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Colleges are not “better” because they are “popular”’

“Our applications for admission, which hovered around 9,000 for many years, suddenly doubled to 17,500. Then they increased to over 21,000. We have to turn away students who want tours and we find ourselves looking at an admit rate of 10 percent. Has this deterred students from applying? No. I am left wondering: Is Colgate more desirable because it is more desired?” Brian Casey, the president of Colgate University.

When people perceive something as desirable, others want it too, and assume “it must be good.” This has nothing to do with the college. Conversely, many believe that if a college is easier to get into, it must not be good.

“Fit,” the crucial factor, is not in this equation.

I have written about the fallacy of the question, “Is that a good college?”

The question should always be “Is that a good college for me?”

“The number of college applications filed through the Common Application has jumped 30 percent over the past three years. That equates to some 1.56 million additional applications sent by this year’s class compared to their counterparts in the class of 2020 — although the classes are roughly the same size.” Jeff Selingo, Who Gets in and Why.

The classes of 2020 and 2023 might be the same size, but there are 21% more applicants applying to those 841 Common Application member institutions today. Too many students are applying to a group of about 250 colleges.

Why did this not occur before 2020? There were approximately 1000 test optional colleges then, but few students focused exclusively on those. Most applied to colleges where their GPA’s and test scores were a match, between 25%-75% of the school’s accepted range. It was rare to see students defy the numbers and just submit applications that were likely denials. All that has changed in the age of general test optional admissions caused by the pandemic.

My credo has always been, ”the more colleges, the more stress.” Avoid adding stress to an inherently stressful process by applying to a balanced list of colleges that are your academic and cultural fits (more on that second piece next week), not simply because they are “popular.” Today’s trendy colleges were less popular 10 years ago…why not explore and discover some (not-so) hidden gems?


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