When policymakers and journalists talk about college admissions (as they often do this time of year, because it's admission season), it tends to sound like this, Fivethirtyeight recounts:
High school seniors spend months visiting colleges; writing essays; wrangling letters of recommendation; and practicing, taking and retaking an alphabet soup of ACTs, SATs and AP exams. Then the really hard part: months of nervously waiting to find out if they are among the lucky few….
However, [m]ost students never have to write a college entrance essay, pad a résumé or sweet-talk a potential letter-writer. Nor are most, as The Atlantic put it Monday, 'obsessively checking their mailboxes' awaiting acceptance decisions. (Never mind that for most schools, those decisions now arrive online.)"
Fivethirtyeight gives some numbers to put the skewing effect in perspective:
According to data from the Department of Education,1 more than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates attend colleges that accept at least half their applicants; just 4 percent attend schools that accept 25 percent or less, and hardly any — well under 1 percent — attend schools like Harvard and Yale that accept less than 10 percent.
The piece provides a useful chart that highlights other aspects of the "archetypal" college experience (as portrayed in the media) that leave out large segments of students, including older students, students in primarily non-residential programs, and students getting associates' degrees or certificates. Read more here.