Total Applications Hit Record Highs Across Schools

Applicants seeking admission to seven or more colleges has almost doubled over past decade

Daily Pennsylvanian
January 20, 2011

By Seth Zweifler

Penn isn’t alone among colleges that have seen record-breaking numbers of applicants for the class of 2015.

Over the past two weeks, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have reported all-time highs in applications for undergraduate admission.

In line with Penn’s 17-percent increase, Columbia, Harvard and Princeton have seen 32-percent, 15-percent and 3.3-percent surges in overall applications, respectively. MIT reported a 7-percent increase.

Columbia Dean of Admissions Jessica Marinaccio largely attributed the rise in the university’s application total – which grew from 26,179 last year to 34,587 this year – to its decision to switch to the Common Application.

Marinaccio wrote in a statement that their participation in the Common App led to “greater ease of and access to our application process.”

Other peer institutions cited financial aid and need-blind admissions as strong selling points for applicants.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda wrote in an e-mail that Penn’s financial-aid outreach has been “critical” in regions like the West and Southeast, which saw application surges of more than 20 percent this year.

He added that, as admissions rates at some of the nation’s top colleges continue to go down, students are apparently responding to the changes by applying to more and more schools.

A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute backs Furda’s claim. According to the survey of about 500,000 college freshmen, the number of applicants seeking admission to seven or more colleges has almost doubled from 12 percent to 23 percent over the past decade.

Steven Goodman, an admissions strategist with Top Colleges – a Washington-based college consulting firm – confirmed that his advisees are applying to a greater number of schools as “the only rational response” to the drop in admissions rates.

“If a student has a wider variety of choices, that’s obviously better for that student,” Goodman said. “The bread-and-butter applicant to a school like Penn is probably going to be applying to a large number of schools. The process keeps building on itself.”

This application cycle marked the first year in which every Ivy League school accepted the Common Application. In hindsight, Goodman said that the rapid growth of the Common App may have had some unintended consequences.

“The irony of the Common App is that it’s greatly increased the importance of the essay and SAT scores, but it was originally supposed to make things easier on the applicant,” he said.

Olivia Greenberg, a senior at Millburn High School in Essex County, N.J., said that she applied to 18 schools – including Penn – this year.

Greenberg explained that she wanted to have “a variety of places to choose from and [to make] sure that I had safety in numbers.”

Brown and Stanford universities, as well as Dartmouth College, have also announced 2.9-percent, 7-percent and 15.7-percent increases in total applications, respectively.

The two remaining Ivy League schools to report total application numbers for the class of 2015 are Cornell and Yale universities.

<< Back to Steve in the News