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Acceptance rates mean nothing

visitor's center
The Undergraduate Admissions Visitor Center.
Zachary Shevin / The Daily Princetonian

With this year’s college admissions cycle coming to a close, Princeton has made the unprecedented decision not to release statistics on admissions rates for both the early and regular decision rounds. Last fall, the 145th Editorial Board claimed that withholding data discourages students from applying to Princeton.

Despite being a commonly held opinion on campus, this is the wrong way to approach college admissions. Admittedly, prospective students should by no means ignore acceptance rates altogether — doing so may land them in a situation where they are not accepted anywhere.


However, when it comes to institutions such as Princeton, a sensible prospective student who has done their research should know that Princeton is a ‘reach’ school. So why care about Princeton’s acceptance rate? Why care if the rate is 5 percent or 2 percent or just completely absent altogether?

In fact, withholding admissions statistics encourages prospective students to be extra thorough in researching the schools they are considering. This is a good thing.

Of course, researching the school means researching the school. Are you prepared for their academic environment? Do you see yourself in a big city or a small town? Are there extracurriculars at the institution that you can dedicate yourself to? Does the institution fundamentally contradict a core value of your life? Do you prefer to grind at parties or grind in the library? These are crucial questions that prospective students should consider, and they are infinitely more important than any single-digit number on a screen could tell them.

If a student truly does their research on what Princeton has to offer and decides that this campus is a potential home for them for the next four years, why should they be deterred by the acceptance rate or lack thereof?

Low acceptance rates inherently indicate prestige. Unfortunately, the drawback of this low-acceptance-rate culture is the unhealthy trend of prestige-chasing by many high-achieving prospective students who may shoot for prestigious colleges without having done enough research into most, if any, of the colleges to which they are applying.

Imagine that you are vegetarian. You live in an area where everyone is raving about the highly-rated restaurant in town, which happens to be a steakhouse. However, the steakhouse has limited seating, and there always seems to be a long line of people waiting to get in. Most people don’t get in, yet people still get in line every night. This steakhouse goes against your fundamental value of vegetarianism — you know you wouldn’t enjoy going to this restaurant. Still, all your friends are hellbent on getting into this exclusive steakhouse. You even notice random people on the Internet pining after the restaurant from afar.


Wouldn’t be it exciting to show that you beat the statistical odds of getting into the restaurant? Wouldn’t it be exciting to get into this highly touted restaurant just for the sake of prestige? Would it make any sense for you to get in line, too?

Of course not.

Should the steakhouse’s low “acceptance rate” play a role whatsoever in your decision to go?  The answer is a resounding no. It clearly does not and should not impact how you view the steakhouse.

The same goes for colleges. Subjective popular opinions about a school should not influence one’s decision to apply whatsoever.

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I anticipate that there will be those who argue that Princeton ought to at least publish its core statistics — standardized test score percentiles and demographic percentages, for example — because this is a part of a prospective student’s research process. Keep in mind that Princeton withholding its admissions statistics simply means that the school will no longer be formally publishing its annual “Class of 20XX” admissions statistics page. Admissions and enrollment statistics will still be published annually in the Common Data Set.

That being said, I do agree in particular that the loss of transparency in the demographics of admitted students is not beneficial for anyone. Princeton needs to maintain its commitment to making its world-class education accessible to talented students from diverse backgrounds. To withhold this information is to remove their accountability, a violation of their commitment.

Even with lackluster transparency regarding data on student demographics, Princeton will continue to report various information about its current student body. Savvy prospective students in future application cycles should look into this to uncover data most relevant to them.

I’m sure many of my fellow peers would agree that their Princeton acceptance came as a surprise, yet we all decided to take that leap of faith and apply anyway. If a prospective student has decided that Princeton is the right school for them, the absence of a trivial number should not deter them from applying.

Windsor Nguyễn is a first-year student from Appleton, Wis. He can be reached at or @windsor.nguyen on Instagram and @WindsorNguyen on Twitter.