Declining College Acceptance Rates

Today I’d like to discuss the downward trending college acceptance rates, and how that is impacting today’s international high school students. It is no secret that acceptance rates at reputable and well-known institutions are on the decline. Here in California, Stanford is at 4.8%. USC is at 16.5%. Even San Diego and Longo Beach State are at 34% — which is lower than all UC campuses except Berkeley and UCLA (17.5% and 18%, respectively). For students coming from outside the United States, acceptance rates are likely lower.

Given that this trend is only likely to persist, what are international students to do? How can they gain acceptance into their top choices given the ever-increasing amount of competition? Some students will push themselves to the breaking point, loading up on AP and honors classes, bulking their resumes with an impressive list of extracurricular and leadership activities, and spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on test prep, AP prep, and college counseling.

Some students decide that this amount of competitive activity isn’t for them, and so they end up at community college, hoping to transfer after two years. That’s what one of my former Chinese AP Economics student did after graduating in 2013. His ultimate goal was to attend UC San Diego. However, four years later, he has dropped out of community college and is back in China without a bachelor’s degree. He simply didn’t get the support he needed to focus on his studies, and he ended up getting exactly what he didn’t want.

Another option is the pathway model, utilized by Kings and our growing number of competitors (Shorelight, CEG, INTO, etc.). In a Kings pathway program, students are able to take classes alongside other American college students — not in a special or separate program. Furthermore, these students have both the academic support provided by our partners for all undergraduate students, as well as additional support services delivered by Kings staff on campus. At Marymount California University, for example, its not uncommon for international students to head to the academic counseling office to get extra help with their core science class, and also talk with their Kings advisor about what classes to take the following semester to transfer to Cal State Long Beach. This middle way doesn’t cost the student extra time to graduation, but instead allows that student to make a positive transition from high school to college.

Pathways and community colleges aren’t for everyone. My experience as a competitive, top 10%, AP Scholar student coming out of high school worked for me, and I’m glad I was able to spend four years at UC San Diego as a result. But if international students fall short this admissions season at getting into their top choice school — the best option for them is to make progress toward their degree and to try again. As William Shakespeare once wrote, “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”

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