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Why Do Some Colleges Become Popular?

In February, I tallied up where my students applied in Top States For ‘23 Grads? My colleagues across the US are finding similar results. Large schools in the southeast are enjoying record-breaking numbers of applications, while the popularity of some small liberal art colleges, especially those that are less selective, has declined.

Some attribute this to the relative openness of these southern schools during the pandemic, but many of them still have vaccine mandates, so that’s not entirely the reason. Warm weather, rah-rah sports, and high-spirited Greek life seem to be the draws. As schools grow more popular, their admissions rates drop. Auburn’s popularity soared to an all-time high 48,000 applications, up 5% from last year when their admissions rate dropped from 71.1% to 43.7%. In last week’s blogpost, I detailed how the University of Tampa doubled in size and boasted a low admit rate around 26% this year.

However, this might be changing in the future as many students are now unwilling to go to the South for political reasons. According to this article in Inside Higher Ed, 1 in 4 students consider politics in their decision. I personally do not see that many of my students are motivated one way or the other by politics.

Sports success matters: listen to The Flutie Effect to learn why. Just by making the Final Four, NCAA basketball teams allow themselves to have $1.2BB in free advertising over the course of those two weeks. The University of Tennessee became more selective this year based on last year’s football success. After March Madness, expect San Diego State University, Furman University, and Florida Atlantic apps to increase next year. Several of my juniors have already added FAU and SDS to their lists!

Just remember that out of thousands of US colleges where students can earn a valuable degree, only about two hundred admit fewer than 50%.


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