Disparity in Application Numbers at American Universities

Applications surged at our nation’s elite universities this year (photo credit: Sach1tb).

Kudos to The New York Times for a piece published this weekend that highlights the distinction between this year’s application numbers at the vast majority of America’s 900+ universities and the 25 or so highly selective universities in this nation. As our readers may remember, we were critical of The Paper of Record back in November when they published a piece — authored by a journalist we very much respect — about the decline in applications this fall at America’s universities. After all, while applications were certainly down at the vast majority of America’s universities, applications surged at our nation’s elite universities. We felt that the article failed to draw a distinction between the vast majority of American universities, which are not particularly selective, and the 25 or so universities with high barriers for admission. This weekend’s piece, on the other hand, very clearly distinguishes the trend at our nation’s elite universities from the trend at the other universities across the nation.

New York Times Correctly Distinguishes Trend at Highly Selective Universities from Trend at Vast Majority of Universities

In this weekend’s piece by Amelia Nierenberg entitled “Interest Surges in Top Colleges, While Struggling Ones Scrape for Applicants,” she writes, “While selective universities like Cornell and its fellow Ivy League schools have seen unprecedented interest after waiving test scores, smaller and less recognizable schools are dealing with the opposite issue: empty mailboxes. In early December, applications to Cal Poly Pomona, east of Los Angeles and part of the California State University system, were down 40 percent over the previous year from would-be freshmen, and 52 percent from transfer students, most of whom started their higher education at community colleges. A drop in applications does not always translate into lower enrollment. But at a time when many colleges and universities are being squeezed financially by the pandemic and a loss of public funding, the prospect of landing fewer students — and losing critical tuition dollars — is a dire one at schools that have already slashed programs and laid off staff.”

Highly Selective Universities Tend to Move in a Pack

Remember, our nation’s highly selective universities tend to move in a pack. When one or two universities go test optional, the rest tend to follow. When one or two universities push back their notification dates due to increased applications to review, the rest tend to follow. When applications surge at one or two universities, applications tend to surge at the rest of institutions. And that which is true at our nation’s elite universities is not necessarily true at the vast majority of America’s 900+ universities. Those institutions, which are not a focus of this college admissions blog, move in their own pack.

 
 

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1 Comment

  • Lis Jackman says:

    I understand why top schools have an increase in applications, but what are your thoughts on why they are down for most others? The NY Times article didn’t give a reason. Curious about your thoughts on this

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