Which is tougher–Tulane or Rose-Hulman? Class standing, admit rates, and outliers

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Real College Matters

13 March 2020

A lot of assumptions are made about colleges based on too few data points.
Take the matter of admit rates. It’s fairly understandable, if unfortunate, that some students employ this reasoning:


1) More selective–> 2) higher achievers in the class–>3)smarter people at my college–>4) better education for me –>5) more opportunities for me–> 6) better life for me


Honestly, I’m showing a little self-restraint here. I think “hotter wife” and/or “”faster Tesla” might get thrown into that jumble of logic, but at least it goes unspoken.


The point is, we have to keep these assumptions in check. An isolated metric is knowledge. Sometimes, more information is needed to reach a point of understanding. I don’t think we can even assume that #1 leads to #2…let alone 3, 4, 5, or 6.

The chart is meant to illustrate selectivity vs. achievement. How do we measure achievement? I chose to look at the reported percentage of students who were in the top tenth of their high school class. That choice in itself proves the limits of data, huh? There are lots of students not in the top decile who are outshining those at the very top, even within the same high school. On the other hand, I trust percentile in the top tenth of the class more than I trust standardized test scores, so I’m running with it for the next ten minutes.

What do you see in my chart? The trend line which indicates what you might expect; the lower the admit rate, the higher percentage of students coming from the top decile of their graduating class.


Keep reading, though: I’ve spotlighted a couple of outliers–Tulane (in near the green dot) and Rose-Hulman (near the orange dot). Tulane admitted 17% of its applicants; 63% of freshmen were in the top 10th of their class. At Rose-Hulman, 68% were admitted and 64% of their students were from the top decile.


I’m certainly not suggesting that Tulane is less academic than you might think. Tulane is a highly rigorous place which–bonus–still offers a lot of scholarship dollars. Instead, I want to make the case that it may be a whole lot harder to graduate from Rose-Hulman than it is to be admitted. Even more relevant is the notion of a self-selecting pool of applicants. Rose-Hulman is a technological institute. Not a lot of average students determine to take such very difficult path from age 18 to 22.

Truly, I don’t work for Centre College but am giving it yet another shout-out, because the data shows us that admit rates can be deceiving. Centre admits the majority of their applicants. Again, it’s a self-selecting, high-achieving pool of applicants. (The Centre dot is just southeast of the Rose-Hulman dot.) I think you’ll find similar metrics for a lot of liberal arts schools.


As I have mentioned before, the data set you can purchase at www.diycollegerankings.com is worth every penny. I used it as my starting point for this chart, but it includes about 250 additional columns of information. DIY College Rankings doesn’t pay me, either! Just sharing some of my favorite resources with you.
Stay healthy out there.