College Admissions

February 21, 2013

Start Planning Your Summer

Summer may be months away, but it not too early for high school students to start making plans. There is so much anxiety around college admission that choosing the “best” summer activity can be intimidating, but there are no rules about how you should spend the summer.

Perhaps there is one rule. The more money you have to pay for a summer experience, the less impressive it will look on college applications. Admissions officers want to see what the student has done, not what kind of experience her parents have bought for her. They are looking for evidence of initiative, leadership, intellectual curiosity, creativity, long-term commitment, impact on the community.

Academic programs that are selective and require an application with teacher recommendations, like the California State Summer School for Math and Science (COSMOS) or California State Summer School for the Arts, enhance college applications.

Internships can be a great way to explore a potential career. One student completed an internship in a science lab, and her work was compelling enough that she was invited to present it at a conference. The experience enabled her to write an essay that demonstrated her intellectual curiosity as well as the impact she was already making in the field.

Work experience is also valuable. I have heard admissions officers say they would love to read an essay from a student who spent the summer bagging groceries. In addition to learning how to manage time and take on responsibility, students who have a job gain confidence as they find they have something to contribute to a workplace.

Taking a summer course at a college is a way to explore a possible future major or study interesting subjects that aren’t offered in high school. Some colleges offer online courses. If you want to experience life on a college campus, attending a residential program at a college is an opportunity to try life in an urban environment or a college town. Some of these programs offer enrichment courses, which do not provide college credit but allow you to explore a subject you find fascinating. If your high school grades are not as strong as they need to be, taking a course for college credit can help demonstrate that you are capable of college level work. This strategy only works if you are willing to work hard during the summer, so choose a course you are excited about taking and commit to doing well in it. One student whose grade point average was a bit low for the college he wanted to attend took a summer class at a local university, and because he picked a subject he loved, he not only got an A in the class, he got a strong letter of recommendation from the professor, and best of all, he ended up getting into his favorite college.

Students who have a demanding course load during the school year often devote more time to community service during the summers, and that’s certainly a worthwhile activity. A long-term commitment to one organization, where you have taken on increasing responsibility each year, has more impact than occasional volunteer days at a variety of places.

While more colleges become test-optional each year, test scores are still an important factor in admission decisions at most schools and summer can be a good time to focus on test preparation.

There are so many possibilities. Be careful not to overload your schedule. Admissions officers are looking for quality, not quantity. More important, you don’t want to have a miserable summer. Protect your mental health by building in some time to relax and hang out with friends.

June 22, 2012

Prepare For College Applications By Doing What You Love

While some students will be going off on costly service trips or educational programs during the summer, others are finding less expensive ways to explore their interests. When a student takes the initiative to pursue her interests, that experience is likely to be more meaningful to her and more impressive to colleges.

In a case study session at a recent professional development meeting, admissions officers talked about activities that stand out on an application and mentioned a student who was an aerial artist. That doesn’t mean you need to run out and sign up for trapeze lessons. What matters is finding something you enjoy doing.

Last summer, a student who had already taken the basic psychology course offered at his high school signed up for a summer class in social psychology at a nearby university. His excitement about the subject impressed the professor, who asked him to help with a research project. While the student’s initial motivation was his intrinsic interest in the subject, and a desire to explore a potential college major, he ended up with great material for a college application essay. Admissions officers like to see genuine intellectual curiosity, and this student was able to demonstrate his love of psychology through his coursework and research experience. Despite the fact that his extracurricular activities were not particularly impressive, he will be attending one of the most selective universities in the country.

Admissions officers like to see long-term commitment and leadership. Leadership isn’t just being elected president of your school. It’s what you do with the position. One newly elected student council president had enjoyed volunteering at a center that provides services for people with disabilities, and he made it his goal to have the school do more service projects. His first act as president was to create a committee that assessed the needs in the community. But you don’t need an official position to demonstrate leadership. Persuading a group of friends to start an after school program for low-income elementary school kids shows that you can influence people in a positive way. Even more ambitious would be getting additional students involved and expanding the program to other communities.

