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).
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.
Assistance by consultants or other adults can go to extremes, particularly with hard-to-check variables such as the college essays; according to one view, plagiarism on admissions essays has been a "serious problem", particularly on applications to private universities and colleges.
Elite and other universities send admissions officers to high schools and college fairs to encourage high school students to apply.
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.
There were approximately 4.23 million in the high school graduating age group in 2018-19, with an estimated 3.68 million high school graduates (3.33 million in public schools and 0.35 million in private schools).
The number of high school graduates is projected to rise to 3.89 million in 2025-26 before falling back to 3.71 million in 2027-28.