Who should read this post: parents and students considering applying to a university in California; parents and students who are beginning to investigate or just jumping into the college applications process; parents and students interested in application trends in California universities; those who want to explode the myth that a good football team is vital to a university; and anybody who wants evidence that Stanford students are bigger tailgaters than Cal students.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
It’s the best of times if you are running one of the elite universities; it’s the worst of times if you are applying to one of these schools. But never fear, Reader, I will offer you some suggestions for dealing with the rapidly increasing demand for the insufficient supply of seats for qualified applicants. Let’s begin by looking at some of the numbers that are out for this year.
The early signs are that admissions demand has dropped for the most competitive Ivy League schools, but this is not true for most of the selective schools as a category and is specifically not true for the more popular schools on the Left Coast–Stanford and Cal, for example, saw significant increases in demand again. We await word on early admits and anything else from USC as of this writing. (Note to Tommy Trojan: The kids are anxious. Please hurry.)
In fact, large increases in applications were the rule for California universities, so this post will focus on some numbers for California schools; in a later post I will give you some analysis for the East Coast universities and we’ll also be looking north at some of the big state schools in Oregon and Washington which are often overlooked outside of the region. Near the end of the post, when I discuss *Cal Poly, I will look more closely at what the numbers really mean–simply looking at raw numbers such as increases in total applications is a good place to start planning, but it doesn’t tell much of the story beyond what common sense already suggests: more people than ever are competing for about the same number of seats at popular universities. Other stats will help you analyze the true probabilities for your own admission.
Keep in mind when viewing the numbers that the universities are also strategizing as they compete for spots on college rankings, spots that are determined in part by how selective they appear to be. Many of them try to increase applications by recruiting students in order to turn down a large number, and by doing so appear to be a more selective (and therefore both more rigorous and more desirable) university. And they all estimate how many students will actually enroll when they come up with an acceptance number–in many cases, a third or less of those accepted will actually enroll and attend classes, even at sought-after universities.
Here is a rundown of some of the numbers for some of California’s more competitive campuses (with a mostly unscientific analysis on the influence of football teams on college applications, in case you needed another metric.).
Call it Good (Andrew) Luck for Stanford, but this year the Cardinal received a total of 36,744 freshman applications by the January 1st 2012 deadline. This is a 7 percent increase from last year and a new record, surpassing last year’s 34,348 applications for the Class of 2015. To put this trend into context, around 32,000 students applied for the Class of 2014 and approximately 30,000 for the Class of 2013.
The Director of Admissions at Stanford, Bob Patterson, had expected a drop this year due to Harvard and Princeton reinstating early admissions. It was not to be, and Patterson blames–or gives credit, depending on your point of view–to the Stanford football team going to the Fiesta Bowl and more specifically to Andrew Luck. For those of you who trash talk college sports, what can I say? Football is one of our great cultural artifacts. Historians and archaeologists will one day excavate the earthquake-broken ruins of the Stanford Stadium and Bear Stadium to research the folk rituals of early-20th Century Americans. Certainly Patterson believes that this year’s stats suggest that the best and brightest of high school seniors were swayed by heroics on the turf, and he should know, right?
Cautionary note to Stanford admits: in keeping with the theory that history repeats itself, expect Stanford to revert to football mediocrity again soon. See the post-John Elway era if you have any questions.
Speaking of Bear stadium, Cal saw an even larger jump in applications, with 61,661 students applied for freshman admission, a record number and big increase from the 52,920 students who applied for 2011-12. I’ll save you the calculation: this is a one-year increase of 16.5%. I’d be interested to see data on whether the Ivies lost a significant ratio of California natives to the U.C. system, given the dip they saw this year.
This is tough news for students wanting to apply to Cal, to be sure, but sports-haters, this one’s for you: the Cal football team did improve from their losing season the year before, but only to 7-5 in the regular season, followed by a loss in the Holiday Bowl. An improved record for the football team over last year but not enough to explain the huge jump in applications to Cal. Clearly this is a triumph for the geeks over the tailgaters.
On the other hand, Cal’s jump was below the rise for the UC overall, which saw a systemwide average increase of 19 percent with the most popular campus remaining U.C.L.A. Speaking of which . . .
A record high 91,512 students applied for fall 2012 admission to UCLA. UCLA has had, in fact, the highest number of applicants to any four-year university in the nation in recent years.
Let’s look a little more closely at the numbers for UCLA: Overall, applications for fall 2012 admission jumped by 12.7 percent over last year, with an 18.1 percent increase in freshman applications for a total of 72,626. there was a 4.3 percent decrease in transfer applications, down to 18,886. Freshman applications from California residents rose by 7.5 percent, from 48,578 in 2011 to 52,231 this year, despite the fact that the the state has not projected any increase in the number of students graduating from California’s public high schools.
Let’s see, UCLA football in 2011: 6 wins and 7 losses in the regular season. No correlation with the rise in admits here.
If you are depressed by the U.C. numbers, I strongly suggest that you consider applying to schools in the Cal State system.
San Diego State and Cal Poly have been the most selective State University campuses, but with admissions rates around 30%, these are excellent choices as alternatives to the U.C. system, with some of the programs at these schools considered among the best in the country–engineering and architecture at Cal Poly, for example, have national reputations. Of course, these are also very difficult programs to get into, with far lower admissions rates than Cal Poly’s less demanding and less in-demand majors.
The Cal State System overall received 665,860 applications overall during the priority application period, a 9 percent increase over the previous year’s record fall application cycle, when the CSU received 611,225 applications. Compare this to the 19% increase for the U.C. system and throw in the fact that you don’t have to write another essay for these folks and you should choose to do some research on Cal State campuses and send in at least a couple of apps if you want to go to school in California.
