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Writing an Essay About a Quote for Your 2018-2019 College Application

In Essay About A Quote, Essay Beginning With a Quote, Princeton Quote Essay, Uncategorized, Writing an Essay About a Quote on July 11, 2018 at 11:40 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody applying to the Ivy League, or anyplace else that asks you to respond to a prompt that uses a quote or that asks you to use a quote.

My usual advice when asked about using a quote to start a college application essay is pretty simple:  Try something else–unless there is a really good reason, like the prompt using a quote, asking for a quote, or presenting a subject that includes quotes–such as your favorite book.

My main reason for being wary of the quote opener in a college essay is also pretty simple:  in order to prompt high school students to get an essay started, many teachers ask students to use a quote when starting an essay, or a question.  That makes the quote opener–and the question intro–overused and prone to cliche.  And given the way that most “quote” essays use the quote like you might use the word “squirrel” to divert the attention of a dog–as a kind of noise to get things moving in a particular direction, in other words–quotes are often a poor way to initiate a college application essay.  But not always, and in some cases, using a quote is a requirement of the prompt.

So there are exceptions to this rule, and many great essays have used quotes to get started and to develop ideas.  In fact, the gentleman who invented the essay as a form, Michel de Montaigne, used quotes all over his “little attempts” or “essais;”  I have never been bored by Montaigne and dozens of his essays are truly great.    Of course, these “essais”  also run from a few pages to a couple score of pages, and they were not written for college admissions.  Some of his techniques will not work, but I have some techniques and ideas below that have worked.

These techniques will come in handy this year, for there are already some important universities that ask you to write to or about a quote in your application.  Among the current year’s  releases as of early July, 2018, Dartmouth has multiple quote prompts, as does the University of Chicago.   Princeton had quote prompts last year, and I  expect them to do so again this year, so  I will be taking  a  look at the Princeton  prompts soon.  You can have a look at last year’s Princeton prompts, in last year’s main post about the quote essay, but hold off  on writing an essay for Princeton until they confirm for the 2018/2019 season, which usually happens in the last week of July–they may change one or more and it’s not worth writing until you know, though it’s not a bad idea to have a look at the old prompts and let your mind work on it a bit while you tend to other things.

Let’s take a look at the basic types of quote essays, then have a look at our first example for this year and some ideas about how to attack the prompt:

Three types of Quote Essays

There are three basic ways that colleges can ask you to write about a quote:

They throw a quote at you and ask you to respond to it;

They ask you to choose a quote to talk about;

Or, less directly, they ask you to talk about something that will allow you to use a quote, like a book or a film.

One of the main problems in writing about a quote prompt is establishing some kind of frame for what you want to do.  What do I mean?

Know the Background of the Quote

Well let’s look at what you might not or definitely do not want to do:  write about a quote in such a way that you actually contradict the quote unintentionally and, well, make a fool out of yourself and fall victim to ultracrepidarian syndrome.  Think of that stuffy and rigid person you know who is always full of opinions, especially when they are wrong, and can go on at length about something they know nothing about.  Because most of the quotes used by the universities are presented without much context, you have an open invitation to becoming a card-carrying ultracrepidarian if you do not approach the quote in a skillful way.

Many prompts are intended not to have much context, and the reasons for this vary.  A place like the University of Chicago is  interested in how inventive you can be in responding to a quote, and is not  interested in seeing a research paper,  and in fact some really great essays take off from a quote in totally idiosyncratic or non-sequitur ways that end up having little to do with the original intent of the quote, but that do produce an entertaining and effective essay.  Other quotes, like that used by Dartmouth, beg for some background research.

But even if you decide to write a non-sequitur essay, in which you  goof around with a quote to show your innovative mind, you still need to have some understanding of the quote to find a starting point, in my opinion.   How can you make a joke or satirize something or riff on it if you do not know what it is?  So knowing something about the background of a quote is useful, especially if you want to cleverly subvert expectations.

One of the best recent public examples of people quoting foolishly and widely in public involves Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” in which a character says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”   Quite a few people, some of them very highly placed in government and elsewhere, have been using this quote as  evidence for the idea of building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, as Vice President Mike Pence did, or just in defense of fences in general.

There’s just one problem with that:  the poem is not, in fact, in favor of fences or of walls  Instead, it offers a subversive and ironic take on walls–and fences–questioning them, not promoting them.  Before I show you that,   here is another particularly dim example of this quote, used out of context, to make the problem clear:  Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.

Sure, this is marketing, really, but so is your college application essay, and if you were to upload something like this  as an essay response using a quote you like, I can pretty much guarantee that you would find the college gates shut, with  you outside the walls when admissions offers arrive.  Application readers know something about the quotes they present to you, and are generally well-read people who know about a wide range of quotes you might use.  This means that they usually know when somebody is totally clueless, as in the examples above.   Regardless of your politics, misusing a quote like that from  “Mending Wall” is a no-no.  Let’s just say the standards for application essays are higher than for political speech, these days.

