What should colleges do to manage the increase in apps?

Boy, I’ve seen a lot of “just because” applications this year from seniors I know. Kids who ONLY want a big city/urban experience applying to Dartmouth and Cornell because why not? Kids who only want the intimacy of an LAC throwing in an application to U Michigan and Wisconsin “just in case”. Kids who are completely and utterly committed to engineering ALSO applying to accelerated BS/MD programs because “I might change my mind”.

I applaud some of this- I have family overseas and so I’ve seen the fallout of kids having to make a career/professional decision in their teens when they don’t have enough life experience to make an educated choice. But some of it is just a wheel-grinding, time and money wasting exercise in the tyranny of too many choices.

18 schools, most of which are Hail Mary reaches? no. This strikes me as dumb- and now I’m seeing the fallout- kids are deeply wounded by being rejected by colleges they really weren’t interested in attending. Why would you set your kid up for that???


The applicant may have already applied to other Texas public universities on the ApplyTexas application.

The spike in applications, I suspect, had multiple causes: test optional apps, more free time in a lockdown world, etc. but I think a lot of came down to increased uncertainty. Some of that will go away as some variables are removed, but some will stay. Reducing uncertainty should reduce the number of applications and make the process more efficient all around.

I think a natural solution would be to have more rolling admissions, EA notification windows or ED options (I, II, III) for more schools. More ‘likely’ letters. Earlier notification for clear rejections. Anything that lets the applicants know something sooner should help reduce uncertainty and that, in turn, should reduce the pressure to send applications to every school.


I like the more essays suggestion. It forces a deeper dive and we hear all the time here about kids submitting extra apps because it was easy and there were no extra essays.


I agree with @LuckFreeZone . Uncertainty drove the increase in apps due to the difficulty in ascertaining one’s chances in a test-optional scenario, in either direction - adding more apps because they don’t know if they’ll get into their other schools even by submitting scores in range, and adding more apps if they think they might have a chance without submitting scores. Reducing the role/weight of scores from the process really did make this the wild west. How does a kid with “good” grades decide where to apply, and then on top of that, the early round results - deferrals, denials, reported increases in apps - piled on the uncertainty, leading to a lot of random apps thrown in during RD. One can only assume that class of 2022 will have similar levels of uncertainty, having watched the wild 2021 season.

If the universities want to address this problem of app volume (which I doubt), more certainty in where a student might be admitted, where they fit academically, would go a long, long way toward reducing app numbers. Since the colleges can’t quite describe it themselves beyond getting good grades in rigorous courses, nothing will change unless test requirements are reinstated or some other objective metric (other tests) becomes involved.

Limited college visits prior to app deadlines is an anomaly that will be reduced for 2022, though most juniors may have missed their spring break visit opportunities. At least visits should be back to normal for class of 2023.


I do not think that the colleges feel the increase in applications is a problem, so they will not solve for it. I think colleges will continue to market excessively to future-proof for the expected decline in college enrollment for 2025 and beyond. College enrollment decline of more than 15% predicted after the year 2025 (This Hechinger Report was from 2018, so it doesn’t address pandemic related issues of parents questioning “value” of colleges when their students were doing distance learning.)

With respect to @Mwfan1921’s point re the students/families… Under-resourced, over-worked HS guidance counseling departments don’t help the situation. At our public HS, there are 400 students to 1 counselor with no one dedicated specifically to college counseling. The counselors have so many issues to deal that college advising is not the priority. Then, students from families that can afford it (not me!), go to paid college advisors, who encourage students to apply to 15+ schools in a pre-pandemic year… I have no idea what was the recommended # of schools for the students applying this year.

I count myself lucky to have found the College Confidential community. :blush:


I also like the idea of each college having 2-3 of its own essays. I also wonder if the Common App could somehow be made to limit the number of schools people apply to. My kids aren’t that old but they applied to 4-6 schools after careful research.

I think COVID has inflated this year’s numbers, and also made visits impossible, so the kind of winnowing we did hasn’t been possible.

Common app does already limit to 20 schools! However, there is coalition app, and many colleges also have their own apps.

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But also helps wealthy families who can pay for help with those essays. That benefits colleges, who want as many full pay applicants as possible, so it may be a plausible outcome. OTOH an explicitly stats based screen would be a lot simpler, but it isn’t in the interests of colleges who want to pick and choose amongst applicants “holistically”.


I was thinking, like, 8.

I hear you, but applicants who are merit hunting may need to apply to more than 8 schools. However, they could use each school’s own application, should CA choose to limit apps to a smaller number than 20 (which I doubt they will do as it seems antithetical to the equity movement).


I think guidance counselors need to do a better job at pointing kids in the right direction. We used a private admissions coach because their “sales pitch” spoke to us about how guidance counselors don’t give the personalized direction kids and families need. We saw that in our HS with all kids applying to the same schools: Ivy+/big names/in state publics, no conversation about budget or financing and with graduates attending the same 10 colleges. In general, it is the same situation we see on here with students applying to several high reach schools and bemoaning going to their safety.

What can colleges do? I think the “prestigious” schools like the revenue from tons of apps and the exclusivity that a low acceptance rate brings. Maybe other colleges should incentivize guidance departments who guide students to the “right” places. The guidance departments need to be like helpful posters here and tell a student they are wasting their app at school X but school Y offers merit to students like them (or offers better internships/study abroad/etc).

