As this year’s college admissions cycle comes to a close, it seems like gaining admission to schools in two of the country’s leading states for public higher education is becoming more difficult.
Counselors in California have reported surprising decisions from high-achieving students, many of whom received rejections from schools like the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Santa Barbara that, in previous years, should have been accepted. Similar trends have been observed in the UNC system, primarily at UNC-Chapel Hill. The overall acceptance rate at UNC-CH went from 29 percent in 2014 down to 24 percent in 2017.
Stephanie Beechem, a UC-system spokesperson, said an increased number of applicants is a large contributor to this trend.
“More California students are currently enrolled at the University of California than at any point in its history,” she said in an email. “But a central reason why it’s ‘harder to get in’ now is because the number of overall applications to UC campuses has increased dramatically over the last 20 years.”
According to Beechem, five UC campuses — University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Irvine; UC Santa Barbara; and University of California, San Diego — received over 100,000 applications for admission in the fall of 2018. UC Davis was not far behind, receiving over 95,000 applications for fall 2018 admission.
“Enrollment growth has not grown at the same pace as application growth, in part because funding for increased enrollment at UC has not kept pace with demand,” Beechem said. “UC today educates 90,000 more students than we did in the year 2000, yet our funding from the state of California has remained flat."
Anna Kate Stephenson, a first-year student at UC Berkeley, said increased application numbers naturally lead to more students being denied.
“This definitely impacts in-state high schoolers negatively since out-of-state students have higher tuition and UC schools want their extra money,” she said. “Because of this, out-of-state students are more competitive and the applicant pool as a whole is getting more competitive.”
Stephenson said it’s good that the UC system is becoming more academically rigorous and renowned, but only if schools are accepting students for the right reasons.
“It’s improving the overall brain power of the school, but I don’t think it’s a positive thing if schools are accepting students for the wrong reasons, like money,” she said. “The cost of tuition is rising at UCs, but you’re starting to get less for the high price because resources are being spread thinner to accommodate the increase in students.”
Jamison Fee, director of college counseling at Cape Fear Academy, said changes in UNC-system admissions have yet to reach the level of UC schools.
“I think what’s happened in the UC system is those lower-level UC schools have started gobbling up the international students,” he said. “With that happening, there’s less space for the traditional B+ and B student that used to be able to get in.”
UNC-Chapel Hill has seen an increase in admissions difficulty this year, Fee said.
“This year was very different,” he said. “Kids that would’ve been deferred or outright accepted last year got denied. On the other hand, schools like UNC-W, App State, UNC-Asheville, UNC-G — those are still good schools for our kids that have a 24 or 25 on the ACT and above a 3.0 average GPA.”
Fee said this trend is the result of a larger quantity of applications and a focus on rural county admissions. UNC-Chapel Hill received a record-breaking 43,384 applications for fall 2018 admission, a 6 percent increase from last year.
“There’s more kids applying, there’s a focus on rural areas — so I thought for this year that’s why some of our kids didn’t get in that typically would have,” he said. “Outside of that, it just depends ... What does Chapel Hill want their incoming class to look like? That’s unknown to me.”
Increased access to free ACT and SAT test prep may also play a role, Fee said.
“Through Khan Academy and things like that, lower socioeconomic students who may not have had access to a tutor due to finances — if they’re a hardworking kid and they really want to do it — can put in the time and effort to be a serious contender for highly selective schools,” he said.
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