college application finish line

In an effort to beat back the demographic headwinds now working against them, some colleges and universities are coming up with ever more clever ways to maintain their “uber-selective” titles.  They’re using every weapon within their recruitment and selectivity arsenal — from demographics to yield to just plain making it easy to apply — to improve their relative rank.

As colleges and universities conspire against one another for prestige, how do students avoid becoming collateral damage, victims of the college application arms race?  If you want to dodge the proverbial thin envelope, consider these three simple rules of engagement:

  1. Narrow down your set of applications.  Yes, it seems counterintuitive.  But in an era when colleges are trying to lower their admit rates relative to everyone else, they’re intentionally trying to raise their yields, their rates of matriculation, too.  Higher yields allow colleges to meet their enrollment goals and admit fewer students.  That means colleges are looking for students who are likely to enroll: students who know them, students who want them, students who visit them.  Convincing a college it’s your first choice school is difficult enough with a tactical set of seven applications, and it’s pretty much impossible with a set of fourteen!  Stay focused, and consider some strategic early applications.
  2. Dream within reason.  Make sure the schools you’re considering are within reach.  The colleges you apply to should be the colleges that fit you best.  If you’re trying to score a basket, you might have better luck with two or three shots from near the hoop rather than seven throws from clear across the court.  Just because a set of schools is harder to get into doesn’t mean you’re increasing your odds of admission by applying to more of them.  So if the average GPA of a college’s admitted class is a 4.0 and you have a 3.2, reconsider your application.  Don’t make it easy for a college to boost its prestige at your expense.
  3. Don’t get bowled over.  Just because a college you’ve never visited sends you letters, fills out your application for you, and makes applying as easy as pressing a submit button, doesn’t really mean it is planning to admit you. Other than a PSAT score it might have purchased from the College Board, the college barely knows you.  If that college wants to boast about the number of students it denies, it first needs to convince a greater number of students to apply.  That means showering affection on students it has no intention of admitting.  From now on, read every college love letter you get with a discriminating eye.

Here’s the game.  Colleges want to maintain their level of selectivity, and they do that by increasing the size of their applicant pools and then choosing only those students who are a match.  If colleges have this down to a science, shouldn’t you?  Be selective with your college list:  apply with thought; apply with reason; apply with purpose!

 

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Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory.