Eric Gorski of the Associated Press recently wrote an article looking at the quantity and quality of the college applications that are being asked for by colleges and are being submitted by students. He uses previously published CIRP Freshman Survey data in support of his claim that more students are applying to more schools. He also used data that I ran for him that shows that students from wealthier families are more likely to apply to six or more schools than those from middle incomes. Interestingly enough, the students from families at the lower end of the income pool apply to six or more schools at a slightly higher rate than from those in the middle income categories.
The article focuses on one side with the pressure on colleges to increase the numbers of applications received. For those who wonder why this is a goal: more applicants can boost your US News rating. This is very important to some colleges, despite the fact that our survey results show that magazine rankings are very important to less than 1 in 5 students entering college these days. The other pressure to apply to more colleges can come from the applicants, or their families, or their guidance counselors. Eric’s very interesting article points out both sides of the race: those for whom more is better, and those who are taking a more tempered approach.
A few of the scenarios got me thinking about possible pressures to submit more. For starters, the median number of applications is still only four, and it is rare that students apply to very many schools. In 2009, only 3.3% applied to 12 or more schools.
We also ask on the CIRP Freshman Survey how important the advice of a private college counselor was in choosing where to apply. Those reporting this advice was very important are about twice as likely to apply to 12 or more schools that those who say such advice was not important at all (7.3% versus 3.5%).
There are also differences depending on what type of high school a student attended. Students from private independent schools are most likely to apply to 12 or more schools (9.3%), followed by students from public charter schools (5.8%), public magnet schools (4.8%) and private religious high schools (4.8%), and public schools (3.0%). Home schoolers are least likely to apply to so many schools, at 1.2%.
At least on the applicant side, things seem to be pretty well balanced, with most students applying to about 4 colleges, and not many getting into the high levels of 12 or more applications. Certainly there seems to be more of a push at the high income levels, private schools, and with the influence of private counselors. While application levels do rise each year, in part because of the increased ease of application, we need to remember that excessive numbers are the exception and not the rule. As Eric Gorski points out, sometimes less can mean more.