Common app saturates college admissions market, critics say

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As news broke the web last week that a student from Long Island had been admitted to all eight Ivy League universities, thousands of people responded with messages of praise.

But when Peter Kang, a high school student in Chantilly, Va., Saw a New York Times article about college student Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna on his Facebook feed last week, he complained.

“This is exactly what drives college acceptance rates down and makes entering college a lot more difficult,” he wrote on the site, sparking a heated discussion in the comment thread.

The crux of Mr. Kang’s complaint, shared by many other students, is that he and his peers are applying to too many colleges, driving down admission rates and raising the prestige of selective universities, prompting more students to apply. students to apply.

“It looks like a vicious cycle,” Mr. Kang, 17, said in an interview.

Admissions experts say Mr. Kang is right.

Mr Kang blamed the Common Application, the standardized form that has grown in popularity and is now accepted by more than 600 colleges, including all Ivy League universities. The ease of use of the form has led many students to decide almost on a whim to add one, two, or even 10 more universities to their list.

Mr. Kang admitted that he, too, had chosen to send his candidacies by explosives. He felt obligated. “I was one of those people who took advantage of the system,” he said.

He applied to 21 colleges, all but two through the joint application, and was accepted to six. Every Ivy League campus he applied to rejected him.

The experience left him depressed, although despite his criticism he said he was happy for Ms. Uwamanzu-Nna (pronounced oo-wah-man-ZOO-nah), a child of Nigerian immigrants.

“She did the exact same thing as me and she got the results, but I can’t be mad at someone who is trying to improve their chances,” he said. “It’s so much easier to apply and there is so much pressure to apply. “

Admissions experts report a trend called application inflation. Students are sending more applications than ever. In 1990, only 9 percent of students applied to seven or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. By 2013, that group had grown to 32 percent.

But experts note that universities have taken steps to help offset this trend.

As an example, imagine that 20 years ago, Ms. Uwamanzu-Nna only applied to four of the ivies. All other things being equal, universities would have had a one in four chance that she would attend. Fast forward to the present, and it drops to one in eight.

To make sure freshman classes are met, “somehow these institutions have to compensate,” said David Hawkins, the association’s director of public policy.

They are doing it, he said, in part by accepting more students. They are also marketing their campuses more aggressively to expand the applicant pool while making admissions decisions with greater emphasis on the seriousness with which students wish to participate.

In the latest survey of associations, colleges attributed more importance to the supposedly demonstrated interest of applicants than to class ranking or teacher recommendations.

At the same time, more and more universities are waiving application fees or purchasing desirable student names from testing agencies and sending them “fast track” applications that require little more than a signature.

Universities say recruitment efforts are crucial in reaching students who otherwise might not apply as well as increasing campus diversity.

Critics note, however, that a more cynical motive is certainly at play.

“Colleges love to proclaim that they have a record number of applicants,” said Kent Rinehart, dean of undergraduate admissions at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. “They like to turn away more students. Looks good for alumni, looks good for people on their campus, looks good for rankings and grades. “

The result of the changing college admissions landscape is more confusion and anxiety for students – what one columnist called “The Great National Freak-out.”

But admissions counselors say most students have reason to calm down. Even though the competition has become fiercer at elite institutions, the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges nationwide has remained fairly constant at around 65%.

“The main message is that the number of students and the number of college openings have not changed dramatically,” Mr. Rinehart said. “What has changed is the number of applications that students submit.

For her part, Uwamanzu-Nna reiterated on Monday that she was not trying to lead the board when she was using the common app to apply to the eight Ivies, as well as four other colleges. She just wished she had one.

As for Mr Kang, who was rejected by the Ivies, he says that in the fall he expects to attend Clark University in Worcester, Mass., An alma mater for judges, heads of company and rocket scientists.


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