Not every essay needs to impress admissions officers with a grand achievement. A student who loves cooking got together with his best friend every week to experiment with new dishes. He wrote a lovely essay about how they keep each other in check when one gets too carried away as they explore New Orleans Cajun cuisine with a Japanese fusion twist.

The impact of coursework beyond the high school curriculum or ambitious service projects depends on the college and on the student. It can be both frustrating and comforting to realize that there isn’t one clear path to an offer of admission. Evidence of intellectual curiosity and impact on your school or community is more important at highly selective colleges. But these factors only come into play when a student has an excellent academic record, and the strongest essays won’t overcome an unimpressive transcript and mediocre test scores. While rising seniors can use the summer to get a head start on application essays, younger students who have struggled in school might spend part of the summer brushing up on their most challenging subjects and developing study skills so that they are prepared for a successful school year.

April 4, 2012

Finances and Final Decisions

College have made their decisions, and once the initial euphoria or despair passes, high school seniors need to evaluate their options. They have until May 1 to make their final decisions, and with student debt reaching one trillion dollars, cost has become the primary factor for many families.

Financial aid packages are often disappointing. Even if your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is $30,000 and the cost of attending a college is $55,000, that doesn’t mean you will receive $25,000 in grants to cover the difference. Aid packages generally are a mix of grants, loans and work-study employment, except for a few wealthy institutions that are able to provide packages that do not include loans. Private colleges that ask for the CSS Profile form in addition to the FAFSA will use institutional methodology in awarding non-federal aid. This can result in a higher family contribution.

Then there is the fact that most colleges do not have the resources to meet full financial need. There can be a substantial gap between the student’s demonstrated need and the aid package. And they don’t necessarily allocate those resources equally. Many colleges use preferential packaging, offering the best aid packages to the students they don’t want to lose to another school.

It is possible to appeal a financial aid package, and colleges have been getting more appeals in recent years from families impacted by the recession. If a parent has lost a job, financial aid officers can use professional judgment to increase an award.

Some parents try to negotiate an increase in a merit scholarship, but that is less likely to be successful. It doesn’t hurt to ask as there may be cases where an award is increased, but remember that financial aid officers are hearing pleas from students in desperate financial straits. If a family does not need the money, financial aid officers are reluctant to divert limited resources from students who need the funds to be able to attend the school.

Whatever you are asking for, it’s important to be honest, respectful, and courteous. While admissions and financial aid officers do want the students they admit to enroll at the college, like most people, they don’t respond well to threats or manipulation. If a parent calls and says that other colleges are offering more money and this school needs to come up with a better package or his son will go elsewhere, he may be told that he should do just that.

Even if you can afford to pay full fare at an expensive college, you may be wondering if it is worth the cost. As competition for admission to the most selective schools has become more intense, many high-achieving students have been turned away. Those students have gone to other colleges and raised the quality of schools that might previously not have attracted such strong students. This means there are more excellent colleges out there, and unlike the most selective schools, many of them offer merit scholarships.

Some families are concerned that attending a less prestigious college will mean fewer job opportunities. This is a real concern and admitted students and their parents should use the next few weeks to do more research. If you will be visiting the school, go to the career services office and ask for list of companies recruiting on campus this spring. Ask where recent graduates are working or attending graduate school. You might also want to talk to graduating seniors and ask how satisfied they are with the career services, and whether the school helped them get internships as well as job offers. How happy are they with the education they received at the college? Did financial aid keep pace with the increase in costs over the four years or are they graduating with significant debt? If they had it to do over, would they choose this college again?

Younger students who will be going through this process in the next few years can learn from older siblings and friends. Seeing someone receive a merit scholarship worth $15,000 or $20,000 a year can be very motivating. Freshmen and sophomores have time to improve their academic record and juniors can still make sure their college list includes schools that offer merit-based aid and where they are in the top quarter of the applicant pool.

Preferential packaging means having a strong academic record is also important in securing the best need-based financial aid package. All of this means if you work hard and earn excellent grades and test scores, there could be a real payoff. If you spent 40 hours preparing for the SAT, and that effort resulted in a $10,000 a year scholarship, which would add up to $40,000 over four years, you would have earned $1,000 an hour. Even the best babysitting gig doesn’t pay that kind of money.



