As promised, here’s my rundown of 2018’s Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, completed by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed. Whether I’m looking at an individual school’s report or a wider survey like this I love data. If you’ve got some free time IPEDS is a treasure trove of information reported directly from institutions and can provide some context on the admissions landscape free of any marketing spin that runs rampant on college websites.

In this case, the heavy hitters of the admissions world were surveyed anonymously on a variety of topics, offering a rare chance to see what schools are really experiencing, where their focuses lie, and the outlook for the field in the future.  While much of the report is only interesting to those in the field there are a couple of research questions that pertain directly to students applying today and their families.

For the purposes of this study schools were divided into two groups: public doctoral and private schools.  The differences in trends between the two were startling, if not wholly unexpected. A majority of public doctoral institutions reported meeting their enrollment goals by the national enrollment deadline of May 1st while only about half of private institutions did.  Let’s break that down. First of all, who are we talking about here? Think of your public doctoral institutions as those you see on ESPN. We’re talking large, state schools with a variety of offerings for majors. Conversely, small, private liberal arts colleges are on the other side.

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So what this data says to me is that families are seeking out these state schools because they’re historically cheaper, have a greater focus on career-readiness, and a wide variety of academic offerings.  Concerns about large class sizes and the like are being dealt with as these universities offer students membership in smaller communities on campus like major-specific housing and honors colleges.

And private schools are struggling to keep up.  With costs often double those at private schools many families are scared away before scholarship offers are even on the table.  I’d bet the half of private schools meeting their goals is populated with some of the more elite and ivy league schools but many in this category (about half if the data is accurate) are struggling to attract students.  The takeaway here? We will continue to see excellent private schools struggle to bring in students while the large public universities will get more selective. As an applicant, don’t count the small schools out on face value--many do an excellent job of offering internships and career counseling and are so generous with scholarships that the bottom line may be below a public school’s in-state rate.

A second finding that impacts high schoolers directly is the perception of AP and honors courses by colleges.  Six in ten admissions directors agreed or strongly agreed that students are taking too many AP courses in an effort to gain admission to schools and widely rejected the notion that AP was better than honors or IB (an AP competitor) courses at preparing students for colleges.

Woah.  This should be a game-changer for students and high school decision makers alike.  What we’re seeing here is a rejection of the idea that a student should take the most rigorous schedule available to them with admissions directors instead favoring students taking courses that actually make sense for them and their interests.  I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this finding. Students are spreading themselves unbelievably thin in an effort to stand out and I now have some ammunition to convince them to pursue a class schedule that actually makes sense for them as opposed to resigning themselves to an overburdened junior year.

Parents and students, please listen to this dissent from the gossip around school demanding that a full AP schedule is the only way to be admitted to a great college.  Have some serious conversations about what is truly right for the student and finding a college that fits that profile instead of the other way around.

If you’re a data nerd like me and would like to look through more of the results they can be found here:


Knowledge is power people!  Colleges spend millions trying to understand what drives their applicants.  Turnabout is fair play.