Op-Ed: Another banner year for university applications? Please no


A few days away from the college admission deadlines, my advice for this year’s high school students is simple: apply to fewer universities. This will benefit you and all other students who apply.

During the 2020-21 admissions cycle, the widespread adoption of elective testing policies encouraged students to apply to colleges that once seemed out of reach. Yet the increased number of gap year students who had postponed their enrollment, mainly because of the pandemic, made students nervous about the availability of places in first year classes. This combination of hope and uncertainty has led students to apply to a record number of colleges, increasing the number of applications and reducing acceptance rates across the country.

We should focus on preventing another record year of enforcement. The demands of applying to more colleges take time away from students’ academic homework and non-academic responsibilities, while the added stress affects their mental health and well-being. The increase in the number of applications has led admissions offices to streamline the review of applications, which can destroy the very essence of “holistic admissions”, the approach used by selective colleges which focuses on “l ‘student as a whole’ rather than on GPAs and test scores.

Colgate University grabbed the headlines for its 102% increase in applications in 2021. UC Berkeley’s applicant pool grew 28%, with a record 112,800 students seeking places in the university. first year class. And at the University of Pennsylvania, where I worked in admissions, applications went up 34%.

The abundance of applications may seem like a boon to colleges, but to their admissions offices, it’s more of a curse.

Most admissions offices hire seasonal readers to help them “read” the thousands of applications. At the University of Pennsylvania, I once trained these readers. Some were former admissions officers, stay-at-home parents, aspiring admissions officers, or friends of friends who wanted to get a taste of the process. I could only spend a few hours with them reviewing the basics of reading an app, something that can take months or years to master.

Admissions offices rely on seasonal readers every year. Although candidate pools have doubled or even tripled over the past decade, it is difficult to create new positions in any office on a college campus, especially during a pandemic.

However, reading an application is all the more complicated. Most selective colleges require a full application, a main essay of 650 words or less, and a full supplement. The Yale University supplement requires nine additional trials. The University of Michigan asks all applicants to write two additional essays; students who apply to its business school must write two more.

When I worked at Penn I had to read an app in about 20 minutes. It has always taken me longer and I’m a quick reader like most admissions officers are forced to be. To read and assess more applications with the same number of admissions officers, colleges are cutting corners.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2017 that a number of elite colleges had revamped their reading and assessment process to accommodate growing candidate pools. Penn reduced the initial reading of a request to about four minutes. Other schools, including Pomona College, Swarthmore College and Emory University, have also tried to make their approaches more effective.

If colleges are unwilling to increase their admissions staff and invest more time in assessing applicants, why do so many people continue to recruit and encourage students to apply knowing the staffing issues of the? schools, overflowing applicant pools and insanely low acceptance rates?

Because the more applications a college receives, the more money it earns. Many application fees hover around $ 75. Multiply that by 46,469 – the number of applications Brown University received last year – and suddenly almost $ 3.4 million in fees were collected, not counting students eligible for the waiver of fees. costs.

And the more a selective college refuses applicants, the more selective it becomes. Brown’s acceptance rate in 2021 was 5.4%. Honestly, most of the students admitted must be superhuman students. Mere mortals really shouldn’t apply.

Colleges could reduce this frenzy of applications by curtailing their recruiting strategies, including ending the sending of promotional material to students who have virtually no chance of entering. admission, they could be more thoughtful and more rigorous about the number of colleges to apply for.

Yet colleges continue to purchase student names and information from testing organizations, send marketing materials to students, and regularly visit their high schools, communities, and email inboxes. . There is a greed for apps among colleges that students are unknowingly fueling when responding to these marketing ploys.

If colleges are unwilling to be part of the solution, students can be the change makers by being more selective about where they choose to apply. If this happens, candidate pools will shrink, acceptance rates will increase – and students will begin to claim the college admissions process as an acceptance process rather than rejection.

Sara Harberson is the author of “Soundbite: The Admissions Secret That Gets You Into College and Beyond” and the founder of Application Nation. She was Associate Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania and Dean of Admissions at Franklin & Marshall College.

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