If on the other hand, you were intentionally misusing the quote, great.  But be sure to give the reader clear clues to your clever and satirical or humorous intent.  At the bottom of this post, I offer a full analysis of “Mending Wall” and more links to clarify just how badly this quote has been used, but let’s jump to this year’s quote essays.

How to Write Short Responses and Essays on Quote Topics

For an example of how to look at a couple of quotes and learn some background, I will take a short response first, in which Dartmouth asks you to respond to a quote:

 

1. Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

What to do?  You might start talking about wanting a small college, or profess your love for Dartmouth, or even recall the story “The Devil  and Daniel Webster” and discuss what  slick talker that Mr. Webster was.

Better, of course, would be to talk about the program you are interested in by doing some research, as this short prompt clearly wants you to show some knowledge of Dartmouth and why it fits you, or you fit it.  I discussed researching your university and the essay on why you are a fit in a recent post: The “Why Us” Essay.

But it helps to know something about Daniel Webster and this case, as the quote, and the prompt, says something clear–but only to those who know the background of the quote.  To begin with, the quote they use is specifically from a court case that shaped the contract clause and defined contract law in the U.S.   The court case is described on Wikipedia here: Dartmouth College v. Woodward.

In addition, this quote is prominent on the Dartmouth website.  Here is how this quote appears on Dartmouth’s website, summing up their own history:

 The charter establishing Dartmouth—the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States—was signed in 1769, by John Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, establishing an institution to offer “the best means of education.” For nearly 250 years, Dartmouth has done that and more.

Dartmouth’s founder, the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, established the College as an institution to educate Native Americans. Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock’s first students, was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to found the College. In 1972—the same year the College became coeducational—Dartmouth reaffirmed its founding mission and established one of the first Native American Programs in the country. With nearly 1,000 alumni, there are now more Native graduates of Dartmouth than of all other Ivy League institutions combined.

Governor Wentworth provided the land that would become Dartmouth’s picturesque 269-acre campus on the banks of the Connecticut River, which divides New Hampshire and Vermont. The College’s natural beauty was not lost on President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who visited in 1953 and remarked, “This is what a college should look like.”

‘THERE ARE THOSE WHO LOVE IT’

Dartmouth was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1819, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the College prevailed against the State of New Hampshire, which sought to amend Dartmouth’s charter. The case is considered to be one of the most important and formative documents in United States constitutional history, strengthening the Constitution’s contract clause and thereby paving the way for American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.

Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, passionately argued for the original contract to be preserved. “It is … a small college,” he said, “and yet there are those who love it.”

The underlining is mine.  Notice that this short history also implies an ethos, and that ethos includes a multiethnic approach to education–Who knew that Dartmouth’s original purpose included a mission to educate Native Americans?

Of course, that may not be as P.C. as it sounds, once you think about it, but leaving aside the questions that raises for now–that matter of genocide as European and then U.S. settlers moved west, not the mention the paternalistic view that a European education was necessary to elevate a native, etc–there is an obvious intent to show Dartmouth as educating all, and as multiethnic.  Then there is an emphasis on the right to pursue the mission of education free of interferance.  And there is a layer of American legal history.  So all of that lies in the quote, and in this, Dartmouth is presenting a sense of its values and purpose–always consider the audience you are writing to, which here is offering you some ideas about how they see themselves..

Yet all of that information may only yield one or two sentences in your short response–remember, you only have 100 words for this one.   But those sentences could be telling.  Showing that you know some background on Dartmouth beyond, oh, the fact that they have a good prelaw track is a plus.  Being  specific and knowing detailed information about your target school, and target audience, is a plus.  This allows you to tailor your response in a way that reflects you and the school, and so shows a good “fit.”  For example:

Centuries before CRISPR, Dartmouth altered the legal D.N.A. of the United States as Daniel Webster defended and won academic and institutional freedom for Dartmouth, his “small college. ” I believe in the values that Dartmouth established generations ahead of the rest of the country when it offered education to native Americans like Samuel Occom,  and I hope to  pursue a degree in x, in a prelaw program, preparing for a career in  y, by working with professors like Z Z in programs like X X,  and learning about YY from  a professor such as A A.

(Note that this example is a few words under the 100 word maximum, and that it also required research into some programs at Dartmouth, as discussed in that post I linked above, and was written by a person with clear goals–all of which will help an application.  And yes, the letters denote name variables for programs and instructors.  This is meant to be farily generic.)

In my next post, I will move  on to a more pure quote essay prompt, this one from the University of Chicago.  Chicago throws six new prompts out there this year, along with a “make up your own” prompt, but then goes on to recycle old prompts, which include at least four that count as quote prompts.  A couple have caught my eye:

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.“—Miles Davis (1926–91)
—Inspired by Jack Reeves

“Mind that does not stick.”
—Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)

Here is my first idea on these:  they both look pretty Zen to me.

You will know when I post on these if you follow my blog.  In the meantime, keep a notebook or phone handy to jot or type ideas as they come.  The creative mind tends to let an idea surface at unexpected times, whether it is for a topic or a great word, or a sentence–but they can easily evaporate.  It’s kind of like that dream you remembered when you woke but forgot by the time you finished breakfast.  Write it down when it appears. 

