College Admissions Becomes Unpredictable: "Stealth" Applicants and College Marketers Are Complicating the Process

Article excerpt

WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN college admissions counseling, there was a level of predictability in advising students on the colleges they were applying to. You could build a list of reaches, targets and probable admits for a student with a certain grade-point average and exam scores. You could use both local and national data to predict with a high degree of accuracy where a student would and wouldn't be admitted. Over the past few years, it has become more difficult to advise students on appropriate schools to apply to.

Record Increases in Application

One of the significant factors impacting admissions is the ease with which students can now apply to multiple colleges. In the past, students had to complete an individual application, often with unique essay questions, when applying to each college.

Now, students can complete common forms and submit applications to multiple schools electronically--without ever having been in contact with the college or university. College admissions representatives call these students "stealth applicants." Approximately one-third of the applications filed at public and private universities are from stealth applicants.

This is a major shift from years past, when students would be in contact with colleges by phone, campus visit, college fair or high school visit. Almost every college is boasting record increases in applications and declining admissions rates. For example, in the district where I work, applications per student have doubled since 2004.

Record Number Wait-Listed

For colleges and universities, the rising number of applications is both good and bad. This allows colleges to boast of attracting more applicants, enhancing the perception that they have become more desirable and competitive.

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Having more applications does not make the admissions process easier for the colleges, however; in fact, the increase in numbers makes it even more difficult to make decisions on applicants. The "yield," how many students matriculate over how many are accepted, is what keeps deans of admission up at night. …