College Admissions: Getting Tougher on Students

I’m all for making applying to colleges easier for students, who have a lot on their plates in the fall of senior year. School work, of course, and extracurricular activities, coupled with applications and college visits in the mix, often scrunched into the two months of September and October in order to meet early deadlines.

But it seems that college admissions is getting tougher for students, not easier, who in my area, are applying to around 10 schools, simply because they read the acceptance numbers at selective schools and cringe – and then worry that they won’t get into their safer schools because those schools will think they are too strong as candidates to ever attend. Consequently, down go those yield rates if they accept those students.

While I applaud schools like the University of Southern California and the University of Delaware, which have gotten rid of earlies – essentially everyone applies at the same time, and students all receive decisions at the same time as well – I wonder why a school like the University of Michigan has now made it so difficult for studies to apply for entry into the Ross School of Business. Students now have to write six essays for consideration by Ross as freshmen – the personal essay and three Michigan supplemental essays, which all UM applicants must write, and two essays for Ross (one of which includes an uploaded “portfolio” showing a significant “learning in action” experience with a description as to how that experience demonstrates “learning in action”) in order to be considered for admission. Only 20% of Ross undergrads studying at the university in other schools and colleges will be able to transfer into the program.

The University of Pennsylvania has put restrictions on Early Decision candidates, telling them that they cannot apply to any early programs, including early action or restrictive early action, when they apply ED to Penn, unless those programs are public and nonbinding, located in a foreign country or have nonbinding early deadlines for scholarship consideration. I’m not sure of the philosophy behind that decision. If you get into Penn ED, then you are “expected to enroll,” as Penn notes on its website. If you don’t, you may have squandered the opportunity to be admitted into another school to which you actually might attend. My question: Since Penn accepts you, you are required to withdraw all of those other applications anyway (standard practice for any ED acceptance to any school), and if it hasn’t taken you, why should the university care if you are admitted to another school?

While I understand the thinking behind why schools have early plans, especially ED – it helps in determining yield and spreads out the work of reading mounds of applications over a longer period of time – it really would be nice if all of those plans were eliminated – and students didn’t have to rush to apply to colleges in early November. There are, however, two interesting trends that I am seeing, although they relate to standardized testing, not to applying. One is noting that some schools that required subject tests in the past are now only recommending them, although sometimes highly! The other is that some schools are pulling back on requiring the essay section of the revised SAT and the writing section of the ACT, prompted, it seems, by the changes in the SAT. That’s a little bit of welcome news, but since colleges didn’t necessarily put great stock into the writing sections anyway, it doesn’t lessen the burden on high school students by very much.