Given the state of our economy it’s no surprise that the number of applications to the most selective colleges and universities reached record highs again this year. Harvard received 34,950 applications and accepted 6.2%, while Yale received 27,282 applications and admitted 7.4%; Brown University admitted 8.4% from 30,948 applications. These statistics are deceptively high when reduced by the number of Early Decision admits at several institutions and outreach for athletes and students with special talents.
The Common Application makes it easier for students to add so called “reach” schools to their list regardless of how unrealistic the chances of admission. Also, many of the most selective colleges and universities practice need blind admissions that guarantee that 100 percent of admitted students’ financial need will be met. Middle class families suffering financial setbacks have a “why not take a shot “ approach to the process; why not encourage Dick or Jane to apply because you never really know, anything is possible, and we’ll save a bundle if he/she gets in. Then of course there are the bragging rights that come with being the one-out-of-ten anointed by a selective admissions office. There is the prestige of a degree from a highly selective institution, and the perception that such a degree opens doors throughout one’s post grad and professional life. Whether the college is a social or academic match fades into the background as financial pressure mounts.
Financial considerations have also had an impact on the University of California system both on the supply and demand side. Due to California’s historic budget shortfall, all ten campuses have slashed budgets and reduced enrollment while raising tuition and fees by a third. At the same time more students are applying, because the system retains its academic luster even with higher fees. It’s still a bargain compared to selective private research universities. The thinking seems to be; I’ll throw a Common App at Harvard and Yale, but I‘ll also take a crack at Berkeley or UCLA. The Los Angeles Times reports that this also applies to students outside of California. (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-uc-admit-20110419,0,2915587.story )
In an effort to increase revenue almost a third of UC Berkeley and UCLA acceptances went to applicants outside of California who pay about $23,000 more to attend a UC campus. This new wrinkle raises the bar for California residents who now compete for even fewer slots. Overall UCLA and UC Berkeley each admitted about 25% but as a third were from out of state those two campuses have become among the most selective in the country. California cutbacks have been equally severe at the Cal State University system and the California community colleges. Both Long Beach State and San Diego State received over 60,000 applications making admission as competitive at these universities as at many UC campuses.