If College Acceptance Rates Are Low, Should I Bother Applying To That School?

College students walking in front of a Harvard Law School building.

Acceptance rates are one of many factors you’ll consider when creating a list of potential colleges. Schools with higher acceptance rates are easier to get into than colleges with lower acceptance rates. Does it mean you should only apply to a college with high rates? What happens if the college you’re interested in has a low acceptance rate? Should you strike it off your list or is it worth applying anyway?

There is no one answer that is right for everyone. Whether or not you should apply to a college with low acceptance rates depends on your unique circumstances. However, there are three universal things to consider when it comes to acceptance rates:

  • What factors influence college acceptance rates.
  • The acceptance rates of the college you’re considering
  • And your personal acceptance odds

Let’s break them down.

What Factors Influence College Acceptance Rates?

Different colleges use different criteria for evaluating applications and accepting students. However, two criteria that remain pretty constant for all colleges are the applicant’s GPA and test scores.

An average GPA and test score may be enough for you to get accepted into colleges with high acceptance rates. However, you need an outstanding GPA and test scores to get accepted into colleges with low acceptance rates. Schools like Harvard and Princeton have single-digit rates, yet receive tens of thousands of applications per year. You’ll really have to stand out. (Did you know it’s possible to have a GPA above 4.0?)

Looking Up a College’s Acceptance Rates

Statistics are important when it comes to college searching. These rates tell students how many applicants a college is accepting per year. Many nationally recognized schools have low acceptance rates, because everybody applies there, and they can only take in so many incoming students. Knowing a school’s rates means you can set a realistic expectation for yourself, and balance your list out.

It’s not a great idea to only apply to colleges that have rates below 5%, for example. As impressive as that list might be, you don’t want to be college-less when the time comes.

Which leads us to our third consideration.

The Importance of Knowing Your Personal Acceptance Odds

MIT’s acceptance rates maybe 7% overall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you yourself have a 7% chance of getting in. As we said, an applicant’s odds weigh several factors—GPA and test scores chief among them, though others include academic rigor, extracurricular involvement, and essay submissions.

So how do you discover your personalized acceptance odds? College Raptor can help! With a free account, simply plug in your academic data and see your acceptance odds for any 4-year college in the country. Not only odds, you’ll also see your academic fit for that school, institutional scholarships you could earn, and what your estimated debt upon graduation could be.

Knowing your personal acceptance odds can help you out with more than just setting expectations; you can use them to build out your application list.

Safety, Match, and Reach Colleges

A good college list is balanced between three “types.” A safety school is a college you’re highly likely to get into. A match college is a school you’d probably get into. And a reach school is a college you’d have a difficult time getting into.

Ideally, your college shortlist should have a balance of these three types–with slightly more in the “match” category than the “reach.” There’s no magic number per se, but you may want to prioritize higher chances than lower ones. Essentially, don’t put all of your chips on a school where your odds are only 7%.

Should I Apply to a College with Low Acceptance Rates?

With all that said, why bother applying to a college with low acceptance rates—personal or overall? It may seem like a waste of time or effort. 

Ultimately, the decision on whether or not applying to reach schools is up to you. But don’t completely strike it off your list. You might get in, and if it’s a school you really loved, it’s worth taking a chance.

Keep in Mind: Low Rates Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Academic Exclusivity

Some colleges receive an inordinately larger number of applications. Some attract more applications because of their reasonable tuition fees. Others get more applications because of their generous financial aid packages or zero application fees. In these cases, the lower acceptance rate is not an indication of the college’s academic exclusivity. It simply means they receive far more applications than they can accept. 

If your college acceptance rates are low, don’t strike it off your list without digging deeper. Understanding more about what factors influenced that college’s acceptance rates can help you make a more informed decision.

Use College Raptor to discover personalized college matches, cost estimates, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid for schools around the US—for FREE!

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