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Seniors Enter Waiting Game; What Are Their College Chances?

While many high school seniors are relieved to have the college application process behind them, others find these few months of waiting to be anxiety-filled.

A senior blogging for The New York Times about her college search says her mom has tagged this period the "post-application roller coaster."

Rachel Yang, a student at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn. was thrilled when she submitted the final college application and thought she could finally relax. "Not so. Everyone, I think, will tell you that waiting here, in college-app limbo, is the worst part of the process. I thought I was free, but I could not have been more mistaken," she writes. "It's weighing on our very house; everyone's on pins and needles."

New findings from a survey of incoming college freshman indicates students may be increasingly disappointed with the news they receive this spring from their dream college.

Acceptance rates at students' first-choice school was 76 percent in 2011, down from 78.9 percent the year before. There is a stable gap of about 18 percent between acceptance at first-choice institutions and attendance, according to The American Freshman: National Norms 2011 by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program and the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

The percentage of students attending their first-choice college is 57.6 percent—the lowest since the question was first asked in the survey in 1974. Last year, the figure was 60.5 percent. The downward trend began in 2006, according to the survey.

If you are a first-generation student, you are not as likely to enroll in your first-choice, four-year institution as someone from a family with college-going experience. While first-generation college students are being accepted to their top college pick at about the same rate as those whose parents attended college (75.9 percent versus 76.2 percent), just 54.8 percent of first-generation students actually attend compared to 58.9 percent. The gap is even wider for first-generation women.

The report's authors note that these findings underscore the need for high school counselors and college admission staff to provide extra support for first-generation students going through the college-selection process. The survey found first-generation students were more likely than others to indicate that living near home was a priority and they were twice as likely to indicate a teacher advising them was very important in their decision.

Here's another perspective: The average selectivity rate—the percentage of applicants who are offered admission—at four-year colleges and universities was 65.5 percent in the fall of 2010, according to the latest survey of the National Association of College Admission Counseling. The percentage of admitted students who enroll (yield rate) was 41 percent.

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