A typical high school guidance counselor has to work with dozens or hundreds of students, and not just on college-related matters.

Part of what parents are paying for at elite high schools is a dedicated, knowledgeable, and well-connected college counseling staff to give better assistance on college matters than at a typical high school.


“Elite” colleges: “Everybody apply to us, we need to increase application numbers, we need to decrease acceptance rates in order to increase our rankings! More application, please!”

Also “elite” colleges: “Oh woe is us! So many applications that we don’t know what to do!”

That VP for enrollment was engaging in a humble brag, and is full of bovine excrement. This is exactly the situation that they were all aiming for, so any complaints are highly disingenuous. “Oh I don’t know what we’ll do, being a popular college is such a burden!”


Yeah, the obvious solution is to adjust your system to handle the number of apps and accept the ones you want.

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The next whine will be that the application fee doesn’t nearly cover the cost of reviewing the application.

Remarkably, they don’t have this problem in Canada, where you need the GPA and the test score to get into the school. So those who don’t have the qualifications, just don’t apply.

Get rid of test optional. That will weed out a lot of people who were top 25% at mediocre high schools who thought that this year just might be the year for them, since they didn’t have to submit that sub-1300 SAT score, and with a fee waiver, they might as well submit plenty of applications.

When the pandemic is over, and when standardized test scores are required again, thinks will return to normal. Kids with lower test scores but remarkable circumstances will still apply, but those with borderline stats and low scores will realize that it’'s a waste of time and money, and apply to schools they have a chance at getting into.


No inside info here, but I would think there is such a thing as too many apps for the most selective schools.

I was talking with my brother last week. His wife is a guidance counselor at a private high school. I commented that it is amazing how many high school seniors have founded multiple charity organizations and clubs, are president of everything they in and so on.

He laughed, and told me a story of one kid who wrote in a college essay how he helped drill wells in Africa. My brother asked the kid about that experience. The kid didn’t actually drill the wells, but his parents donated to a charity that drilled wells in Africa so he felt OK claiming that.

I would think the Harvard’s of the world would like to have a thirty minute interview with prospective students to ask about those charities and leadership roles and acts of selflessness before these stories fill the internet.

Those schools cannot do that with ever increasing application numbers and their current infrastructure.

I know my daughter, late to the starting line in applying to schools was unable to schedule an interview at any school she applied to (no slots available) until MIT reached out to her at the beginning of March.

I have to think the increase in applications is simple inefficient for all parties.

I blame the parents. It’s not test optional colleges, it’s not c19, it’s not holistic processes, it’s not any of the things being discussed. The reason more applicants end up with options that do not appeal to them is parents.

Parents are lauded when they do the research and buy homes in certain school districts to get their kids into the “good” public K-12 system. Parents are lauded when they get their kids into advanced classes in elementary, middle, and high school, including AP classes and such. Parents are lauded when they help their kids by signing up for test prep and multiple test opportunities.

However, when it comes time to do the research necessary to find college options that might appeal to the family, all of a sudden people want to say these parents are helpless.

Let’s not conflate discrete groups of applicants. 70% of college bound HS seniors are going to attend an in-state public or a comparable OOS public - they are not part of this. 20% of students are aiming for slightly more selective universities - they are rarely a part of this. Maybe 10% are aiming for highly-selective colleges. This group, for the most part, includes students with parents accustomed to making all the right moves up to this point. I don’t accept that these parents are all of a sudden helpless in helping their students wind up in a great and appropriate univerisity well-suited for their child. I simply don’t.

This is not an issue that affects most families. In fact, it affects a very small minority of families. We do not need to figure out ways to change HS counseling simply to make sure one or two more students per school per year end up at T40s - at the expense, it is important to note, of students who might have been admitted but will now not be admitted - this is a zero sum game, and every time a student you deem as appropriate is admitted that means another student the university originally thought was appropriate is now not admitted because of standards YOU decided to implement. We do not need to remake the entire application process for hundreds or thousands of universities to ensure only the “right” students are admitted.

I think most of this hand-wringing and complaining is completely off target. It’s more venting, than a way to find a solution. And most of the solutions sound like ways to exclude certain students, instead of ways to help all appropriate applicants receive due consideration.


The problem is not that a 20 lower middle class kids at a mediocre high school from a graduating class of 500 kids are applying even though they don’t have a chance. The problem is that, at affluent high schools, 300 of a graduating class of 600 are applying.

Yale representatives are not stopping by the majority of high schools in low income communities and convincing them all to apply, but they are stopping by every affluent public and private high school.

@Data10 shared some statistics about acceptance rates for poor kids to the Ivies, and was was striking was that acceptance rates for low income kids was slightly higher than for affluent kids.

That means that, of the 57,000 applicants to Harvard, some 40,000 are from the top 20% by income, while only some 2,800 are from the bottom 20%. That is hardly a massive influx of mediocre applications from mediocre high schools. Instead it indicates a massive influx of mediocre applications from affluent high schools.

Another reason that this year had a large increase in applications was that last year had a drop in applications, and a consequent increase in acceptance rates. That would encourage applicants to apply to colleges with lower acceptance rates this year.


Eliminate essays from applications. They are the most time consuming to review and often not written by the applicants anyway.