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Applications on the Rise at Selective Colleges

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An increase in the number of college applications is to be expected as the country’s college-aged population grows, but some schools have begun recruiting more assertively than ever before to increase their selection of applicants. Selective colleges are drastically surpassing the number of applications they received in the past and bragging about the statistics.

Eric Hoover’s article Application Inflation, a collaboration between the Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times, provided insight on this new trend on November 5, 2010.

More Applicants equals More Choices

It appears that some colleges are trying to comprise a perfect class that’s a mixture of minorities, out-of-state and overseas students, talented musicians, star athletes and students that are able to pay the full price of admission without financial assistance from the school. Colleges and universities now have the attitude of “the more applications, the better” because more applicants give them a greater chance of achieving their goal.

Some schools are using the high number of applications as a marketing tool—as in, “Apply here because we’re popular!” In fact, the University of California at Los Angeles declared itself the most popular campus in the nation after receiving a record 57,670 applications.

The students that comprise this fall’s freshman class at Stanford University were just 7 percent of the 32,022 applications that the school received and Brown University admitted just 9 percent of their 30,135 applicants. Why are so many students applying to elite schools that accept such a limited number of applicants?

Applying to College is Easier than Ever Before

Applying to colleges is easier than ever before. The Common Application is now accepted at over 400 higher education institutions in the United States, essentially giving students the ability to fill out one application yet submit it to multiple schools. Applying online has eased the burden of physically mailing envelopes to colleges, and “fast track” applications are used by more than 100 colleges and universities to encourage students to apply. A tactic similar to credit card offers, fast track applications arrive with a student’s name and other information already filled in, and they are accepted without an application fee.

Colleges begin marketing to students as early as their sophomore year of high school. They are able to create mailing lists comprised of students that achieved certain standardized test scores relatively cheaply (the College Board sells about 80 million names per year) and some students mistake these postcards and brochures as invitations.

Earl Retif, Tulane’s vice president for enrollment management, admits that some students actually say, “Hey, you invited me.” He also sees the increasing number of applications as a double-edged sword. "We don’t need 44,000 applications—it just means more people to choose from,” he told Eric Hoover.

Charles A. Deacon, dean of undergraduate admissions at Georgetown University, refuses to accept the Common Application. Georgetown conducts personal interviews with nearly all applicants the Common Application would bring in thousands more. "We’re not going to say, ‘Come one, come all’ just to find that one gem of a student and devastate the dreams of all the rest,” he explained.

Need Advice about Applying to College?

The College Board urges students to remember that all applications take time, effort and money. They recommend applying to a range of colleges:

  • One or two colleges you feel very confident about — you think you can get in (you have a 90 to 100 percent chance) and you can afford to go there. These colleges are usually called “safeties.”
  • Two to four colleges that are “probables" (you have at least a 75 percent chance of getting in). These are colleges that are both likely to accept you and close to what you are looking for.
  • One or two “reach” colleges (you have a 50 percent or less chance of getting in). These are colleges that present an admission challenge, but applying is well worth the try.

To compare colleges and universities that you are considering, use the free StateUniversity School Comparison tool.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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