The ever more Competitive Higher Education Landscape

April 4, 2007 at 10:50 am 2 comments

The New York Times
April 4, 2007
A Great Year for Ivy League Schools, but Not So Good for Applicants to Them

Harvard turned down 1,100 student applicants with perfect 800 scores on the SAT math exam. Yale rejected several applicants with perfect 2400 scores on the three-part SAT, and Princeton turned away thousands of high school applicants with 4.0 grade point averages. Needless to say, high school valedictorians were a dime a dozen.

It was the most selective spring in modern memory at America’s elite schools, according to college admissions officers. More applications poured into top schools this admissions cycle than in any previous year on record. Schools have been sending decision letters to student applicants in recent days, and rejection letters have overwhelmingly outnumbered the acceptances.

Stanford received a record 23,956 undergraduate applications for the fall term, accepting 2,456 students, meaning the school took 10.3 percent of applicants.

Harvard College received applications from 22,955 students, another record, and accepted 2,058 of them, for an acceptance rate of 9 percent. The university called that “the lowest admit rate in Harvard’s history.”

Applications to Columbia numbered 18,081, and the college accepted 1,618 of them, for what was certainly one of the lowest acceptance rates this spring at an American university: 8.9 percent.

“There’s a sense of collective shock among parents at seeing extraordinarily talented kids getting rejected,” said Susan Gzesh, whose son Max Rothstein is a senior with an exemplary record at the Laboratory School, a private school associated with the University of Chicago. Max applied to 12 top schools and was accepted outright only by Wesleyan, New York University and the University of Michigan.

“Some of his classmates, with better test scores than his, were rejected at every Ivy League school,” Ms. Gzesh said.

The brutally low acceptance rates this year were a result of an avalanche of applications to top schools, which college admissions officials attributed to three factors. First, a demographic bulge is working through the nation’s population — the children of the baby boomers are graduating from high school in record numbers. The federal Department of Education projects that 3.2 million students will graduate from high school this spring, compared with 3.1 million last year and 2.4 million in 1993. (The statistics project that the number of high school graduates will peak in 2008.) Another factor is that more high school students are enrolling in college immediately after high school. In the 1970s, less than half of all high school graduates went directly to college, compared with more than 60 percent today, said David Hawkins, a director at the National Association of College Admission Counseling.

The third trend driving the frantic competition is that the average college applicant applies to many more colleges than in past decades. In the 1960s, fewer than 2 percent of college freshmen had applied to six or more colleges, whereas in 2006 more than 2 percent reported having applied to 11 or more, according to The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2006, an annual report on a continuing long-term study published by the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Multiple applications per student,” Mr. Hawkins said, “is a factor that exponentially crowds the college admissions environment.”

One reason that students are filing more applications is the increasing use of the Common Application, a form that can be completed and filed via the Internet.

The ferocious competition at the most selective schools has not affected the overall acceptance rate at the rest of the nation’s 2,500 four-year colleges and universities, which accept an average of 70 percent of applicants.

“That overall 70 percent acceptance rate hasn’t changed since the 1980s,” Mr. Hawkins said.

But with more and more students filling out ever more applications, schools like the California Institute of Technology received a record number of applications this year — 3,595, or 8 percent more than last year — and admitted 576 students. Among so many talented applicants, a prospective student with perfect SAT scores was not unusual, said Jill Perry, a Caltech spokeswoman.

“The successful students have to have shown some passion for science and technology in high school or their personal life,” Ms. Perry said. “That means creating a computer system for your high school, or taking a tractor apart and putting it back together.”

The competition was ferocious not only at the top universities, but at selective small colleges, like Williams, Bowdoin and Amherst, all of which reported record numbers of applications.

Amherst received 6,668 applications and accepted 1,167 students for its class of 2011, compared with the 4,491 applications and 1,030 acceptance letters it sent for the class of 2002 nine years ago, said Paul Statt, an Amherst spokesman.

“Many of us who went to Amherst three decades ago know we couldn’t get in now; I know I couldn’t,” said Mr. Statt, who graduated from Amherst in 1978.

The Wall Street Journal

Colleges Reject
Record Numbers
April 3, 2007; Page B9

This year’s college-admissions competition is turning out to be more brutal than ever — and not just for students who applied to elite universities.

A number of top-tier state schools and smaller liberal arts colleges say they received more applications this year from well-qualified students — and consequently are turning down a higher percentage of them.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received 20,017 applications, up from 19,736 last year. The state school’s acceptance rate fell to 33.3% from 34.1%. At Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, 4,624 students applied, up 8%, yet it accepted 1,348, down from 1,395 last year, to prevent overenrollment. Even schools that admit the vast majority of applicants are becoming more selective. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, saw a record 15,836 applicants this year, up from 15,498 the year before; it accepted 73% of them, down from 78% last year.
[A Higher Bar]

“Students are being more intelligent about what their options are when getting into school, and they are looking in the next tier now,” says Jennifer Delahunty Britz, Kenyon’s dean of admissions and financial aid. “Schools that did not used to be on the radar of talented students are now on the radar.”

