America’s Exclusive Colleges Rack Up Record Numbers of Applicants

Barry Lenson

America’s Exclusive Colleges Rack Up Record Numbers of Applicants

college admissions It’s perplexing. It’s confusing. It seems to make very little sense. Yet the fact remains that in a time when college costs are surging and fewer grads are finding jobs, America’s most respected universities are attracting more applications than ever before.

One explanation is that parents and students believe that the key to finding a job today is to earn a diploma from a high-status school. But there are other reasons why elite colleges and universities are fielding so many applications. One is that it is not uncommon for today’s students to apply to a dozen institutions or more.  It’s a scattergun approach to getting into college, and it quickly swells the number of applicants that exclusive schools have to consider every year.

“Application Inflation,” a recent article by Eric Hoover in The Chronicle of Higher Education, documents the staggering number of applicants that high-end schools are dealing with:

  • Stanford University got a record 32,022 applications for this year’s freshman class, and accepted 7 percent of them.
  • Brown University got 30,135 applicants and accepted 9 percent.
  • The University of Chicago got 19,347 applications – a 43-percent increase over last year – and accepted only 7 percent of applicants.

The article doesn’t report on the flip side of this trend, which is that many non-exclusive colleges are having a harder and harder time filling their classes. Although college admissions officers at those middle-tier schools are not happy to share data on what is happening at their schools, we have heard stories of pretty respectable colleges that are now accepting 80 percent or more of all applicants – and offering most of them financial aid – just to fill their classrooms.

These trends seem to be pointing to the fact that a shakeout is coming in American higher education, as exclusive schools prosper and so-called “lesser schools” could shut their doors. What a pity, because those schools really do serve a vital purpose for many students. America, over the years, has built up the greatest college infrastructure on earth. Is it now going to go away? What a pity that would be.

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