Although the college admissions season was riddled with many anxiety filled days of writing essays and filling out applications, students in the Class of 2008 have finally made their decisions on where they will be headed in the fall. Graduating high school seniors can finally breathe a sigh of relief, leaving the rest of us to figure out why this year was so competitive and what it means for the future.

This was the most competitive year in college admissions, a trend that is expected to continue for at least the next two years. The Wall Street Journalreports that the number of high school graduates is expected to increase by 11 percent between 2000 and 2012. Colleges were bombarded with applications this year as, on average, students across the nation each applied to more schools than in the past. While students, nationwide, used to apply to 3-5 schools, many students applied to 12-15 and some more than 20. Bay Area students have typically applied to more than 10 schools each, especially when applying to the most selective schools, but now students across the country are catching onto that strategy.

Every Ivy League university reported an increased number of applications. And while the number of applications is staggering, the statistics of those who applied is even more astounding. Of the 21,369 applicants to Princeton, for example, 7,000 students had a perfect 4.0 and 11,000 had a combined SAT score of more than 2100. Many schools are reacting to a combination of factors including an increase in yields over the last few years. Because more students accepted offers of admissions from these selective schools in past years, schools have had to compensate by accepting fewer students this year. Many students were also placed on waitlists as colleges wait to see how many accepted students will attend. These waitlists can often cause an added level of stress, as a student must place a deposit at another school while waiting for the waitlist decisions, which may not be released until late June.


Stanford recorded the lowest acceptance rate in its history. The school’s sweeping financial aid changes will make a Stanford education affordable to students that come from all socioeconomic groups. Of the 2,400 admitted students, more than 400 of those are the first students in their family to attend a four-year university.
Like Stanford, many schools across the country reached out to a greater diversity of students. More than 20 percent of USC’s admitted students are underrepresented minorities, and 10 percent are the first to attend college in their families.

The University of California network of schools also had a 9.2 percent rise in unique Freshman applications from 87,213 in 2007 to 95,201 for Fall 2008, with UCLA receiving the greatest number. Of the 12,577 students who were admitted, 10,997 had a fully weighted GPA of more than 4.0. As the UCs become increasingly competitive, schools that were once considered “safeties” for some students are no longer guaranteed for any student. UC Davis saw the greatest percentage increase in applications with 15.6 percent more applications this year for the same number of available seats. The UC system stands behind its policy of admitting the top 12.5 percent of students in California and the top 4 percent of students in any California high school, and has promised that all UC qualified applicants will be admitted to at least one University of California campus, provided they applied. While these students are guaranteed admission, there is no guarantee of attending a specific UC campus. UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD can never be considered sure bets.

The UC system, like all private schools, looks at all elements of a student’s application. While high SAT scores and strong GPAs are important for any selective school, extracurricular activities, leadership, and proven passion for something outside of academics are crucial elements. Colleges today are admitting people, not numbers. They want students with personality, an ability to contribute, and those who will savor the opportunities presented to them. Numbers are just one part of the admissions process.

So why are college admissions heating up so dramatically? There are many factors that contribute to the college admissions craze. The first is that across the country, there will be more seniors graduating from high school this year (3,330,000 in 2008 compared to 3,303,000 in 2007). The number is expected to begin dipping after the class of 2008. In California, 13,890 more students will graduate from high school, the greatest increase of any state. Along with the increased number of students graduating from high school, a greater percentage of graduating seniors are applying to four-year institutions of higher education. Of the more than 3.33 million students graduating, 1.86 million of those students are expected to receive a bachelors degree in 2012, compared to 1.8 million from the class of 2007.

With greater access to higher education and more schools revising their financial aid policies to make college more affordable, students who may not have applied to college are now doing so. And students are applying to more schools than ever, especially in places like the Silicon Valley. This trend is partly fueled by students’ fears that they must have several safeties on their college list. This has a trickle down effect and those “safety” schools become increasingly competitive. And, as the world gets flatter and more integrated, an increasing number of international students are filling seats. Often times, these students are viewed separately from domestic students, but many colleges are increasing their international applicant pool in an effort to bring greater diversity and experience to campus.

Even with the perfect application, the perfect SAT score, and a perfect 4.0 GPA, students may still receive a thin envelope in the mail. Each year, colleges attempt to build a specific composition for their admitted class, making the college admissions process unpredictable at best.

Students graduating this year should rest assured. Now that you’ve sent in your Intent to Register, you should relax and enjoy the remaining weeks of high school before you embark on the next four years of your life. The college you attend does not spell out your fate. How you do is more important than where you go. While brand name and reputation do carry a certain weight, they cannot make up for four miserable years. And for many, getting into college may be harder than college itself.

Students in the Class of 2009 and beyond, however, should be prepared for even more competitive admissions. Our best piece of advice for those students: Do what you love and the “Fat Envelopes” will follow.
Purvi Mody is a Partner at Insight Education. Insight Education guides students and families throughout the complex high school and college admissions processes. Visit for more information. Purvi has an undergraduate degree from UCLA, a Masters in Education and an MBA from Stanford University.