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College Applications Rise In 2008

– By Thomas Hauck

Think getting into a four-year college is increasingly competitive? You’re right. According to the 2008 State of College Admission Report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the growing number of high school graduates is creating increased competition for spots in the freshman classes of America’s four-year colleges and universities. While college applications rise, the rate of acceptance has remained the same as it was in the 1980s.

NACAC President Kimberly Johnston, Senior Associate Director of Admission at the University of Maine, commented that there is increased uncertainty about whether and where students will get admitted, but nevertheless there is an opening for every student who is qualified to attend a four-year college in the United States. 


The number of applications is steadily increasing. Over the past three years, most colleges and universities have reported an annual increase in the number of applications. It’s not just the number of students applying; the number of applications per student is also increasing. Many high school seniors are now submitting applications to seven or more colleges.

Another growing trend is the increased use of online applications. For the school year beginning in the fall of 2007 colleges received 68 percent of all applications online, up from 58 percent in the fall of 2006.

The New York Times confirmed the boom in applications. In an article published January 17, 2008, the Times reported that Harvard University received 27,278 applicants for the fall 2008 freshman class–a record number, and up 19 percent over last year. Other schools reporting big increases included Amherst College (17 percent), Dartmouth College (10 percent), Northwestern University (14 percent), and the University of Chicago (18 percent).

What’s driving the trend? Aggressive recruiting, demographics, the ease of online applications, and more students applying to more colleges as a safety net.

Overall, in the fall of 2006 the average selectivity rate (the percentage of applicants who are offered admission) at four-year colleges and universities was 68 percent. The average institutional yield rate (the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll) was 46 percent. Clearly, students are selective, too.

What Factors Determine Who Gets Accepted?

Amid the glut of applications, who gets accepted–and why? College admissions officers identify the top four criteria: the student’s grades in college preparatory courses, his or her overall high school grade point average, the strength of the school’s curriculum, and the student’s standardized admission test scores. Other factors include the application essay, class rank, and recommendations.

One factor mentioned by admissions officers was the student’s demonstrated interest in attending the school. This element has been increasing in importance in recent years, perhaps in response to students applying to more colleges—and turning more down once they have been accepted.

Some students get accepted to college, and then the acceptance is revoked. Why? A decline in a student’s final grades is the most common reason, followed by falsification of application information, and then discipline or behavioral issues. However, nearly three-quarters of secondary schools do not have formal policies related to disclosing a student’s disciplinary information to colleges, and disciplinary problems don’t always get reported to the college.

Going to college can be an exciting time in a young person’s life. Parents and students can make the process less stressful by being prepared and being realistic about how the process works.

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