High school seniors apply to more colleges, hope to get in

It’s a process that we remember all too well. In the fall of my senior year of high school, there was a sense of dread and of relief when I hit “submit” on each of my college applications. Dread, because of the potential news to come. Relief, because, “Thank [insert preferred higher power here] I didn’t have to write another essay.”

The graduating class of 2015 is going to hit “submit” on more college applications than ever. Over the last few years, the number of colleges a high school student applies to has been on the rise. It used to be that six was not unusual, and even ten was not unheard of. To nervous high school students now, those numbers belongs in the minor leagues.

And why not? The Common Application has made applying to multiple schools convenient, and the tough economy has sent students on a scavenger hunt for scholarships and financial aid to fit high tuition within their means. On the surface, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for high school students to up the number of applications.

Beyond more convenience and an increase in need for financial aid, plain old fear could be the biggest factor. College becomes more difficult to get into each year. As a result, kids panic and think that they need to apply more places to ensure an acceptance somewhere. Then, the surplus of applications actually just draws acceptance rates even lower, making next year’s students even more panicked. It is a downward spiral.

This fall, there were many stories of kids applying to 20, even 30 schools. However, with such high numbers of applications, the question becomes one of quality versus quantity. In this case, it appears that quality trumps quantity. Some college-bound seniors have the notion that more applications mean better odds of acceptance.

College counselor Lisa Sohmer says that when kids file over 20 applications, many of them have loaded on lots of very competitive schools. She, along with many others, feels that it is more beneficial to carefully select a smaller list of schools and get serious about them. Many colleges are generally eager for more applications for a variety of reasons. Higher numbers of applications mean they are ranked higher in the annual “best college” rankings.

As a result, “demonstrated interest” – tiny indications of how badly a student wants to attend – has become a vital part of a student’s application. Visits, contact with an admissions counselor or even filling out a card at college night give colleges an idea of a potential student’s interest. To be a strong applicant, you must demonstrate sincere interest, which is just not possible to do for twenty schools.

At the end of the day, many college counselors say that they do not encourage students to apply to a host of schools. It has reached a level in many high schools where the administration is considering putting a cap on the number of applications a student can send out.

Brandon Kosatka, a director of student services in Alexandria, Va., said, “The kids who try to game the system just end up getting played in the end.” The system is just too large to be manipulated.

Sydney Padula ’17 padulas@stolaf.edu is from Barrington, Ill. She majors in history.