March 2, 2012

Visiting Colleges During Spring Break

Spring break will be coming up soon and that’s the perfect time for a college tour since colleges are usually on a different vacation schedule.  You will have the opportunity to see the students and get a feel for the atmosphere on campus.

The more colleges you visit, the better you get at evaluating whether the school is a match.  That’s why I suggest starting with local colleges, even if they’re not on a student’s list.  After visiting a few schools, you’ll know what to look for and will be in a better position to assess what you’re seeing.

On college trips, it’s hard to resist the temptation to see as many schools as possible.  But visiting more than two schools a day becomes a frantic rush from one college to the next, with no time to fully experience each school.  Plan on spending at least three or four hours on campus so you have time for a tour, information session and a meal in the dining hall.  When possible, it’s also helpful for parents to give students a little time to experience the campus on their own.

Sitting in on a class is something few students do, but it’s a great opportunity to get a sense of academic life on campus.  If you plan to major in psychology, you might sit in on a psychology class at each college.  You’ll see if students are engaged in discussion or sleeping through a boring lecture.  You can also ask students about other professors in the department.  Great teachers who are excited about working with undergraduates can transform a student’s life.

Many colleges list tours and information sessions on their website, and often you can just show up, but it’s a good idea to call the admissions office and let them know you’re coming, especially if you want to sit in on a class.  Be sure to sign in when you arrive so that they know you were there.  This is important at colleges that track demonstrated interest.

While student tour guides are very knowledgeable and will usually answer questions honestly, they’re also likely to put the most positive spin on the school.  That’s why it’s important to talk to other students on campus.  All of these students have gone through the college admission process in the last few years, and most are happy to share their wisdom.  I always ask students what other colleges they applied to and why they chose this one.  How has the school met their expectations or disappointed them? What kind of person is a good fit for this college?  What are their three favorite things about the school and what are three things they wish were different?  If you know your major, you might want to ask about the reputation of that department.

You also want to know if students have trouble getting courses they want.  While a student might expect to be shut out of popular classes at a large state university, it can also happen at small colleges that are committed to keeping classes small.  Get a feel for the intellectual climate by asking what the best classes are and how much time students spend studying.  It’s also important to get a sense of what they do for fun.  I like to ask students what they did last weekend.  Check bulletin boards and pick up a school newspaper to see what lectures, concerts, and club meetings are scheduled.

Look at the people.  What kind of community is this?  Do you see groups of students talking or are most people walking alone?  Do students look anxious and stressed, or like they’re enjoying life? 

Be sure to check out the surrounding community.  Can you walk to a movie theater and market?  If not, how far is the nearest town? 

For a prospective student, ultimately it comes down to a gut reaction.  Do you feel excited being on this campus?  Can you see yourself walking to class, hanging out with these people, being part of this community?  If you feel good about yourself while you’re visiting this college, if you see people you’d like to get to know, you’re that much closer to making a good match.

December 20, 2011

So Many College Applications, So Little Time

Early application results are coming in daily, and my students who have been admitted to Boston College, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Occidental, Princeton, Rice, Tulane and University of Chicago are now able to enjoy a relaxing winter break.  This is one of the rewards of applying early.

Students who still have five or more applications to complete by January 1 won’t have such a relaxing break. Some students need the adrenaline rush of a tight deadline to perform at their best.  Others have been avoiding their college applications because of fear.  There is fear of failure.  If I don’t finish the applications, I won’t get rejected.  And fear of success.  If I’m accepted, I have to leave home and everyone I know.

Whatever the reasons for the procrastination, at this point, students who have not worked on college applications are likely to feel overwhelmed.  The best way to deal with that feeling is to make a plan, with small, attainable goals every day.

Organization is crucial, especially when you are working with tight deadlines.  The first step is making a list of all the application tasks you need to complete.  Start with the things that are easy to do, like sending test scores and filling out the basic information in the Common Application.  Finishing just one task will give you a feeling of accomplishment and begin to generate a sense of momentum.  Once you are working and getting things done, the anxiety will dissipate.

