learn more about admissions requirements for individual colleges in College Search.


Standard Core Curriculum and Beyond

All colleges emphasize GPA requirements, but they focus particularly on performance in core subject areas such as mathematics, science, English, and history. Colleges look at your grades, curriculum, and the courses you take as indicators of your ability to be successful in college. To get a better understanding of which colleges might be the best fit for you, research the GPA requirements for colleges you’re interested in. Also look at the range of GPAs accepted at those institutions on the BigFuture College Search tool. Consider taking more advanced coursework such as AP courses if it fits with your career goals and if your school offers them.


Extracurriculars are where you can really stand out, especially from others with similar grades. Extra academic activities show off your personal strengths and interests to admissions officers. Ideally, they want to see students who were deeply involved in school activities outside of the classroom and held leadership positions. Learn more about how extracurriculars matter to you and colleges.

Application Essay

For colleges that require it, the application essay can be a very important part of your application and is your pitch to the university. This is your opportunity to show the school of your dreams the unique individual you are, something that may not necessarily be conveyed in your transcript. It indicates how your talents will contribute to their community. Find tips for writing your college essay here.

Standardized Test Scores

Though the trend in some U.S. colleges has been to put less emphasis on SAT scores, make no mistake: They still play an important role in the college admissions process. Test scores are still used by many colleges for course placement and merit aid. High test scores can also help you stand out and strengthen your college application. If you’re not sure if you should submit your scores, talk to your school counselor or the college’s admissions officer for guidance.

Letters of Recommendation

Although not required by all colleges, letters of recommendation can give admissions counselors insight into who you are beyond just your grades and activities. If letters are required by the institutions you’re applying to, the college will let you know who they want letters from. It’s usually a teacher or counselor. Pick someone who knows you well.

Keep on Top of College Application Deadlines.

Application deadlines can sneak up on high school seniors like a tiger in the night. It’s of utmost importance that you double-check your prospective school’s application deadlines and submit everything you need sooner rather than later. Most college application deadlines fall into the following categories:

Understand the College Application Platform.

There are two main types of college applications: The Common Application and the Coalition Application, which allow students to apply to multiple schools using a single application platform. You should check with the institutions you’re interested in applying to see which application platform they prefer.

How Do College Acceptance Rates Work?

A college’s acceptance rate is actually a ratio. It's the total number of applicants in relation to the number of students who were accepted. For example, Harvard received applications from 61,220 students in 2022─the highest-ever number of applicants to the school. Of those, only 1,214 received admission, leading to the school’s lowest-ever acceptance rate of 3.19%.

This illustrates the point earlier that college acceptance rates are on a decline as the number of applicants increases, saturating the pool with more competition than ever before.

Acceptance rates are based on the number of spots available at a college. This is a set number of applicants who can be admitted to that class of graduates, and it's not subject to change based on the volume of applicants. As you can imagine, more competitive schools, such as Ivy League colleges and universities, have fewer spots available and are thus affected more by the number of applicants.

This same logic applies to private and public colleges. Public colleges, which are characteristically larger institutions, will admit greater numbers of students, leading to higher acceptance rates. However, public colleges have also been impacted by a larger number of applicants. When you’re building your college list, it’s advisable to include a balance of reach, match, and safety schools to improve your chances of acceptance.

It's important to keep in mind that college admission rates don’t necessarily reflect the quality of education or the quality of students who apply, and you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying to schools based on these numbers.

What is the Difference Between Admission Yield and Enrollment Rate?

Admission yield is the percentage of students who accepted enrollment into a college after being granted admission. These vary significantly from school to school. For example, the University of California, Berkeley’s yield rate for 2022 was just 40% while the yield rate for Yale was a whopping 83%.

As students apply to greater numbers of colleges and have more options, yield rates decline.

Review the Latest College Acceptance Rate Stats.

Students faced competitive acceptance rates in 2022. Common Application public colleges and universities saw a 24% surge of applicants since 2019-20 and 17% for private institutions. Meanwhile, the acceptance rates continue to decline. For example, Emory University’s acceptance rate fell 8 percentage points between 2020 and 2022.

Students who are eyeing colleges with highly competitive acceptance rates must focus more than ever on the things that will set them apart: exceptional performance beyond the standard core curriculum, strong extracurricular participation, powerful application essays, letters of recommendation, and excellent standardized test scores. However, even with all of these differentiators, it’s important to remember that none of these can guarantee acceptance, especially at selective institutions. Be sure to build a balanced college list that gives you options.