What should colleges do to manage the increase in apps?

I saw this tweet about how colleges struggled with the massive increase of apps this year.

So, what should colleges do to solve this problem? They could adjust their system to handle the increase in apps, but that doesn’t really get them anywhere. They will still be reading/processing a ton of apps from kids who either won’t get accepted or will decline an acceptance.

They could raise application prices…not a perfect solution, but that’s often a tactic for companies with products where demand is great.

They can move to a less holistic admission process, and admit based on stats…or have a first cut based on stats.

They can hire more external readers. Many schools already hire hundreds of readers each year, and pay them around $20 per hour. At that low hourly rate, the app fee covers that cost for many colleges, although there are training costs too.

Fundamentally schools can’t control how many apps they get.


Many colleges give out fee waivers like high schools give out A+'s - like candy.


They might be able to influence the number though. UChicago could stop carpet bombing every senior with marketing for example. Maybe they could stop releasing admissions stats and that would dry up the motivation to get a lot of apps that you can reject.


Agreed. Have a junior that has gotten zillions of emails from schools he has little chance of getting into (or, frankly, that would interest him). I’m wise to it, but parents who aren’t might think that these top level schools are actually within reach for their kids (of course, they are for some but they do cast a very wide net).

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All colleges should add unique supplemental essays to the common application.

Really…the huge increase in applications began when the common application became widely used. Before that, each school had its own unique application to complete. Students just didn’t apply to as many colleges then.


They could reduce marketing, but that (and decreasing apps) is going to require a change in how many schools comp their admissions people. That’s possible of course, but the more operational details a potential change impacts, the less likely it is to be approved.

I like thumper’s idea of all schools requiring one or two essays beyond the common app essay.

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Correct…and decreasing app waivers would be part of raising application prices. For example, they could limit app fee waivers to free/reduced lunch eligible applicants.

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Maybe it needs to be like Tinder and if both sides swipe right they go to the next phase.


The impact of the increase in applications has been discussed in the parent’s of 2021 HS grads quite a bit, and the general consensus is that applying to a lot of schools worked. The shotgunning requires a lot of effort to write solid “why us” essays to 20 schools.

Although I understand the college admissions process can be stressful, and frustrating, and {insert adjective}, the issue is that more and more students and their families are focused on prestige each year. That’s a big part of the problem.

The reality is that most colleges accept most applicants, and most students don’t have a 4 year in person college experience, hence we are talking about a relatively small proportion of people…so, many days I feel that this admissions nonsense is much adieu about nothing. I would rather see all these smart people focused on improving K-12 schools, or making college more affordable (e.g., free CC).


Something mentioned in the replies to the tweet above is to encourage schools to share the files of applicants they reject. For example what if U of Texas doesn’t have room for someone, lets them know fairly early, and then shares the file with other Texas publics?

Maybe one day there will be some centralized AI system, at least for a first round of heavy elimination? :thinking:


I expect sharing of files not explicity approved by the applicant would be deemed unlawful by the DOJ…considering the DOJ impact on making NACAC ethics/principles toothless, and investigating ED practices/sharing of applicant names (not sure where that stands). Schools used to be able to see other schools on a student’s FAFSA, and the government stopped that in 2015 or so, for similar privacy/collusion reasons.

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Could make it an anonymous process perhaps? And maybe one you could accept or decline participating in?

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Additional benefit (sorry, side note): Students who do a good job on those supplemental questions actually become more familiar with the programs, mission…


I saw that tweet earlier this morning.

For now, I don’t think those highly-selective colleges think it’s a problem. More apps = lower admit rate, which results in more assumed prestige, which will allow them to raise their prices and also drive more endowment donations.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a problem. At some point, we have to stop blaming the colleges, stop blaming the process, and start wondering why people continue to put all their eggs in the T40-or-bust basket.

When applicants/families bemoan admission to high quality schools T70 schools simply because they did not get into one of the 10 top30 schools they applied to, that is not a problem with any specific university or the application process. That reveals a gross misunderstanding of the entire process (and options) by the applicants/families.

We can all see the application numbers skyrocketing. The answer is not to figure out how to PREVENT people from applying. The answer is to realize there is a wealth of great universities in America, and we are all free to apply to any of them.

The answer is to better educate students on all the options available to them. Especially the host of average-excellent students. They and their families are doing these kids a huge disservice by failing to do the research necessary to learn about all their options beyond T40 institutions.


I do tend to agree with this. :+1:

And super-agree with figuring out what college is the best fit, including culture. Part of that can come from going through the application process, but much can be done at home (and at school) before that.


If too many apps is seen as a problem, then raise the application fee & only accept ED applications.

Applications have increased for several reasons. First is that the common app has made it easier to apply to multiple schools. Second is advertising. Top schools tend to send marketing material to everyone who indicates they would like material on the standardized tests. I have talked with a number of people that really didn’t consider certain selective universities until they received the marketing materials. While most realize it’s just marketing it has a psychological affect and entices them to apply. More recently the test optional decisions have removed a barrier which I believe in the past would have led to a certain amount of self selecting. Without the standardized test many feel their application may look stronger than it would have with the standardized test. Finally, and this is specific to this year, is a possible back log of applicants who chose not to apply last year due to covid. These are just speculations on my part.