Create your own deadline for each application, and make a detailed daily schedule, with time allotted for all the tasks you will complete each day.  Knowing that you will work on your short answer about an activity for the Common Application from 9:00 to 10:00, and your NYU supplement from 10 to 11:30 gives you a structure.  You won’t waste time thinking about what to do next if you have a detailed schedule.

Essays are the most time-consuming part of college applications.  Print out all the essay prompts so that you can see where you will be able to recycle or modify essays.  You may not need to write as many essays as you think.  Break the essay writing process down into manageable parts.  First task is to brainstorm a list of ideas for the essay prompt.  Next, choose one or two ideas that seem promising and flesh them out a bit.  Choose the idea that you are most excited about writing, as your enthusiasm will propel you through the work and make the essay more interesting for admissions officers.  If the prospect of writing a full draft is intimidating, try brainstorming the ideas you want to include in the essay, and then put those thoughts into a logical order, perhaps in bullet points.  Once you have those bullet points, it should be easy to expand them into sentences and paragraphs, and you have your first draft.

Some students are paralyzed by the fear of perfection.  Remember that the first draft is not supposed to be perfect.  The goal is just to get your ideas on paper.  Essays take shape in the rewriting process.  But for now, put your first draft aside and go through the same process for the next essay.  Then you can go back and rewrite your first essay.  Most essays require at least three or four drafts.  That may sound impossible when you don’t have much time, but the first draft is the most time-consuming.  Subsequent drafts go much more quickly.

You want to submit the strongest applications.  Focusing on the task is crucial.  That means eliminating all distractions.  No video games, Facebook or texting while you are working.  This is a huge challenge for most students, who believe they can multi-task.  You probably don’t do it as well as you think.  Make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space for working on applications.  Put the phone in another room. You can check it when you break for lunch.

Getting started is the hardest part.  You will pick up momentum as you work.  Remember that this will be over in a few weeks.  Think about how great it will feel to have all your college applications done.

December 3, 2011

Keep Working On Applications While Waiting For Early Decisions

Many students are anxiously awaiting the results of their early applications before they invest time in other applications.  This is a big mistake.  Many colleges received more early applications this year, and competition for admission will be intense.  Early Action applications were up 14 percent at Northeastern and 25 percent at University of Chicago. Schools with binding Early Decision plans also saw significant increases.  Early Decision applications were up 15 percent at Northwestern, 17 percent at Emory, almost 20 percent at Boston University, 23 percent at Duke and 33 percent at Pomona.

Not all colleges had more early applications. Yale saw an 18 percent decrease in Early Action applications, which is probably because Harvard offered an Early Action option this year, and these schools don’t allow students to apply early to other colleges.  The new Harvard early option probably also accounts for modest decreases in Early Decision applications at Columbia and University of Pennsylvania.  But all of these schools may see increases in Regular Decision applications.  Students need to submit their strongest applications.

That’s why it’s important to keep working throughout this month.  Getting a rejection in mid-December can be a crushing disappointment, and it is very hard to recover from that emotional blow and do your best work on seven other applications when you have just two weeks till the early January deadlines.  While it may be difficult to push yourself to work on applications now while you’re waiting to get into your favorite college, it will be much harder after a rejection.  If you have finished your other applications and you are denied or deferred by your early school, you will be very relieved that your applications are ready to submit.  Best case scenario is that you are accepted at your early school, and in that case you will be so excited that you won’t care about the unnecessary work you did on other applications.

Students who did not submit early applications really have no reason to wait, and if they haven’t completed an application yet, it’s especially important to get started.  In addition to writing essays, you need to complete the activities/community service/work experience section, and you want to write those descriptions concisely and accurately.  Admissions officers appreciate an application that is clear and easy to read.  Print out the application so you can proofread it.  You may find that some of your activity descriptions are cut off, requiring you to rewrite them.  All of this takes time.  Add the stress of rushing to finish seven supplements in the last few days and you are more likely to make mistakes.  You also risk your computer or the server crashing, or a winter storm that knocks out your electricity right before the application deadline.  

