Most of the selective colleges in this country experienced record low acceptance rates this past admissions cycle. Just look at the acceptance rate for any college you are interested in and trace it back three years and you will see this trend. For many selective colleges, the acceptance rate is under 15%.
The simple fact is that more and more students from all over the world are applying to colleges in the US, while the number of available spots for incoming freshmen remains relatively unchanged. Additionally, the Common App makes it easier to apply to multiple colleges.
Because of the trend of more students applying to more schools, colleges that used to be considered "Safety Schools" have become more difficult for admission.
Admissions officers can fill their class many times over with all the qualified applicants they receive. Most students applying to good colleges have strong GPA's, SAT/ACT scores and well written essays. It has become more difficult for admissions officers to distinguish among qualified candidates.
Admissions officers want to see the impact a student has made outside of the time he or she is in class. What has the student done to help his or her community? Character is weighted heavily in the admissions decision process.
The more a student can demonstrate his or her compelling narrative, meaning a coherent record of how the student’s unique interests and aspirations coalesce, the more attractive a candidate the student becomes. Ideally, a compelling narrative includes a significant service project benefiting others which speaks powerfully to a student’s character.