Many Ivy League universities also drew record numbers of applicants and consequently admitted students at lower rates. The University of Pennsylvania saw applications rise 11% over the last year to a record 22,634, while its acceptance rate fell to 15% from about 17% last year. “The talent of students in the pool was so exceptional that we had difficulty making choices,” says Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the Philadelphia school.

Dartmouth College had a record 14,176 applications, up 2% from last year. It accepted 2,165, or 15% — its lowest acceptance rate in history. Harvard University drew a record 22,955 applicants and accepted a record low 9%. At Stanford University, the number of applications rose 7% to 23,956. It accepted 10.3%, down from 10.9% last year.

Several factors are fueling the rise in applications. One is population trends: The number of students graduating from high school has risen each year since the 1995-96 school year, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The U.S. Department of Education predicts that the trend will continue until at least 2013.

Another is the growth in international students. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for instance, recruiters went abroad for the first time this year, making trips to Shanghai and other Asian cities to promote the college. UNC had 736 foreign nationals apply this year, up from 590 last year. The university admitted 167 of them, up from about 125 a year ago.

A third is the growing use of the Common Application, a form that can be completed online and sent to a number of admissions offices far more easily than paper-based applications. More than 300 schools accept it.

The Common Application has “made it much easier for people to file 10,15, 20 applications,” says Charles Deacon, dean of undergraduate admissions at Georgetown University. Georgetown doesn’t take the Common Application to try to hold down its number of applicants, he says. Still, the Washington, D.C., university saw applications rise to 16,198 from 15,067 last year. It accepted 20% of them, down from 22% a year ago.

To be sure, not all of the most-selective colleges saw a rise in applicants. Yale University’s applications fell to 19,323 from 21,101 last year. Although there has been speculation that Yale’s low acceptance rate last year caused fewer students to apply this year, the dean of admissions has said the decline was due to a random fluctuation, says Yale spokesman Tom Conroy.

Generally, though, college officials agree it has become more difficult to get into selective schools. As a result, some high school counselors are encouraging students to be more realistic in deciding where to apply. “It’s more competitive every year,” says Shirley Bloomquist, a private counselor in Great Falls, Va. “I’m seeing more parents and students look at safety schools.”

Ms. Bloomquist says she now emphasizes that students should prepare for their “likely” schools, those where they have a good shot, rather than their “reach” schools. She also encourages high schoolers to start looking at colleges during their sophomore year rather than spring of junior year, when most begin the process. That gives them more time to find additional schools that may not be their top choices but still would be desirable.

Even high school seniors with exceptional grades are being careful with their expectations. Last year, “I had some really smart friends who applied to some schools they didn’t get into,” says James Newman, 17, the salutatorian at Lamar High School in Houston. He has a 4.82 grade point average (boosted above 4.0 by International Baccalaureate courses) and scored a 2210 on his SAT out of 2400. He is active in his church youth group and has been an Eagle Scout, vice president of the National Spanish Honor Society and vice president of the school choir.

Mr. Newman applied to Princeton University, Stanford, Middlebury College, Duke University, Davidson College in North Carolina and the University of Texas at Austin. But he learned from his friends’ experiences. “I tried not to have a definite first choice,” he says. “I thought it’s likely I’d get rejected because it’s so competitive.” He was turned down by Princeton, wait-listed at Stanford and accepted by his other choices. He says he is now leaning toward Duke — he’s not optimistic about getting into Stanford.

Indeed, college officials warn they may not take many students from their wait-lists this year. “We have not gone to the wait-list for two years, and we would like to,” says Tom Parker, dean of admissions and financial aid at Amherst College. Wait-lists allow colleges to adjust their freshman class if there is a shortage of students with particular strengths and characteristics who plan to attend.

Amherst currently has 1,450 students on its wait-list. Mr. Parker expects fewer than half to stay on it. Of those who do, Amherst hopes to accept 25 students.

In the past few years, colleges — even top-level state schools — have seen a higher-than-expected yield, or percentage of students admitted who end up attending. That means there are fewer spaces for wait-listed students.

The greater competition has made the admissions process increasingly frustrating for students, including those who don’t apply to elite schools. Corey King, a senior at Urbana High School in Ijamsville, Md., who wants to study music, heard from his first choice, Berklee College of Music in Boston, via email last week. “I actually injured my hand punching my door when I found out I didn’t get in,” he says.

Mr. King, who has a 3.2 grade point average, is a member of his high school’s rock music appreciation club and French club. He also applied to McGill University in Canada, the University of Maryland and Towson University in Maryland. “Now I’m afraid I won’t get into McGill or Maryland, and I’ll get stuck going to Towson,” which he considers “one step above community college.”

If Mr. King is turned down by McGill, he says he will reapply to Berklee next year. He says he is feeling pessimistic after the Berklee rejection, but there is one consolation: “No matter what, everyone is like, ‘I’m so done with high school,'” he says.

Write to Anjali Athavaley at


Entry filed under: college, education, elite.

JC/Poly Cut Off Grades Students of top schools worry more about elitism

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary Jean  |  April 10, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Thought you would fiind this interesting. love, terri

  • 2. raishel  |  December 1, 2008 at 11:16 am

    hey, i’m applying to mcgill and university of maryland. :3


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