College Application Mania

By: Richard Berger

Even if you don’t have a high school senior applying to college, you have at least a passing interest in what’s going on with college admissions. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce.

This year, colleges and universities hit a record number of applicants. Stanford won the top spot among the elites (earning itself a satirical punch from The New York Times  in the process), while Yale hit its own record. Even a regional university like Miami of Ohio exceeded 29,500 applicants for less than 3,000 spots.

To what do we attribute these incredible numbers? Some suggest it’s due to the Common App that enables students to apply to up to 20 institutions, simply by pressing send and paying the application fee. Or perhaps it’s because students are being aggressively courted by colleges and universities, only to be denied. Colleges are either intent on keeping their ranking or accepting the reality that they need to accept more students today to hit enrollment targets.

Ironically, though, while admissions numbers continue to rise, the actual number of students entering college has declined. Many think the entire system has lost its way.

For example:

  • Critics argue that current admissions standards are too rigid and colleges are missing out on some of the best and brightest
  • The process continues to leave out kids with lower socioeconomic means
  • Kids with the means to participate and excel in sports continue to have an added advantage
  • Legacies still hold weight
  • What’s worse, even if your child gets into an elite university, there is a startling disparity between tuition costs and the quality of and pay received by graduate students – many of whom are entrusted with teaching your undergrad

Perhaps we’ve reached a breaking point? A recent report from Harvard University highlights the negatives in the admissions process and calls for changing the process to focus more on concern for others and the common good. Joining Harvard in this quest for change are admissions directors from some of the country’s top universities and colleges.

No question, college is still the best answer to long-term financial prosperity (although not equally for all students). But I hope that some of this silliness gets flushed from the system before my kids are ready to apply.