Admissions Report Reflects a Decade of ‘Unparalleled Uncertainty’

Over the last 10 years, the Good Ship Admissions has taken on great numbers of passengers who, in various ways, have changed the profession’s course. These high-achieving applicants—wired to new technologies and hailing from many nations—have greatly challenged those who recruit them, by filing an increasing number of applications, shrinking acceptance rates at the most-selective colleges, and driving down yield rates everywhere.

This image arises from the 2012 “State of College Admission” report, released on Thursday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. This year’s report marks the 10th installment of the annual compilation of data on admissions trends. Each chapter includes a “retrospective” look at major themes of recent years (do you remember reading that applying early to a highly selective college increased an applicant’s chance of admission by the same amount as a 100-point increase on the SAT would?).

Heavy on charts and tables, the report provides a detailed look at changes in how colleges recruit and evaluate students, and at how those students have changed. “We have witnessed unparalleled uncertainty for both students and colleges,” the report’s preface says. “Colleges are less able to predict their enrollment trends now than they were 10 years ago, requiring them to work harder to meet their enrollment goals. Students are applying to more schools to hedge against uncertainty in the admissions process, which has an inflationary effect on the application process that feeds on itself.”

To my eye, the most compelling part of the report concerns the “accelerated admission process,” as described in Chapter 3. Over the last 10 years, the number of colleges that offer nonbinding “early action” programs has increased to 31 percent of all four-year institutions, up from 18 percent. Meanwhile, more and more colleges have embraced on-the-spot admissions and “priority applications” (also known as VIP applications), each of which are used by approximately one-fourth of colleges. These strategies are a hedge against uncertainty, as is the use of wait lists, which 32 percent colleges used in 2002 and 45 percent used in 2011.

And in case you think you’re busy, consider this finding: The average number of applications handled by each admissions officer increased to 662 in 2011, from 359 in 2005.

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