American Nations - Colleges by Acceptance Rate, Test Scores, and Endowment

How can it be that there are more colleges than ever, yet it feels more difficult than ever to get accepted to college?

Both points can be true simultaneously, and as this post will demonstrate, it’s because everyone is fighting to get into the top 105 schools.

To help visualize this, the first map plots every college and university in the U.S. (black dots) layered over counties that have been colored according to Colin Woodard’s work defining the 11 “Hidden Nations” of America. Go here for more detail on the “Nations” and how he came to define them, and I want to thank Colin for providing the county level data sets to help build this visualization.

I chose Colin’s work because it blends traditional U.S. immigration patterns, voting results, and cultural cohesiveness on the county level with more detail than state or traditional regions do - think of how different a student’s experience in Miami vs. the Panhandle of Florida, or Seattle vs. Eastern Washington would be, even though they’d be in the same state in each example.

Interestingly enough, the map matches American English dialect patterns too.

The second visualization is the same as the first, only with the colleges themselves colored by region rather than the counties.

The third visualization, and where I’d encourage readers to focus on the most and toggle the variables on the toolbar on the right, shows all of the schools with under a 50% acceptance rate and at least $100 million in endowment, aka “all of the schools everyone is fighting over.”

What is striking to me is that there are only 105 schools that have less than a 50% acceptance rate, an endowment of over $100 million, and an average SAT or ACT score in the 85%+ range (roughly 1200 SAT or 27 ACT). And those are only the average scores - for many typical applicants without a big hook, the scores will likely need to be higher.

So what does this all mean? That it’s harder than ever to get into the brand name schools, once a student is accepted it’ll cost a lot (the top schools have the most full pay students), and that’s after the stress and rigor of multiple AP courses, SAT or ACT exams, and applications.

However, if a student is ok with eschewing the brand name, it’s a buyers market - all but the top 150 schools have acceptance rates of over 50%.

Over 2019, this blog will regularly revisit the “11 Nations” concept on a variety of topics: student migration between “Nations”, admissions, and test prep, and I’ll be collaborating with my friend and colleague, Leigh Moore of Cap Counselors.

Please do send over any comments, criticisms, ideas for more data visualizations, or insights from toggling the variables to