Mobbing the Ark

The colleges and universities we always hear about (Ivys, Little Ivys, etc.) as well as lesser-known colleges are reporting record numbers of applicants this year. Amherst has a record-shattering 7,500 apps; when I was an admission officer there in the 90s we were amazed when we broke 5,000. It does seem like quite a maelstrom of people rushing to get on board.

But I can’t quite figure something out. Many schools are saying that their applications are way up because Harvard and Princeton and UVa gave up their early admission plans, so all those students who would have been accepted (and presumably attended) are now flooding other schools with their applications. However, the number of students who would have been accepted early at these schools is so minute I can’t see how they alone would account for the rises in applications. So we can say that all students who would have applied early at those schools are making multiple applications to many more schools. Fair enough, but I still can’t see how that accounts for the mobs of applicants. Harvard and Princeton account for a tiny fraction of overall college applicants each year and an almost microscopic number of acceptances. So what’s really happening?

If Johnny Jones with his 4.0, perfect SATs, and world-beating resume applies to Harvard early admission and gets in, then he’s 99% likely not to apply anywhere else. Fine. Now there’s no EA at Harvard, but he’s still a world-beater, so is Harvard not going to take him? Well, he doesn’t know, so he sends out maybe 10 applications instead of just the one that would have gotten him into Harvard early. OK. Now let’s say Harvard used to take 1,000 applicants early and 900 of them committed. And let’s say that without EA all those 900 submit 10 applications instead of 1; that’s 9,000 more applications all around (and probably only to the other Ivys, etc.) That doesn’t account for the rises at the other schools or those lower on the prestige pole. 
So I still can’t account for all the extra applications except to say that students must be applying to a larger number than ever before. Combined with a larger population, that could make sense, but it still doesn’t feel right, because except for the truly desperate, I don’t think most students submit more than 5-7 applications on average. And those are usually the ones aspiring to go to the top of the pole colleges.
So while I’m sure there are more applications being made to more schools, I’m not sure Harvard, Princeton, and UVa’s getting rid of early programs has anything to do with it. 
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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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One Response to Mobbing the Ark

  1. Drammy says:

    You could also chalk it up to the craptastic economy. Education is being regarded more ‘n’ more as the path to getting a stable job.. esp. an Ivy degree ostensibly “guarantees” you’ll find a job // not be fired.

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