The Common Application has changed college admissions.
While it is not a perfect platform (an outage a few years back sent ripple effects [and anxiety attacks] through the entire admissions process that year), it has made the process of applying to college a lot easier on students and their families. And when those students are already busy juggling school, clubs, standardized tests, after-school jobs, binge-watching Netflix shows and more, shaving time off of the college application process is a very welcome change. (More time for Friends reruns!)
But, of course, with that ease comes a whole slew of new issues, which the New York Times laid out in a recent article.
Give it a read. Or, if you’re too busy, let me sum it up for you: because it is now so much easier to submit apps to colleges, students are applying to more schools. A LOT more schools. And those schools are not increasing the size of their incoming classes. Which means that there is far more demand than there is supply…and acceptance rates at colleges across the country are plummeting.
And that means that getting accepted to college is more competitive and difficult than ever.
Now, we can’t blame the Common App for everything here. (And I don’t want to blame them at all! We LOVE the Common App!) There are other reasons acceptance rates are decreasing and competition is increasing. This actually started back in 2008 when the US economy took a turn for the worse. Universities had to change their tactics in order to fill their classes and, as such, many began a big push to recruit more International students. That opened up a giant WELL of applicants, creating more demand for the same limited number of seats available at universities. And so began the Great Acceptance Rate Drop.
And now that the economy has begun to rebound and college applications are up both in the U.S. and abroad, the recruitment tactics haven’t changed. Universities continue to recruit around the world, which, paired with “application inflation”, continues to drive admissions rates lower and lower. Now, International recruitment is not going to stop for a variety of reasons. For one thing, diversity is AWESOME for education and, well, it’s not hard to imagine why having full-paying International students is great for US universities. It also helps that this entire phenomenon makes these schools look more selective…
But, as frustrating as that is, there’s really nothing we can do about any of that. Love it or hate it, these things are happening and none of us are going to change it.
What you CAN do, though, it prepare for it and strategize your own application plan smartly. Here are 3 ways to do that:
1) Cast a Wide Net.
At the end of the day, on a very basic level, college admissions is a numbers game. There are only so many spots available, and there are more people vying for those spots every year. So if you want to increase your chances of getting in, you need to cast a wide net. Apply to more schools. This is why we recommend applying to AT LEAST 8-10 schools. If you can do more, great! But definitely hit at least 8-10. (And, by the way, you should only do more if you can give 100% to every single app. If you’re left deciding between submitting 15 B+ apps or 10 A+ apps, go with the 10!)
2) Start Early.
An increase in applicants + a decrease in admissions rates means that schools are more selective. And that means it is harder to stand out among the (very crowded) applicant pool. The best way to win is to have the best possible application, plain and simple. So don’t wait until 11th grade to start preparing for your apps. Start the MOMENT you get to high school. That will give you more time to build a strong profile over time, which gives you a lot more to show for yourself when you apply. Get in for things you can control instead of getting mad about the things you can’t!
3) Apply to a MIX of schools.
Given the increased selectivity, you can absolutely get rejected from a program where you are more than qualified. (Again, it is a numbers game on some level! We see incredible applicants get rejected from “safe” schools and get admitted to “reach” schools every year. There’s always a surprise!) So be smart about your list of target schools. Make sure, no matter how many you submit, that it is a mix of reach schools, match schools and safe schools. Give yourself as many options as you can, get as many admits as you can, and then you’ll have the (best!) job of deciding which one to accept.
Lauren Herskovic is the COO of Admissionado, an Undergraduate and MBA admissions consulting firm.