Once you submit the Common Application to one school, you cannot make changes to that application.  If you applied Early Decision/Early Action and now want update your awards, activities or test scores, or would like to tailor your application to one college, you can create an alternate version.  After you log in, go to the Instructions page and scroll down to “Application Versions” for step by step instructions.  The alternate version will have all the information from your first version and you can edit as you wish.  However, any documents you uploaded will not transfer to the alternate version, so be sure to upload your essay to the alternate version.

Remember that with the Common Application you need to submit the application, supplement and payment separately.  Students sometimes think that once they submit payment, the application automatically follows.  Since it can take up to 48 hours for your payment to be processed, waiting until the day of a deadline means your application might not be submitted in time.  Check the My Colleges page to confirm that your applications have been submitted.  You can also see if your counselor and teacher have submitted their forms.

If you have questions as you’re working on the Common Application, the “Help” button at the top of the Common Application will take you to the Applicant Support Center.  If you don’t find the answer to your question there, you can contact technical support.

September 19, 2011

What Seniors Should Be Doing Now

While some seniors are immersed in application essays, others still need to finalize their college list. Wherever you are in the process, you want to continue learning about colleges so that you can prepare your strongest applications.

Admissions officers will be offering local information sessions and visiting high schools throughout the fall. Check with your school’s college counseling center for a schedule of college visits.  Prepare questions to ask about the college, ask for a business card and follow up with an email thanking the admissions officer for visiting. It’s also a good idea to mention something the representative told you about the college that resonated with you.

Many colleges have special programs for prospective freshmen during the fall, so if you haven’t visited the schools on your list, you might want to plan on seeing some of them in the next couple months. If you can sit in on a class or two, even spend the night in a dorm, you’ll know if it’s a place you can really see yourself. Visiting a college can also enhance your application, as you are demonstrating interest, and you’ll be knowledgeable enough to write a more compelling “Why are you applying to our school?” supplemental essay.

Some colleges have changed early application options this year. A number of schools have established earlier deadlines, which allows more time for admissions officers to review applications. Being able to notify students earlier can also help win over students who may invest emotionally in that college before hearing from other schools.

If you plan to apply Early Action to University of North Carolina, you need to know that the deadline has been moved up to October 15. Harvard and Princeton have added a new Single Choice Early Action option, with a November 1 deadline. University of Virginia will offer a new Early Action option, with a November 1 deadline. University of Rochester has added an Early Notification option, with a December 1 deadline.

A number of schools have earlier deadlines for scholarships or honors programs. For example, University of Southern California has a January 10 application deadline, but if you want to be considered for scholarships, you need to apply by December 1. Some public universities have November 1 priority deadlines for scholarship or honors program consideration.

If you are applying to colleges that use the Common Application, you will find a helpful grid that includes application requirements and deadlines for all members:

Check with each college on your list to make sure you have accurate information about application and financial aid deadlines.  

If you plan to submit early applications, it’s especially important to get started on your essays so that you have time to complete several drafts. You need to build time into your schedule for weeks when you have too much schoolwork to even look at a college application.

If you are applying to Common App schools, or other colleges that require teacher recommendations, be sure to ask your teacher in the next few weeks, especially if you need the letter for a November 1 early application deadline. 

A calendar with all of your deadlines will be extremely helpful. Include registration deadlines and test dates for any final SAT, ACT or Subject Tests. In addition to official application deadlines for each college, create your own deadline for each application at least a week or two before the real deadline.

You are more likely to make mistakes if you’re racing against the clock when proofreading an application. If that’s not enough to motivate you to finish your applications early, how about the fact that some schools require you to pay the application fee before you can submit the application? Since it can take a day or two to process your credit card payment, this is not something you want to be doing five minutes before midnight on the deadline date.

Most private colleges, and some public universities, will ask for a midyear report, which includes your fall semester grades. This will be the final piece of the application, and you want your grades to be as strong as possible.

