College Admissions

Archive for February, 2010

Application Update

Friday, February 5th, 2010

The number of students graduating from high school and applying to college was supposed to peak last year, but you wouldn’t know it from the reports of record-breaking numbers of college applications at schools around the country.


While Yale’s applications are down (by less than one percent), applications are up 20 percent at Brown, 19 percent at Princeton, 17 percent at University of Pennsylvania, five percent at Harvard and Cornell, and four percent at Dartmouth. Stanford reports a four to five percent increase in applications. Applications are up a whopping 42 percent at University of Chicago, probably the result of more intensive recruiting as well as Chicago’s switch to the Common Application. Applications are up 15 percent at Middlebury, 10 percent at Connecticut College, six percent at Wesleyan and three percent at Williams College and George Washington University. Many public universities, including Penn State, University of Virginia and the University of California system are also seeing increases in applications.


More applications will mean lower acceptance rates. Duke’s applications are up 11 percent this year, and its acceptance rate will likely fall from 18 percent last year to 15 percent this year. Johns Hopkins has received 13 percent more applications and since the University was overenrolled last year and will be more cautious this year, the acceptance rate will probably fall from last year’s 27 percent to 17 or 18 percent. George Washington University also had a higher than expected yield last year, and with a three percent increase in applications this year, the acceptance rate is likely to fall there as well.


There are a number of explanations for the increases in applications. Students who are anxious about admission prospects or want to compare financial aid and scholarship offers are applying to more colleges. Concern about the budget cuts at California’s public universities is contributing to the rise in applications around the country. UC is currently overenrolled by 15,000 students, meaning the system gets no funding for those students. Last year, UC reduced freshman admission by 2,300 across all campuses and another 1,500 slots will be cut this year. The CSU system is reducing enrollment by 40,000 over two years. Private colleges and many public universities in other states have received more applications from California students this year.

Some of the increase in applications can be attributed to more aggressive recruiting, as college enrollment managers worry about filling seats in a still struggling economy. Public universities that are getting less state funding are seeking more out of state students, who pay much higher tuition. All schools are recruiting more international students, who do not qualify for federal financial aid and generally pay full fare.


Applications from out of state students are up at many University of California campuses, so despite the severe budget problems, the perception of a quality education and the allure of warm, sunny weather is still drawing students to the West Coast. Students from New Jersey may have a better chance of being admitted to Berkeley this year, but getting admitted is only the first hurdle. Cuts in course offerings have made it difficult for students at California’s public institutions to get the classes they need, and staff furloughs are impacting student services.


It’s not just public institutions that are suffering a loss of revenue in this economy. Charitable contributions to colleges were down 12 percent in 2009. Alumni giving rates fell to 10 percent. All colleges have been affected, and have had to find ways to cut expenses. Even wealthy institutions have put plans for new buildings on hold, cut programs and laid off staff. Financial aid is the last thing anyone wants to cut, and many schools are increasing their financial aid budgets. But last week, Williams College, one of the elite schools that had implemented a no-loan financial aid policy several years ago, announced it will go back to including loans in financial aid packages beginning with students applying next year. I would not be surprised to hear similar news from other colleges.


But the news isn’t all bad. While public institutions are forced to cut enrollment when they have budget cuts, private colleges that don’t have big endowments depend on tuition, and must maintain their enrollment or add students to ensure sufficient revenue to fund their budgets. At colleges that are not super-selective, enrollment managers are concerned about filling seats, and that means students who would not have been admitted two years ago have much better prospects this year, especially if they don’t qualify for financial aid.


The other good news for students who don’t need financial aid is that merit scholarships are still going strong. Two of my students have already been awarded $25,000 a year, and many others have received awards in the $10,000 to $15,000 a year range. Private schools need to be competitive with public institutions, and by offering scholarships to students who will still pay more tuition than students with huge financial need, they draw students whose families are able to pay a little more for the benefits of a private college experience. In a still shaky economy, merit scholarships are more appealing than ever. Even California parents who attended public institutions and thought their children were headed for UC or CSU are now worried about the quality of education at our public universities, and the ability of students to graduate from these schools in four years, and many of them are now see merit scholarships as a way to make a private college education affordable.


Of course, a scholarship isn’t a reason to choose a school that doesn’t meet your needs, but with careful planning, students can find schools that are both good matches and affordable.