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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Colleges Reject Record Numbers

Colleges Reject Record Numbers
April 03, 2007
Source: Wall Street Journal, Print Edition
ANJALI ATHAVALEY
This year's college-admissions competition is turning out to be more brutal than ever -- and not just for students who applied to elite universities.
A number of top-tier state schools and smaller liberal arts colleges say they received more applications this year from well-qualified students -- and consequently are turning down a higher percentage of them.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received 20,017 applications, up from 19,736 last year. The state school's acceptance rate fell to 33.3% from 34.1%. At Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, 4,624 students applied, up 8%, yet it accepted 1,348, down from 1,395 last year, to prevent overenrollment. Even schools that admit the vast majority of applicants are becoming more selective. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, saw a record 15,836 applicants this year, up from 15,498 the year before; it accepted 73% of them, down from 78% last year.
"Students are being more intelligent about what their options are when getting into school, and they are looking in the next tier now," says Jennifer Delahunty Britz, Kenyon's dean of admissions and financial aid. "Schools that did not used to be on the radar of talented students are now on the radar."
Many Ivy League universities also drew record numbers of applicants and consequently admitted students at lower rates. The University of Pennsylvania saw applications rise 11% over the last year to a record 22,634, while its acceptance rate fell to 15% from about 17% last year. "The talent of students in the pool was so exceptional that we had difficulty making choices," says Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the Philadelphia school.
Dartmouth College had a record 14,176 applications, up 2% from last year. It accepted 2,165, or 15% -- its lowest acceptance rate in history. Harvard University drew a record 22,955 applicants and accepted a record low 9%. At Stanford University, the number of applications rose 7% to 23,956. It accepted 10.3%, down from 10.9% last year.
Several factors are fueling the rise in applications. One is population trends: The number of students graduating from high school has risen each year since the 1995-96 school year, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The U.S. Department of Education predicts that the trend will continue until at least 2013.
Another is the growth in international students. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for instance, recruiters went abroad for the first time this year, making trips to Shanghai and other Asian cities to promote the college. UNC had 736 foreign nationals apply this year, up from 590 last year. The university admitted 167 of them, up from about 125 a year ago.
A third is the growing use of the Common Application, a form that can be completed online and sent to a number of admissions offices far more easily than paper-based applications. More than 300 schools accept it.
The Common Application has "made it much easier for people to file 10,15, 20 applications," says Charles Deacon, dean of undergraduate admissions at Georgetown University. Georgetown doesn't take the Common Application to try to hold down its number of applicants, he says. Still, the Washington, D.C., university saw applications rise to 16,198 from 15,067 last year. It accepted 20% of them, down from 22% a year ago.
To be sure, not all of the most-selective colleges saw a rise in applicants. Yale University's applications fell to 19,323 from 21,101 last year. Although there has been speculation that Yale's low acceptance rate last year caused fewer students to apply this year, the dean of admissions has said the decline was due to a random fluctuation, says Yale spokesman Tom Conroy.
Generally, though, college officials agree it has become more difficult to get into selective schools. As a result, some high school counselors are encouraging students to be more realistic in deciding where to apply. "It's more competitive every year," says Shirley Bloomquist, a private counselor in Great Falls, Va. "I'm seeing more parents and students look at safety schools."
Ms. Bloomquist says she now emphasizes that students should prepare for their "likely" schools, those where they have a good shot, rather than their "reach" schools. She also encourages high schoolers to start looking at colleges during their sophomore year rather than spring of junior year, when most begin the process. That gives them more time to find additional schools that may not be their top choices but still would be desirable.
Even high school seniors with exceptional grades are being careful with their expectations. Last year, "I had some really smart friends who applied to some schools they didn't get into," says James Newman, 17, the salutatorian at Lamar High School in Houston. He has a 4.82 grade point average (boosted above 4.0 by International Baccalaureate courses) and scored a 2210 on his SAT out of 2400. He is active in his church youth group and has been an Eagle Scout, vice president of the National Spanish Honor Society and vice president of the school choir.
Mr. Newman applied to Princeton University, Stanford, Middlebury College, Duke University, Davidson College in North Carolina and the University of Texas at Austin. But he learned from his friends' experiences. "I tried not to have a definite first choice," he says. "I thought it's likely I'd get rejected because it's so competitive." He was turned down by Princeton, wait-listed at Stanford and accepted by his other choices. He says he is now leaning toward Duke -- he's not optimistic about getting into Stanford.
Indeed, college officials warn they may not take many students from their wait-lists this year. "We have not gone to the wait-list for two years, and we would like to," says Tom Parker, dean of admissions and financial aid at Amherst College. Wait-lists allow colleges to adjust their freshman class if there is a shortage of students with particular strengths and characteristics who plan to attend.
Amherst currently has 1,450 students on its wait-list. Mr. Parker expects fewer than half to stay on it. Of those who do, Amherst hopes to accept 25 students.
In the past few years, colleges -- even top-level state schools -- have seen a higher-than-expected yield, or percentage of students admitted who end up attending. That means there are fewer spaces for wait-listed students.
The greater competition has made the admissions process increasingly frustrating for students, including those who don't apply to elite schools. Corey King, a senior at Urbana High School in Ijamsville, Md., who wants to study music, heard from his first choice, Berklee College of Music in Boston, via email last week. "I actually injured my hand punching my door when I found out I didn't get in," he says.
Mr. King, who has a 3.2 grade point average, is a member of his high school's rock music appreciation club and French club. He also applied to McGill University in Canada, the University of Maryland and Towson University in Maryland. "Now I'm afraid I won't get into McGill or Maryland, and I'll get stuck going to Towson," which he considers "one step above community college."
If Mr. King is turned down by McGill, he says he will reapply to Berklee next year. He says he is feeling pessimistic after the Berklee rejection, but there is one consolation: "No matter what, everyone is like, 'I'm so done with high school,'" he says

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