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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dear Mr. Bradshaw --

My daughter applied to several top colleges this year. I read about the surge in applications and I'm concerned. This seems surprising in light of the economic recession.

She has compiled an outstanding academic record, but with the increase in applications, is there any reason we should consider scaling back our expectations that she will get admitted?

-- A parent.

Parents worry college applications soaring.



Dear Parent --

Almost all colleges are reporting dramatic increases in applications this year. Applications to top colleges in particular are setting records.

There are several ways to interpret these increases. Officials at most elite colleges say there is an overall "flight to quality" that is driving the increase in numbers. Students hope to improve their job prospects by attending a top school or they hope to increase their chances of getting into a top graduate or professional program by attending a top undergraduate school.

But you are right to be concerned with the surge. The increases in applications are setting records. Duke University had to hire more admissions officers to handle the overload. They will admit a smaller percentage of applicants over last year, when they admitted 19 percent. Officials said that number is expected to drop to 15 percent this year.

Admissions officials at most top schools admit they were caught off guard, especially at colleges that rank as some of the most expensive in America. The surge was not anticipated for several reasons. The economic downturn played a part in lowering their estimates. Many officials thought the total number of college-age students would remain flat or might even drop. That did not happen.

Bottom line, students must be prepared to compete even harder for an opening. This year, top schools are experiencing increases across the board -- up 5 percent at Harvard, to nearly 20 percent at Princeton and Brown. Northwestern University applications rose 9 percent. Johns Hopkins University is up 13 percent, and the University of Richmond is up 9 percent.

Applications are up 6 percent at Washington and Lee University, and 3 percent at George Washington University. The University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary also expect record numbers of applicants.

If that is not enough, the University of Chicago experienced a whopping 42 percent increase in applications this year. Applicants there have doubled since 2006.

One Johns Hopkins official said students are looking for a "strong brand" and are reaching out for the best university to which they can be admitted.

Even in a down economy, students are prepared to pay a premium to attend a top school, and they are confident financial aid will be available if they are admitted. Students are more sophisticated today; they know top grades and high test scores keep these institutions atop the rankings, so they expect help with financing their educations if they need it.

If your daughter is qualified for a top school, there is no reason she should scale back her expectations, but the surge in applicants makes the wait until spring notifications that much harder.

Gerald M. Bradshaw consults with students on how to gain admission to selective colleges, universities and law schools. Contact Gerald Bradshaw at 866-687-8129.

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