As a general rule, applying to two-year county and community colleges is much easier than to a four-year school, often requiring only a high school transcript or minimum test score. colleges in the aggregate level has become more competitive but most colleges admit a majority of those who apply; the selectivity and extreme competition has been very focused in a handful of the most selective colleges.
Recent trends in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries in applying to American universities, These trends have made college admissions a very competitive process, and a stressful one for student, parents and college counselors alike, while colleges are competing for higher rankings, lower admission rates and higher yields to boost their prestige and desirability. (Total freshmen enrollment at the top 100 most selective schools where an admit rate is below 35% is below 200,000 out of 2.90 million total freshmen in all post-secondary institutions).
According to Joanne Levy-Prewitt, colleges send "view books" not because they intend to admit them, but "because they want multitudes of students to apply" to improve the college's selectivity ranking and to make sure that they have as many well-qualified applicants as possible from whom to choose the strongest class.
US News compiles a directory of colleges and universities and has made a ranking of them, although the rankings are controversial, some colleges refuse to cooperate, and high school guidance counselors sometimes have major problems with the rankings.
In 2019, more than 50 people were charged regarding an admissions cheating scheme.
Millions of high school students apply to college each year.Mamlet and Van De Velde suggest that it is improper for an admissions counselor to tamper with a student's "authentic self".Most counselors have responsibility for helping many students and, as a result, it is difficult for them to provide individualized help to a particular student; one estimate was that the average ratio for all high schools of students to counselors was 460 to 1.with most activity taking place during the twelfth grade, although students at top high schools often begin the process during their tenth grade or earlier.In addition, there are considerable numbers of students who transfer from one college to another, as well as adults older than high school age who apply to college.High school students will typically begin the college admissions planning process in their junior year, with applications due in October of their senior year (for Early Decision or Early Action) or in December of their senior year (for Regular Decision) although the application timetable for each college may vary.For example, many public universities such as the University of California system have a November deadline.On the other hand, colleges have increased outreach to attract applicants who have been historically underrepresented in their applicant pool and admitted classes, such as applicants from lower income neighborhoods (which may not be well served by knowledgeable college counselors) and applicants who are first generation college students.In 2018, there was a probe by the Department of Justice into whether colleges practicing Early Admissions violated anti-trust laws by sharing information about applicants.Recent developments such as electronic filing via the Common Application, now used by about 800 schools and handling 25 million applications, have facilitated an increase in the number of applications per student.Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college as "undeclared" undergraduates and not to a particular department or major, unlike many European universities and American graduate schools, although some undergraduate programs such as architecture or engineering may require a separate application at some universities.