I was playing around with birth number statistics. (Note there’s a small change in 2006 about where the data came from– the numbers are really similar for the overlap between 1990 and 2006 but in general, the numbers from 2006+ are usually just a little bit lower than their counterparts from the other dataset, generally in the 1,000s place. The numbers for 2005 in both datasets are very similar.)
Here’s what you get if you plot out raw numbers. This doesn’t include immigration or mortality or anything like that. Also no information about education or income or race or socioeconomic status. Just raw numbers.
Many kids applying to elite colleges this year were born in or around 2004/5.
There will be some red-shirted and otherwise delayed kids who were born a year or two before then. And, of course, the pandemic gap year kids (kids who deferred a year and then made the next accepted college class smaller at many elite schools, which caused kids who didn’t get in where they wanted to delay a year etc.) are still moving through. And there’s kids who would never have applied to elite colleges before who are now encouraged to do so through QuestBridge (this is really great– work by Carolyn Hoxby and Susan Dynarski has been pushing for connecting these kids to elite schools and it’s fantastic that’s actually happening now). And international students no longer have to prove that they are rich to attend US colleges like they did at the turn of the century. So those are a few additional causes of competition for elite schools.
But still, the raw numbers are important. (There’s something called the Easterlin Hypothesis that talks about the effects of cohort size on economic outcomes– this is part of that theoretical thread.)
And while the number of colleges has no doubt changed, what is defined as elite and how many schools are considered elite maybe hasn’t as much.
So… if your kids are applying to elite schools, is their college application experience going to be different than yours? YES. How much different? Well.. what cohort did you apply to college with? What cohort are your kids applying to college in?
A nice thing about this chart is the knowledge that if we hadn’t let DC1 skip a couple grades, there would be even more competition for slots. Of course, zie would (probably) be more accomplished as well and wouldn’t be only 16, so that would help too. DC2 has a bit more leeway as zie was born in the middle of kind of a flat fertility period, though zie may be facing more competition from red-shirted and gap year kids.
(Note that a lot of people making predictions about how hard it is to get into college are focusing on the *birth rate*, which will be dropping if what they say is correct. The Birth Rate is calculated by dividing the number of live births in a year by the mid-year resident population. The reason the birth number is going up but the birth rate is going down is because of the denominator, not the numerator. Personally I think the numerator is more important to college admissions 17-18 years later. Lots of other stuff goes into who is applying to college, as mentioned before the graph, but the mid-year resident population the year a kid was born probably isn’t a first order thing.)