Why You Shouldn’t Trust College Acceptance Prediction Calculators

college prediction calculators

As hard-working students, you’ve spent years cultivating your high school transcript. You’ve done community service. You’ve figured and refigured your weighted and unweighted GPA. The college visits are done. You’ve put in your applications, and now, because it’s hard to wait, you’re running your facts and figures through all of the various online college admissions prediction calculators. And there are a lot of them.

“Predict your chances!” they say. “Using simulation approach to predicting if you’ll get into your dream college!” they crow. “See now if you have what it takes to get accepted!” they yell.

Here’s the truth: None of them are going to work 100%. Ever. And here is why.

Online Prediction Calculators

Every single one of those calculators are run by student-reported facts and figures (their location, GPA, test scores, and whether or not they got in), or college-reported information, or information the websites glean from other sources, or a combination of all of these data points. They’re almost always last year’s information. Yes, some of them are “real-time” charts of students in the admissions pool alongside of you.

But those students aren’t you. And last year’s admitted pool isn’t this year’s pool.

It’s Not Simply A Numbers Game

Here’s the insider information about college admissions. Each summer, way before you’ve even started your senior year, college admissions counselors are attending conferences about students and networking with their peers about admissions trends. The university president and board and admissions consulting firms are identifying what students are needed for the college or university to be more well-rounded in one area over another. They’re looking at how many students have graduated in certain majors, and how many have left school or transferred, and what holes are left. Student housing is telling them about dorm capacity and dining hall crowding. Finance is telling them about money and development is reporting on endowments and athletics is hoping for a better women’s lacrosse season.

And then all of the admissions counselors, at all of the schools, sit down and come up with a rather complex structure of numbers: “If we get this many applications (like last year or less or more) then we need to grant offers of admission to X% of this major and Y% to this program in the hopes of yielding (a specific admission’s term) Z number of students BUT NO MORE THAN THAT because they can’t house them.”

It’s kind of like this: A large state university regularly averages around 25,000 applications. They need a freshman class of 4,000, but only 200 engineers and only 100 architects, but fashion merchandising is low on students so more of those and then there’s a new major in Sociology and then they need some Undeclared students too. So how many should they accept to yield all of those numbers and hit their target?

Meanwhile, you’re plugging your numbers into websites pulling last year’s data to try and predict this year’s admissions needs for your first choice school.

The Well-Rounded Student

So why shouldn’t you use the calculators? You’re not competing for a spot against last year’s admitted pool. You’re also not competing against last year’s freshman class (the “yield” group who enrolled). You are only specifically “competing against” other students in the specific major(s) you’ve applied to, and you don’t know them.

And then, remember, this process isn’t just about GPAs and SATs. It’s about the house you helped build over last year’s Spring Break and the part-time job you love. It’s about another student’s leadership in a club and another’s merit badges. Yes, someone’s GPA is going to be lower than yours, and they might have reported that they got an offer of admission to your major and your head just exploded. But maybe they’ve been saving bees in South America for three years? Maybe they have a GPA that’s .3 lower than you, but they’re running a tutoring program for kids and they’ve visited that campus four times in two years.

University admissions isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison game. It’s an individual-to-individual story. Calculators with last year’s data won’t tell the stories of this year’s applicants.

Besides, the best part about college is getting to campus and finding new friends and colleagues who aren’t just like you. They might have had similar high school experiences, or something completely different. We guarantee you’ll meet someone in a class and think “how did I get into this university because this person is AMAZING.” It’s because your story spoke to an admissions counselor, just like their story did.

Website Traffic = $

Finally, every online prediction calculator website is looking for two things from you: Your eyeballs and your data. Website traffic is what makes money (yes, this site too, of course, and we’re super thankful for you), and the longer you’re on those sites, reading about who got in where and plugging in your stats, the more money those website will make in the long run. Your data will entice next year’s students into doing their numbers game against you. And you are way more than your numbers.

So what should you do in the meantime? Trust in your applications. Apply for scholarships. There’s lots of them out there, and some will be perfect for you. Research best things you’ll need for your dorm room. Look up all of the clubs and organizations available at the school’s you’re waiting to hear from. Go out to dinner with your high school friends and spend time with them before you all scatter away in August.

And most importantly, breathe.

It’ll all be decided soon enough.


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