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Despite the Headlines, College Acceptance Is Not More Competitive

The perception that a college applicant faces more challenges each year may be nothing more than mere myth, according to new study.

With each year comes a fresh crop of college-bound students pressured by the headlines to overcome the increasingly competitive nature of college admissions. However, a new study from the Center for Public Education (CPE) illustrates that the perception that an average applicant faces more challenges each year may be nothing more than mere myth. "Chasing the College Acceptance Letter," released January 21, demonstrates that while college acceptance does not appear to be getting more difficult, there is a huge—and growing—gap in the number of minority and low-income students who are graduating with the right credentials for admittance.

Researchers found that only 37 percent of minority students and 38 percent of low-income students are earning the right credentials to give them a 50/50 chance at college acceptance, compared to the 66 percent of white students and 73 percent of high-income students earning those credentials.

"A well-prepared minority student has an equal chance at acceptance as a white student; however, there is a huge gap in the percent of minority students who are well prepared following high school," says Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at CPE. "Low-income and minority students are missing the right credentials and the big benchmark courses."

The right credentials, as defined by the study, include challenging math and science courses, specifically trigonometry and chemistry. "The rigor of math and science courses has a substantial impact on students getting into a good college," says Hull. Hull recommends that districts provide their students with the right guidance as early as middle school to ensure that all students who want to go to college are on the right track.

The study indicates that a hypothetical student earning the right credentials in 1992 would have the same chances as a well-qualified student in 2004. While many private institutions and flagship schools have become more competitive as they have received more applications than they have seats available, the competitive level of other institutions has decreased.

"There are still a lot of seats out there for kids," says Hull.