Applications Soar, Selectivity Drops

It looks like another year of record-breaking volume at many of the nation’s top schools (see below). Fueling the growth are factors ranging from outreach aimed at increasing historically underrepresented groups (minority students, low income students, and first gen students), increased international recruitment, revamped communications and spiffy new campus visitor centers.

With volume way up and inflexible notification deadlines looming, it will be a tough reading season for admissions officers. By now, most likely all files have had their first review and are now tracked based upon the relative strength of the applicant’s credentials. Overwhelmed staffs, shored up by teams of additional readers hired on a part time basis, will work mightily to get through the virtual mountain of files in their inboxes as they move through additional reviews in preparation for committee work and final decisions. Students who make the cut will share the following attributes (even those with hooks):

  1. Top academic achievement in a rigorous program. We can’t emphasize this enough. The very best schools are looking for the very best students, especially those who rank at the tippy top of their classes. By the way, even if high schools don’t provide an exact rank, admissions officers are trained to look for clues in the school profile and recommendations that allow them to estimate a rank.
  2. Top test scores, even if they’re only “recommended” versus “required.” SATs, ACTs, subject tests and APs – top scores are always a differentiator – and a must-have for students from upper income families and well-resourced public, private and independent schools.
  3. A clear academic passion, interesting point of view, set of experiences, or personal perspective, convincingly expressed in a 650-word statement, plus supplemental essays that demonstrate “why” the student is a great fit for the college.
  4. Evidence of meaningful impact and contribution to school and community. It’s not enough to be a joiner with a shallow level of engagement in dozens of activities. The students who are the heart and soul of communities they are a part of – with the support from recommenders augmenting a crisp and articulate description of the what and the why – will always capture an admissions officer’s attention.

For seniors who’ve submitted regular decision applications, the wait continues. Juniors, sophomores and freshmen, this is the time to take stock of all you’ve done thus far in high school and what your next steps are on your path to becoming the very best student – and applicant – you can be.

highly selective college admissions increase


This year’s application numbers from a sampling of schools:

Boston College: Applications to BC are up 9% over last year, making the total number of applications received this year 31,098. Minority students make up 33% of the pool. International applications have increased 12.4%.

Bowdoin: Applications soared 25% this year relative to last year, with 9,047 students applying for admission. It may not be double-digits (yet) but being up 25% will make it significantly tougher all the way around.

Brown: a record-high 35,368 applications, an increase of 8% over last year. Growth fueled by increases in numbers of first generation to college students (they make up 18% of the applicant pool) and students of color (they now make up 45% of applicant pool). 60% of applicants are women. Engineering, biology and computer science are the three most popular concentrations.

Dartmouth: 22,005 applications; a 9.8% increase and the fourth largest applicant pool in the College’s history. Greater recruitment aimed at international applicants, first generation and low-income students, plus new communications efforts are among the factors fueling the growth.

Harvard: a record-breaking 42,742 applicants for admission, setting a record for the fourth consecutive year and exceeding last year’s pool by more than 3,000. Women make up just over 50% of the applicant pool. Harvard saw an 18.7% increase in applications from African American students and a 14.9% increase in application from Asian American students. Continuing a trend, applications from STEM interested students continue to rise; of note, Harvard saw a 19.7% increase in students interested in studying computer science.

Northwestern: First year applications grew 8.5% this year, with 40,418 students vying for admission, an all-time high. Northwestern’s application volume has grown 25% in the last three years alone. College officials point to the opening of a new admissions visitors’ center as well as their success in enrolling low-income students as factors fueling the growth.

NYU: A record 75,037 applications for admission were received, a 12% increase over last year’s total (this is inclusive of NYU campuses in NYC, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai). According to NYU, this is the most applications received by any private university in the U.S..

UC Berkeley: More than 89,000 students seek admission to the Class of 2022 at UC Berkeley. Really. Californians make up the majority but out of state students make up 25% of the applicants and international students comprise 19% of the pool.

Yale: a record 35,505 applications for admission, up 7.3%. The rise in applications comes in the wake of the opening of two new residential colleges, which are on track to increase the size of the student body by about 800 students. Fueling the growth are increasing numbers of minority students (40% over last five years), first generation to college students (37% over last five years), low income students (113% over last five years).

As more results become available, you’ll read about it here at Top Tier, along with our expert analysis.

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