San Diego State
San Diego State University received 69,225 undergraduate applications for the fall 2012 semester, the most applications ever received by the university.
That is a 15 percent increase over last year at this time, when SDSU received 60,085 undergraduate applications for fall 2011. The previous record for SDSU was 62,330 undergraduate applications received for fall of 2008.
Among the 69,225 fall undergraduate applications are 50,705 freshmen and 18,181 upper-division transfer students. Freshmen applications are up 14 percent, while upper-division transfer applications are up 19 percent. And no, the university is not expanding its capacity to absorb the additional applicants. As a percentage, fewer will be accepted this year, as is true with most selective universities.
SDSU football had an 8 and 4 regular season record in 2011. Not their best season but not their worst either. The verdict is: no correlation with applications. Must be a pretty intellectual school.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
*For those of you outside California, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo is a popular State University which has highly reputed engineering and architecture schools, among others. It is in some ways an even better choice than Cal if you wish to work in Silicon Valley or want to have an engineering or architectural career in California.
Cal Poly has issued an early, round number of 45,000 applicants for next fall. This is up from 41,000 applicants last year. To give you a comparison, go back about 20 years and Cal Poly had 13,441 applicants. Applications have trended upward every year since, and CPSLO has had over 40,000 applicants annually for several years running.
But What Do These Numbers Mean? How Can I Create a Strategy?
The continuing increase in overall applicants to all of these schools is also grim news in terms of the raw numbers with whom you will compete next fall, but fear not, reader, there is hope, especially if you are diligent in your research about colleges and even more so if you have the foundation you need in grades and test scores.
I will be looking more closely at a number of schools in the coming months, but let’s use Cal Poly as our first example for this year, since it is a competitive State school and represents a kind of medium between a place like Harvard and the typical no-name, nonselective school. Cal Poly also stands out because their administrators have been pretty frank in their public statements about enrollment and budget matters.
As an example, Cal Poly admissions director James Maraviglia estimated earlier this month that there will be 3,860 undergraduate slots actually filled, including transfers, for the fall of 2012. He added to this that he assumes no further cuts to the budget by then, which is a decent bet since the real cuts will come early in 2013 if governor Brown’s tax increases don’t make it at the ballot box (and even if the tax increases fail next November, those applicants who are enrolled as of September would remain enrolled, though they might spend the better part of a decade getting through all the classes they need after the cuts eliminate any professors below the age of 45. Just kidding on that last stat [I hope]).
Understanding Admission Rates and Enrollment Rates
So what happened to that 30% acceptance rate I quoted earlier? Does this mean that a lowly California State University actually has the admit rate of an upper tier Ivy-League school, at 8.5%? Nah. Cal Poly’s admissions rate is around 30%–according to The Princeton Review, it was 33% two years ago–but of course only about a third of those people accepted actually enroll and show up. This is reflected in Maraviglia’s estimate that they will have slots for 3,860 students. This is down from the number of slots open last year, but the admit rate will still be generous, and if you really want to go there and they admit you, they have to give you a spot, even if they blew it on their estimates and too many Freshmen show up. If you’ve ever wondered about those news stories in which a university suddenly doesn’t have enough dorm rooms and is putting up Freshman students in fleabag motels, now you know–they had more students who actually enrolled after being accepted than they expected. Woe to the Director of Admissions.
Compare Cal Poly to UCLA, which the Princeton Review’s most recent stats put at a 23% admit rate, with 37% of those 23% who actually enrolled. Compare that again to Harvard, which in the Princeton Review’s stats has only a 7% admissions rate and fully 75% of those admitted actually enroll. Yikes! Presumably most of the others went off to places which are almost as selective, like Stanford which, in the same year, had a 7% admissions rate with 72% of those enrolling and Princeton, which had a 9% admissions rate with a comparatively lower 57% enrolling. I guess Princeton is the “safety” backup choice for Harvard and Stanford admits?
The Take Away:
Students applying to California schools face increased competition for admission. However, as you go about planning for your applications, keep in mind the fact that no universities enroll every student that they “accept.” So start by distinguishing between the number “admitted” or “accepted”and the number who actually enroll in order to get a more realistic idea of the school’s exclusivity. This is something that you should take a close look at for all of the schools on your long list as it will help you create a shorter list.
I advise against applying to more than ten or twelve colleges at the most, and that you look beyond the big-name and nationally known universities; given the number of students admitted, schools like Cal Poly should be on your list, especially, in the case of Cal Poly, if you want to study in a technical area and if you like the idea of a small town in a semi-rural environment with easy access to superb beaches. Which is another point: would you really like to live for four (or more likely five or more) years in the places you think you want to go to school. Be sure to consider geography and also look into specific schools and programs within the universities or better yet, start with programs and let that lead you to universities.
Who does have the best programs in your are of interest? Where would you like to live, in what kind of setting with what kind of weather? If you haven’t started listing schools yet, try starting with those questions.
And you definitely need to look at some stats; I would get a copy of the Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges or, if you want to save some money, go to www.collegeray.com, a fairly new but good stat site put up by a former student of mine, among others, and using much of the same data sources as the Review people. Look at the stats and compare the accepted rate to the next number, which shows the percent who actually enrolled (yield). You can start to draw your own conclusions about the strategies and goals of the universities you are looking at most closely.
Football Teams and Selectivity
As for the football team and the demand, we have to give the final victory here to Stanford. In fact, given the correlation this year, it looks like Stanford students are much bigger football fans than students at pretty much anywhere else. Is this the new Tailgate U? Let me know what you think.