A very tough year

Another college admissions cycle, another round of scary statistics.

Stanford could have filled their freshman class four times over with students who have a grade point average of 4.0 or higher. The school accepted just 10.3 percent of their record number of applicants, a record likely to be broken next year, when they start taking the Common Application. UCLA’s admit rate of 23 percent is down from 25 percent last year.

University of Pennsylvania, which began accepting the Common Application this year, saw an 11 percent increase in applications, and accepted 15 percent, down from 17 percent last year. Cornell’s applications are up more than 7 percent this year, and 45 percent since 2004. Brown’s record number of applications resulted in a record low 13.5 percent acceptance rate. Harvard’s 9 percent admit rate is the lowest in their history.

The overwhelming odds may have discouraged some students from applying to Yale, where applications actually declined after last year’s 8.9 percent acceptance rate, which was the lowest in the Ivy League. This year, it was Columbia College, the liberal arts school at Columbia University, which accepted just 8.9 percent of applicants.

Northwestern saw a 19 percent increase in applications this year, and their applications are up 55 percent from five years ago. In the last three years, Emory University has gone from accepting 36 percent to 26 percent of applicants. At Duke, 43 percent of the 1,381 valedictorians who applied were accepted, and 58 percent of students who scored 1,550 or above on the reading and math sections of the SAT received admissions offers.

Making the situation even more competitive is the fact that some schools accepted fewer students, since it’s become more difficult to predict how many students will enroll. After enrolling too many freshmen last fall, UC San Diego admitted 10.2 percent fewer freshmen this year. UC Davis admitted 1,700 fewer students, and the admission rate dropped from 68.5 percent to 58.7 percent, as the average GPA went up from 3.84 to 3.89.

While UC campuses don’t use a waitlist, other schools that accepted fewer students this year may turn to the wait-list if their freshman class looks underenrolled after the May 1 notification deadline. But some colleges have had such high yields in recent years that they haven’t admitted anyone off the wait-list, and that trend may continue.

Uncertainty fuels anxiety on both sides. Students respond to the anxiety by applying to more colleges, and admissions officers encourage more applications from students they won’t admit in order to raise their selectivity ranking so that admitted students will want to enroll. The process gets more out of control and nobody is happy.

There is a way to take some control of your college application process. Several of my students were admitted to every college to which they applied, and others got into five out of six, or six out of seven.

Rather than applying to 15 or more schools, these students researched and chose colleges that would be good matches, and by applying to fewer schools, they were able to do a great job on each application. Students who apply thoughtfully not only submit more effective applications, they also have the time and energy to get strong grades the first semester of senior year, which can enhance their prospects for admission.

Choosing carefully and applying only to schools you know and love, and where you have a reasonable chance of being admitted, makes the college application process less stressful and more satisfying. This approach can result in a different dilemma, but as I’ve told several students in the last few weeks, having to decide between several schools you love is a pretty great problem to have.

Audrey Kahane, MS, MFA, is a private college admissions counselor in West Hills. She can be reached at (818) 704-7545 or audreykahane@earthlink.net.

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