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Articles / Applying to College / The College Admissions "Frenzy"

The College Admissions "Frenzy"

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 19, 2016
Frenzy: extreme mental agitation; wild excitement or derangement.

Yep, that pretty much says it all about the annual rite of applying to and getting into college these days. You may recall that in the early days of January this year, I issued my Three Predictions. Prediction #1 was:

The Ivy/elite admissions frenzy will continue unabated … unless …

… where I said, in part:

… as Joubert, the skilled professional killer in the film Thee Days of The Condor said regarding those who hire him, “There's always someone willing to pay." … then, as a codicil to my prediction I'll speculate that overall acceptance rates of the “top" Ivies, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Chicago, among a few others perhaps, will burrow further into the single digits. That raises the question of when rates will approach three percent, or even lower …

To discover the “unless" part of my prediction, click on that “Three Predictions" link above.

To experience (or read the history of) the college admissions frenzy, just check the College Confidential discussion forum around the middle of December or late March any year. What you'll see is the full effect of the hysteria (not too strong a word, you'll discover) that has dominated the college admissions process for many years now.

And it's getting worse.

I discovered an interesting letter to the editor of the New York Times this morning that inspired my post today. Deb Shaver, admission dean at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, wrote:

Invitation to a Dialogue: College Admissions Frenzy

It's a brief piece:

I read with interest your April 12 article about college selectivity and the increased pressure to apply to lots of very selective schools (“Common Application Saturates the College Admission Market, Critics Say," nytimes.com).

As someone who's worked in college admissions for more than 35 years, I can attest that getting into college has never been more competitive than it is now. The reason? Increasing numbers of students are applying to the most selective institutions.

When students apply to all the most selective schools, many of which are very different, is it about fit? Or is it only about prestige?

The admission frenzy will stop only when colleges, students and, frankly, parents refuse to play the game anymore — when we admit that more doesn't equal better. Parents — and colleges — need to encourage students to approach the college search in a thoughtful, intentional way, with fit and match as the goal.

With great respect I say to all parents, “Relax."

Students have many options. Focusing on the narrow list of so-called top colleges ignores the rich diversity of the nation's higher education choices — including community colleges, online courses, residential colleges and large research universities.

Students often combine study at different types of colleges and accrue credit for all of these varied experiences. Remember, “highly selective" doesn't necessarily mean better for a student — it just means more selective.

When I talk to prospective students and parents, I often quote Frank Sachs, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling: “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won." The ideal pairs a student with the school that best fulfills that student's academic, social and aspirational needs.

The best fit is where a student will thrive and be happy.


The key part of Ms. Shaver's entreaty is this:

“The admission frenzy will stop only when colleges, students and, frankly, parents refuse to play the game anymore — when we admit that more doesn't equal better. Parents — and colleges — need to encourage students to approach the college search in a thoughtful, intentional way, with fit and match as the goal.

With great respect I say to all parents, 'Relax.'"

I started a thread about this on the CC parents forum. I'll be interested to see the comments. Incidentally, the Times is also interested in what you might think. In a postscript to Deb Shaver's letter, this appears:

Editors' Note: We invite readers to respond briefly by Thursday morning for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and a rejoinder in the Sunday Review. Email: letters@nytimes.com

At the Times so far, as of this writing, there are 28 comments posted in response to Shaver's statement. A sampling:

– I left a prestigious university because I hated it; most of my classmates loved it. I went to an equally good but less well-known (then) college and loved it, but when my brother started there a year later he hated it. The fit matters most and there is no one size fits all, no one dimension that measures the quality of all schools. But it is not always easy for 17 or 18 year old students, or their parents, to know what the best fit will be until they try it on! You can always transfer if it doesn't work out.

– A sensible solution might be for the Common Application to limit how many applications a student can send. If it were limited to, say, five, the playing field would be better for everyone involved.

– I really must ask Dean Shaver when an 18 year old knows what's good for him or her. The vast majority of them have no idea. I certainly didn't at that age. They may have vague ideas about what interests them and some notion of their individual talents but a course of study that would most benefit them on the way to becoming truly educated is surely beyond them and usually beyond their parents and advisors. I would hope that Dean Shaver and her colleagues would eschew vocational considerations and focus on those courses of study that most promote rigorous thinking, skeptical inquiry and the development of an infinite curiosity.


So what do you think? You can post your thoughts here, on my College Confidential thread, or at the Times. If you would like to participate in the Times' “Sunday Dialogue," you still have a couple days to respond. Let you voice be heard.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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