It’s never been harder to gain college admission. Someone said it last year, and the year before, and… is it true? Or, more specifically, is it true most colleges report that they receive and reject more applications every year? The short answer is, yes, it’s never been tougher. According to The New York Times, schools as varied as Skidmore College (42.41% increase in applicants), St. Lawrence University (14.41% increase), and Yale University (2.81% increase) have all seen upticks in the number of applications they receive. Nevertheless, some would argue that colleges are no more selective than before. The bar hasn’t been raised, they say, there are just more applicants beneath it.
A March 20th Times article, “College Admissions: The Myth of Higher Selectivity” by Dan Edmonds proposes that while schools are receiving applications in unprecedented volume, the quality of the applicant pool has not significantly increased. He believes the numbers are skewed because students are taking advantage of the Common App’s ubiquity and automation. That is to say, many students are applying to reach schools that they have no realistic chance of entering, because “After all, what’s one more application when no additional paperwork is required?” Edmonds, Vice President of Research and Development at the educational consultancy Noodle.org, takes up a familiar argument among admissions insiders: the Common App makes it too easy to apply to colleges. Some might respectfully disagree.
Consider an argument advanced by the Program Director at Chicago Scholars, Will Dix: “…the Common Application is now both too common and too complex. Although its basic form is a model of directness and simplicity, the additional wheels on the bike make it unstable and hard to handle.” Applying to college, even since the advent of the Common App, is no easy business. Consider:
- The Common App leaves ten blanks under the heading of “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience”. Is it no longer enough for high school seniors to have a stellar GPA while taking a full load of advanced courses? The Common App may make it easier to list extracurriculars, but it doesn’t help you do them.
- Nearly every school requires students submit a supplemental application that asks school-specific questions. Applicants who coast on the supplements – who don’t research the professors, programs, and classes that they would like to take – are at a distinct disadvantage.
- Even as demographic trends predict that the population of American college seniors, (who currently number a little over 3 million,) will continue to decrease over the next couple of years, the number of highly qualified international applicants is growing at a much faster rate. As the affluent populations of China and India continue to grow, foreign-born valedictorians will allow colleges to raise the bar.
- Completive schools, like Clark University (27.82% increase in applicants), and Case Western Reserve University (25.08% increase)2, may now be seen as alternatives to elite schools. Top applicants know the numbers, and are likely starting to hedge their bets.
So much for the diluted applicant pool theory.
What’s the upside for rejected and waitlisted applicants? As more and more schools become selective and elite by virtue of their acceptance rates, these same schools will be considered impressive. So if your application to Tufts or Princeton was rejected, you might be on your way to Case Western or Clark. It’s likely that, in a few years time, the difference between your reach school and your safety school might not seem so great.