As it continues to grow tougher to get admitted to ultra-selective colleges, students are applying to greater numbers of schools. The thinking is: if you apply to enough schools, you’ll probably get in somewhere, right?
And it makes sense. Admission at the most selective schools is rather random, so it seems smart to play the game with many different schools. Additionally, the Common Application makes it easy enough to apply to many schools without losing several weeks of your life in the process.
But there’s a downside to this. When students, as a group, all decide that it’s a good idea to apply to a greater number of colleges, it gets even harder to get into the most popular schools. That’s when you see ridiculous admissions rates of 6, 7, or 8 percent. That’s when the stress increases exponentially as students and families try to find a way to be one of the chosen few.
Believe it or not, colleges are pretty content with this situation. Not to be all “conspiracy theory,” but most schools don’t accept the Common App to make your life easier. They do it to get more students to apply so that they’ll be able to turn down a larger percentage of them. (This boosts their apparent presitge and selectivity.) Columbia University is a good example of this: they started accepting the Common App this year and received 33 percent more applications than they did last year. However, they still accepted the same number of incoming freshmen.
If schools don’t have any incentive to increase their acceptance rates, what can be done about this? Tough as it sounds, the answer is for students to apply to fewer schools. While this might be difficult in the face of low acceptance rates, it becomes easier if you only apply to those schools that you really want to attend. By extension, you should avoid applying to a school simply because of a well-known name or a certain level of prestige.
Of course, you’ll still want to apply to schools with different levels of selectivity relative to your credentials—“reaches,” “matches,” and “safeties.” But each of your schools should be a good fit for you and a place where you can truly see yourself going.
To be able to do this, you should complete the bulk of your research prior to your senior year. If you’re a well-informed applicant, you’ll be able to send targeted applications to half-a-dozen well-chosen schools.
If you’re uninformed, however, you’ll need to apply to a greater number of schools to cover your bases. Some of these schools may be those that, if you knew more about them, wouldn’t be serious contenders. Unfortunately, each one is most likely someone else’s dream school. And if you’re a strong candidate, your “throwaway” application may hurt the admissions chances of another student who really wants to go.
What do you think about the increasing number of applications that most students submit? What's the best way to reverse this trend? Email me at INblog@review.com and let me know!