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Students Reaching Higher and Wider in College Search

Students are applying to more colleges and are increasingly fixated on those with the most selective admissions rates, according to new information released by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling Thursday.

Nearly 29 percent of students applied to seven or more colleges, up from 25 percent in 2010 — and 79 percent applied to three or more schools, up from 77 percent.

Filling out so many applications can take over students' senior year, especially when they are also taking Advanced Placement classes, trying to maintain grades, and wanting to enjoy other activities, says Katy Murphy, director of college counseling at Bellamine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif., speaking on a NACAC webinar panel yesterday. With all the essays and supplements, the time it takes to complete applications is the equivalent to taking an additional class in the fall, Murphy says.

"We limit students to nine applications," says Murphy. "But it's remarkable how much push back we get." Parents ask to have a student apply just to see if he or she can get into a particular school. Murphy says students need to get away from the "name brand" mentality that comes with the focus on rankings, such as the U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges list.

"Students are applying to schools because of the name, not for the fit," says Murphy. "For students to be happy and challenged, the fit really needs to be there."

The average number of applications that colleges receive has gone up nearly 60 percent in the past decade, but this includes an 82 percent increase at private schools and just a 33 percent increase at public institutions, according to NACAC.

Applications are increasing fastest at schools with higher selectivity rates.

At the same time, the number of accepted applicants has just gone up by 45 percent and students enrolling in college has increased by about 12 percent since 2002.

This translates into lower acceptance rates. Overall, colleges admit 63.8 percent of students, which is down from 64.4 percent last year, NACAC reports. Rates at public schools fell from 66.5 percent to 66 percent and at private colleges from 63.7 percent to 63 percent from 2010 to 2011.

As selectivity goes up, counselors report an unfounded level of anxiety and panic among families about admissions. Counselors can help blow up the myth that getting into an exclusive school is the "golden ticket" for success in life, she says. "Every college is a good college for somebody," says Murphy.

Being awash in applications presents its own challenges for colleges. Jim Rawlins, executive director of admissions at Colorado State University, says it can be hard to get past the homogeneous information to make admission offers. By making the application harder, it may give students a reason to think about why they are applying to a certain school, he says.

Admissions counselors at colleges should be prepared to provide potential students with outcome data about internships and graduates' jobs to help students pare down their lists of potential schools, the panelists suggested.

NACAC, the professional organization for college admissions professionals based in Arlington, Va., released the information Thursday as part of its State of College Admissions 2012 report, which will be rolled out in three parts this month.


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