college application and gender

Will Demographic Trends Affect Admissions at Top-Tier Colleges?

Like all other goods and services, college education is subject to the economic laws of supply and demand. From late in the last century until recently, college enrollment grew steadily and rapidly, sustained by the immense Millennial generation. Lately, however, the number of young people in college is in decline. After rising for decades, key metrics such as the number of college students, growth in tuition costs, and the number of colleges are trending downward or increasing at a declining rate. Last year, for example, there were more college closings than in any other year in American history.

This trend isn’t due to a decline in the rate of high school students who seek a postsecondary education. The percentage of high school graduates going on to college has remained the same. The downturn is the result of there being fewer high school graduates each year due to a drop in the birthrate starting in the late nineties and continuing into the early aughts. This demographic phenomenon is reflected in both a softening of demand for a college education and a proportional reduction in the supply of colleges. More than half of colleges and universities report that the number of students applying to and attending their schools has fallen. Simply put, we, as a nation, are running low on teenagers.

The downturn can’t be attributed solely to the bursting of the for-profit segment’s bubble. The problem affects other postsecondary segments as well, especially small private liberal arts colleges. Yet the number of applicants to the nation’s most elite colleges and universities has continued to rise every year, yielding a proportional reduction in the percentage of applicant’s admitted and making admission to these schools more difficult year by year.

Since the total number of college students and the number of colleges in the U.S. has declined for five consecutive years, it’s reasonable to assume that this trend may, in time, also affect the most elite schools. If so, a question of interest to readers of this blog is, “Will ongoing trends in demographics eventually result in a reduction of applicants to top-tier schools and a proportional rise in the admissions rate?”

Extensive online research by this blog has revealed no source, reliable or otherwise, that predicts anything other than continued growth in the number of high quality applicants to the most elite schools, demographic trends notwithstanding. Evidently, the top-tier schools comprise a subset of colleges that are subject to their own supply and demand conditions, which may run counter to trends in the postsecondary academic community at large.

Nevertheless, even students aspiring to attend top-tier schools should be aware of the implications of ongoing trends that will affect their generation of college students. Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic magazine, says that “Although it’s possible that we’re seeing a brief, perfect storm with three driving factors; a dearth of teenagers, a growing economy, and the quick implosion of for-profit colleges…it’s also possible that something less quantifiable has changed—for example, that families have become savvier higher-ed shoppers, or that years of public outcry about tuition costs and student debt have encouraged more public and private colleges and universities to rein in their costs.”

It’s Thompson’s reference to families that have become “savvier higher-ed shoppers” that jumps out at us. IvySelect, as a college admissions consulting firm specializing in Ivy League and other top-tier schools, is pleased to serve savvy shoppers. They are the people most inclined to appreciate the value of the expertise and experience that IvySelect offers. We serve each student as a unique individual and help to develop and refine all elements in the application process accordingly. We approach each application individually and guide the student in adapting it to the nuanced set of admissions criteria of each targeted top-tier institution.