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College Acceptance Rates Begin to Trickle In

Some of the country's most selective colleges have begun to release their acceptance rates for the fall freshman class, and the odds are getting even slimmer for incoming students at some schools.

Seven of the eight Ivy League schools reported lower acceptance rates , with Harvard taking just 5.79 percent of its applicants and Yale admitting 6.72 percent. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., had the most applications in the conference (just over 40,000) and accepted 6,062 for a 15.15 percent acceptance rate. Last year, Cornell accepted 6,119, or 16.2 percent, of its applicants. Dartmouth was the only Ivy League college to report admitting a higher percentage of students this year than last.

Numbers like these should give comfort to the many high school seniors feeling the sting of rejection from some of the top schools. They are in good company.

The annual spring release of acceptance rates from the most elite colleges is also a time for some big-picture perspective. While a handful of schools have crazy-low acceptance rates, most accept nearly two-thirds of students who want to attend.

Nationally, acceptance rates for four-year institutions averaged 63.8 percent in 2011, a slight decline from a national average of 69.6 percent in 2002, according to the 2012 State of Admissions Report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Overall, colleges are admitting a lower percentage of students, but most are not in the Ivy League ballpark of less than 15 percent.

Students are applying to more colleges, which is contributing to the declining acceptance rates. It's a matter of math: There are the same number of spots available in a freshman class but a larger pool of candidates to consider. Nearly 80 percent of fall 2011 freshmen applied to three or more colleges, an increase of 12 percentage points over the last 10 years, NACAC surveys show. The percentage of students who submitted seven or more applications reached 29 percent in 2011.

The ease of applying electronically through the Common Application is helping fuel the trend. "Technology has made it easier to apply to more than one school," says Melissa Clinedinst, assistant director of research at NACAC. In 2002, colleges received 57 percent of applications online. In 2011, it went up to 85 percent, NACAC reports.

According to U.S. Department of Education data, the average number of applications per institution increased 60 percent between 2002 and 2011. As applications pile up, colleges are finding it particularly difficult to estimate just who will accept their offers.

The next figures to be released soon will be the yield rate—the percent of students granted admission who end up enrolling. Colleges are hosting welcome days, alumni are making calls to accepted students, and helpful admissions officers are trying to answer all student questions in hopes of getting them to say yes to their invitation and boost their institution's reputation.

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