While you can’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) until January, you can learn about the financial aid process at If you plan to apply for scholarships not awarded directly by colleges, be sure to register with or another scholarship search engine. 

Make a schedule for application tasks so that you know exactly what you need to do each week. This process will be much less stressful if you start now and pace yourself.

August 5, 2011

Starting Your College Applications Now Will Mean Less Stress During Senior Year

School will be starting soon, and for seniors who will be applying to college, the more they get done now, the less stress they will have throughout the fall. There are a lot of tasks to be completed when you’re applying to college and the process can feel overwhelming. It’s important to make a list of everything you need to do, and then you can create a schedule.

There are a number of changes this year which will impact the college application process. University of Southern California has joined the Common Application. The good news is students won’t have to complete a separate USC application (although there will still be a USC supplement). The not so good news is that applications are likely to increase, resulting in a lower acceptance rate.

University of California will no longer require scores from two Subject Tests. That doesn’t mean you should forget about Subject Tests, since strong scores will enhance your UC application, and they could be important if you are applying to certain programs, including engineering. Subject Tests are still required or recommended at a number of highly selective colleges.

While UC, California State University and many other public colleges don’t require recommendations, you will need a teacher recommendation for any school using the Common Application. Teachers can be overwhelmed with requests, and some limit the number of letters they will write, so be sure to ask your teacher early in the school year.

The Common Application is online now. Start filling out the basic information like name, address and high school. There’s something very satisfying about finishing at least part of the application, and once you are in application mode, it may be easier to get into the essays.

While the UC and Cal State applications won’t open until October 1, the UC personal statement prompts are available now at

Your goal in an application essay is to convey something you want admissions officers to know about you that they won’t learn from the rest of the application. You may need to go through several ideas before you find one that works. Keep brainstorming until you’re excited, because if you’re excited about writing an essay, it’s more likely to be exciting for the reader.

It helps to break the process into manageable parts. For each essay you might schedule several days for brainstorming ideas, a week to write a first draft, and another week to revise the first draft.  I tell my students that essays don’t take shape until the third, fourth or even fifth draft. This process takes time and that’s why you need to start now.

Give yourself a final deadline for each application that is at least one week and preferably two weeks before the real deadline, so that you have built in some extra time in case you get off schedule because of a major test or paper. Having your applications completed well before deadlines will mean less stress for everyone in the family.

June 7, 2011

Demonstrating Love of Learning Will Set Students Apart on College Applications

How will you benefit from attending our college? What will you contribute to our college? While you may not see these questions on college applications, if you have answered them in your applications, you will be setting yourself apart from other applicants and making a persuasive case for your admission. 

Students sometimes lose sight of the fact that colleges are academic institutions, and they are looking for people who love to learn. Someone whose idea of fun is discussing Kant’s moral philosophy will take full advantage of the opportunities for intellectual engagement in college. When admissions officers read an application from a student who has demonstrated this kind of love of learning by pursuing opportunities beyond her high school classroom, they know she will benefit from attending their school.

Many students have taken years of piano lessons, but one of my students is so passionate about music that she also led monthly workshops to study composers, because she believed that learning about their personal history would help her understand their music. She attended music festivals and entered competitions, where she embraced new musical perspectives. She wrote poetically about her love of music, and was accepted at several highly selective colleges because admissions officers understood that she will be committed to learning from professors and peers.

Admissions officers make assumptions about what you will contribute to their college based on what you have contributed to your high school or community. The more selective the college, the greater the impact your contribution needs to have in order to stand out. While tutoring children in a shelter for homeless families is certainly a valuable contribution, organizing a program to match every child with a mentor, recruiting other students to participate, and expanding that program to other shelters would have the kind of impact that stands out.

If the activities you pursue have a theme, you can focus your application on that theme, which helps admissions officers get a clear picture of your values and interests. When an aspiring anthropologist has volunteered every Saturday at a museum, taken anthropology classes at community college, and spent a summer on an archaeological dig, he will be able to put together a cohesive and compelling application.

