Can students be blamed for thinking they have to apply to 100 colleges just to get admitted somewhere? Think about it. The population of high school graduates was supposed to have peaked in 2008, but colleges and universities are still finding creative ways to round up new applicants. As a result, admit rates are being driven down to staggering levels. A few examples:
- After reinstating Early Action, and despite a slight decline in applications, Harvard College lowered its admit rate to 5.9 percent this year: 18 percent for Early Action, and 3.8 percent for Regular Action.
- The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s applicant pool increased 23 percent after it joined the Common Application this year. And last year, the University of Michigan and Columbia University in New York saw similar increases of 25 percent and 32 percent respectively when they joined the Common App.
The increase in the population of high school students over the last two decades not only gave many colleges and universities newfound prestige based upon rising selectivity in admissions, it also created a class of uber-selective schools. And despite a current numerical leveling and eventual decline in the US high school population, colleges are still trying to beef up their numbers in order to either maintain their positions on the selectivity ladder or shoot for a higher rung. It’s a veritable application arms race!
So what are some of the tools in a college’s recruitment and selectivity arsenal?
- Demographics. Depending upon the part of the country in which you live, your high school is either bursting at the seams or experiencing an unusual amount of elbow room. They just can’t build high schools fast enough in the South and West. But in the Northeast and Midwest, where the high school aged population is shrinking, colleges are seriously looking outside their traditional recruitment radius to make up for the declining numbers back home.
- Easy Applications. What’s the quickest way to get more applications? Make it easy to apply. Nowadays, applying to college can be as easy as pressing submit. Colleges can join one of several application consortiums that make it easy for a student to apply — student essays and data are saved and resubmitted for “new” applications. So while the student population might have leveled off, students are now applying to more schools because it’s that much easier. Ingenious!
- Yield. How can a college lower its admit rate when applications are down? Admit greater numbers of students who are likely to enroll. The more students likely to enroll, the fewer students a college has to admit to reach its enrollment goals, and the more “selective” a college appears. Here are the prime candidates for admission: students who visit, students who apply under an early notification program, and students who demonstrate an intimate knowledge of the school.
While students might feel there’s greater competition to get into the school of their choice, they should also be aware that colleges are in greater competition with one another to enroll a shrinking pool of students. So what’s a student to do? Join us later this month for Part II in our series, (Surviving) the College Application Arms Race, to find out.