Beyond the numbers game

More applicants to the College may look good, but the increase can come at a cost

By Maroon Editorial Board

This time of the quarter, it’s easy to forget that there are human beings elsewhere who are also overwhelmed by stress, slowly dying at their own desks—specifically, the thousands of high school seniors right now applying to college. Early action programs, the applications for which are usually due in early- to mid- November, offer a compelling option: Students can secure a spot at a top school, and do so without the agony of waiting until April for a decision.

Lately, the U of C has been catching up to its peers in the number of early action applications it receives. Last year, the University received 5,855 early action applications, a 32-percent increase from the previous high. This year’s application pool jumped another 18 percent, to 6,960. These increases are widely seen as successes, and with good reason: Early action applicants usually view the University as a top choice, and a growing applicant pool indicates that a growing number of students are passionate about our College.

But there are legitimate doubts about whether these increases in applications and selectivity have a real impact on the quality of a school. A recent New York Times article on the nation-wide obsession with application numbers pointed out that many top colleges try to boost the number of applications received for no purpose beyond appearing more selective.

Everyone likes an increase in applications. It invokes a warm, fuzzy feeling of exclusivity that, to be honest, is kind of nice. As the Times article suggests, though, an applicant pool of 30,000 doesn’t necessarily make for a stronger matriculating class than a pool of 15,000. The top applicants in each may be effectively interchangeable.

In fact, more applications could just lead to the mass rejection of students with no real chance of getting admitted—but no other meaningful changes. Padding the application numbers does drive down our acceptance rate, but a lower acceptance rate, in and of itself, doesn’t do much for a school. Some would argue it improves our standing in college rankings, but the truth is that acceptance rates account for only 1.5 percent of the scores on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list.

In other words, although such increases should be appreciated, they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Overzealous attempts to augment application numbers don’t lead to a better university or a better incoming class.

We are proud of the University’s burgeoning popularity. We wouldn’t be as proud, however, if that popularity came at the expense of thousands of students who are encouraged to apply without regard for their chances of admission, and who ultimately get rejected wholesale. The focus should not be on attracting as many kids as possible, but on attracting as many of the right kids as possible. Trading the honesty and integrity of our recruiting strategy in order to get more applications is a deal we aren’t willing to make.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and Viewpoints Editors.