But not everyone has a defining intellectual or career interest, and students shouldn’t feel pressured to choose one area to pursue in depth just because it will look good on applications. In fact, balancing a scientific or technical side with an interest in something artistic is another way to stand out. A young woman who loves science and wants to major in physics, but also writes poetry that she reads at a local coffeehouse would be very interesting to admissions officers.

Summer is a good time to explore your interests by getting involved in community service or research opportunities. If you can’t find an established program, try creating your own.

For example, a student who is on his school’s basketball team might combine his love of the sport with community service by volunteering to coach or organizing a program for children at a recreation center.

One of my students found a scientist who was doing research that sounded interesting, so she arranged to meet him. She ended up volunteering in the lab and enjoyed it so much that after spending much of the summer there, she decided to continue volunteering during the school year.

Find something you love to do and any impact it may have on your college applications will just be a bonus.

February 1, 2011

Application Numbers Up Again This Year

Yesterday, I was at a luncheon with admissions officers from 34 colleges, all actively recruiting California students. That’s the good news that I hope will help reduce the anxiety so many students and parents feel when they read about the increasing competition for admission to college.

When you look at the numbers, it seems like we’re in for another very tough year. Some highly selective private schools have been reporting significant increases in applications.

Applications are up 15% at Harvard, and the admit rate will likely fall from last year’s record 6.9% to a new low of 6%. Yale is also having another record year, with applications up 5% over last year.

With more than 30,000 applications, Northwestern is up 11% this year, but what’s even more daunting is the fact that this is double the number of applications the school received just five years ago.

My alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, has also crossed the 30,000 mark this year, with applications up 14% over last year.

New York City remains a popular destination. Columbia’s applications are up a whopping 32% this year. Applications increased more than 11% at NYU.

But rural New Hampshire is also drawing students. Dartmouth’s applications are up 16% this year, and California is now the most represented state.

Duke is up 10% over last year, and the school’s applications have risen 50% in the last three years.

In California, applications are up almost 7% at Stanford and more than 6% at USC.

The increases are not limited to the most elite schools or to schools of a particular size. Applications are up more than 13% at Northeastern University, perhaps in part because students concerned about job prospects after college appreciate the school’s co-op program, which provides work experience that enhances resumes.  

American University’s new test optional program may have contributed to the 10% increase in applications at that school.

Some small liberal arts colleges saw big gains, including a 22% increase in applications at Colby and a 28% increase at Dickinson.

Of course, not every school received more applications this year. Tulane’s applications are down 13%. Colgate and Cornell had small decreases in applications.

And since much of the increase in applications can be attributed to anxious students applying to more schools, colleges may end up accepting additional students from waitlists when students who have multiple acceptances choose other schools.

On the public side, despite concerns about budget cuts impacting the quality of education at public colleges in California, the University of California has received 6% more applications this year, with some campuses reporting double-digit gains. Freshman applications are up 11% at San Diego, close to 8% at UCLA, 6% at Davis, and roughly 5 percent at Berkeley and Santa Barbara. Irvine and Santa Cruz had more modest increases in freshman applications. With continuing budget problems, UC won’t be able to admit larger freshman classes this year, so competition for admission will be intense.

Much of the increase at UC was driven by applications from high school students outside of California. Applications from in-state students were up 3.6 percent over last year. Freshman applications from international students were up by almost 23 percent over last year, and out-of-state freshman applications climbed nearly 11 percent. These numbers are in response to a new push by UC to recruit nonresident students, who pay much higher tuition.

The good news is that while there may be more competition for students applying to UC, public universities in other states that are also experiencing budget problems are recruiting out of state students as well, creating opportunities around the country. Honors programs at some public universities can offer the small classes, personal attention and sense of community of a small, liberal arts college. Many of these schools offer merit scholarships to out of state students, which can bring the cost down considerably. Some schools lock in tuition for four years, so families can plan on relatively stable costs, though room and board will still go up each year.

So when April comes around, and you read about the record low acceptance rates at colleges, don’t panic. As the admissions officers at yesterday’s meeting made clear, there are many great schools that remain accessible and affordable.

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