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Friday, May 20, 2011

Overkill or a Savvy Strategy?

The admissions offices are so happy.  This season was such a success for so many of them!  Record numbers of applicants came in.  My undergrad alma mater's president commented, with glee, that the number of applicants has doubled in the past 6 years.  That's Northwestern, with over 30,000 applications.  Penn says: more than 31,500 students applied for 2,400 spaces in the class resulting in an all-time low overall admit rate of 12 percent!  Harvard only accepted 6.2% of their 35,000 applicants.  Yale and Columbia accepted fewer than 6% of the RD applicants and only 7% of EA/ED!

Look at these application numbers:  In 2013, about 250,000 applications were received by MIT, the Ivies, and Stanford.  In 2015, it was 298,000!

Northwestern, Penn, Stanford, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell all report record numbers of applicants.  Together with the other Ivy League and Highly Selective Universities, admit rates plummeted.  Of the Ivies, only Cornell and Penn admitted more than 10% of the applicants.  The average number of applicants was 30,717.  There are only 24,149 seats all together!  With nearly 300,000 applicants!

It's not just the super elite schools, either.  Christendom, a tiny staunchly Catholic school reports its "best recruiting year ever" with a full class, and a waiting list.  The U of California schools also report record numbers of applicants.

So, what does it all mean?  Primarily it means that the schools very effectively preyed on people's fears of not getting in and students applied to many, many schools.  The norm used to be 6 schools - 4 good fits, a reach, and a safety school.  In the past two years, that has quickly shifted to 10 schools per student, with many of the bright kids applying to 15 or more.

Does the frenzy benefit anyone?  Well, yes.  The schools benefit.  They can all raise their tuition and fees.  The financial aid office, overall, can give out fewer dollars.  They have the same number of seats - with so many applicants, why should they accept those with great financial need?  There are very few need-blind schools (schools which do not consider financial need as part of their admissions process.)  Once again, our poorer students are going to bear the brunt of the negative consequences.

What do we do about it?  Well, let's take back our power.  Resist the fear of not getting in, choose schools prudently, and apply to 6-8.  Reduce the family's expense (there are application fees) and stress level.  Reduce the teacher and counselor recommenders' stress, too.  

Another factor to the numbers explosion may well be that 414 US colleges and universities can be applied to with a single application.  The Common Application is the way to apply to ALL of the Ivies, ALL of the top liberal arts colleges, and nearly all of the non-Ivy top schools.  Only Georgetown, UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, USC, and MIT don't use it.  The Common App. makes applying to numerous elite schools very, very easy.

Perhaps our elite schools could be encouraged to differentiate themselves again.  Given that it's all a numbers game, chances are slim.  Let's walk through this.  Say one school goes back to a private application.  That means extra work for all the applicants also applying to other Ivy/elite schools.  Those schools using Naviance (many of the better high schools) directly interface with the Common App.

Until the powers that be shift their focus or find that the market is saturated, I doubt we will see reform.  This side of the universities is their business side, not their lofty intellectual side.  With business, it's all in the numbers.  What is best doesn't come into consideration very much.

So, in the meantime, I urge sanity.  Choose your schools carefully.  Don't go for a school because it is prestigious.  Apply because it would be a terrific place for you, in particular, to grow and develop as a person and as an educated person.

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