For those needing a little more evidence that you should not take the quote  “Good fences make good neighbors” as literal truth, take the time to read the poem that is the source of the quote, you will see that the neighbor who advocates fences is portrayed as a dark character, filled with latent violence,  and is directly compared to a  cave man, “an old stone savage” who carries rocks to the wall like some head hunter returning with the skulls of those he has killed.  Throughout  the poem, the narrator argues against his neighbor, questions why they are rebuilding the wall, mocks the idea by wondering if   the neighbor fears that his apple orchard is going to invade the pine trees on the other side, and suggests that we should be careful when building walls–or fences–that we should pay attention to what we many be fencing out–and in.  The poem is highly ironic, but its purpose is clearly to question the reason for fences and walls, not to promote them, and the wall here is linked with fear and violence. In an additional irony, the reluctant narrator and his neighbor are repairing a stone wall, not a fence. 

Here is a more detailed discussion of the poem, as well as of Pence’s misuse of the quote, with some good insights on ambiguity, which is often the way the world is, and which good essayists understand:  D.T. Should Read R.F.’s “Mending Wall.

See you soon.

 

College Application Data for 2016-2017–The Ivy League

In College Application Essays, College Application Statistics, Harvard Application Data 2016-2017, Ivy League Application Statistics 2016-2017, Yale Application Statistics, 2016-2017 on May 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Who should read this post: anybody applying to college in the fall of 2017; anybody using U.S. News and its proxies for data; anybody who likes to watch trend lines.

So here we go, College Class of 2022: the e-mails and envelopes went out in March and April, and most who are going on to a college campus in the fall of 2017 (a.k.a. the Class of 2021) have now accepted an offer–and with that the first comprehensive data has been released.  The big takeaway on the data so far this year is . . . well, it’s two-part:  1) After a couple of  years of plateauing at most schools, applications are up overall at elite and super-elite schools, in some cases way up, and 2) Early applicants are admitted at a far higher rate than regular applicants.

Of course, it will be some time before I can get good data to compare early decision/early action applicants to regular applicants, but in the past GPA and test data have been very similar.  This reinforces how putting a big, early bet on your dream college can pay off–though this comes with some caveats.  The first caveat is that this trend has been clear for years, and some schools will enroll roughly half of their incoming class from early  decision, single-choice early decision and other early applications.   This is partly due to the high rate of early app admissions which I have just  noted (for some numbers look below), and partly due to the high yield on those who are accepted–there is a sense of genuine commitment from both sides in the early app as a category.

Let me add a final caveat about early apps:   you might double or even triple your chances of admissions via an early app, but we are still talking something like 14.5 % for early vs. about 5% for regular apps at, for example,  Harvard–so the early app at a super-selective college is still admitted well below the 30% or so average for good but not big-name universities.  It’s still a game of margins in a highly competive contest for a seat at a super elite.

Before I get to the data, let me just add that if any of the jargon above is obscure to you (Early Decisions, etc) then you might want to click this link to visit my other website for a quick tutorial:  on college app jargon.

Oh, and one more thing:  the big services, like U.S. News, are always a year or more behind the trend curve because they do not revise their data until  the Common Data Sets are reported by the universities to the government, which will not be until after Yield is known, next October or so.  You will see that most sites will use data that is one to two years old and most books use data that is two to three years old, as of this spring; I prefer to use the bleeding edge when it comes to college application data, and to fill in the blanks as I go.  (See below for more on what Yield is).

New Data on College Admissions

And now here is some of the latest data (as of early May, 2017) on college admissions at elite names and a few local favorites:

Admissions Data 2016-2017

Format:  School/Application Total/Admits total/%Admits accepted                              

Harvard:    39,506/2,056/5.2% 

Princeton:    31,056/1,890/6.1%

Yale:    32,900/2,272/6.9%

Brown:     32,724/2,722/8.1%

Cornell:   47,038/5,889/12.5%

Dartmouth:   20,034/2,092/10.4%

U Penn:    40,413/3,699/9.15%

Columbia**  37,389/2,185/5.8%

**Columbia numbers attained informally from a Columbia rep, not as an official press release.

 

Compare these numbers to a sampling of early applications:

Early Applications Data

School–Early App Total/Accepted/%Admitted

Harvard:    6,473/938/14.5%                                                                                           

Princeton:    5,003/770/15.3%                                                                                          

Yale:    5,086/871/17.1%                                                                                                

Cornell:    5,384/1,379/25.6%                                                                                                            

Dartmouth:  1,999/555/27.8%

 

To understand the impact of these numbers, compare the admits in early apps to the regular apps, and consider this one additional number: The 555 admitted early to Dartmouth are expected to compose about 47% of the entire incoming class for next year–the “about” is due to the uncertainty about how many total students will accept the offer (known as Yield, just to add another piece of jargon).

So there you go for my first report on data for the super-elite Ivies.  When you do your math, this should include a good subset of colleges with easier admits.  Don’t reach for the stars unless you have a good safety net, please.

I will be following up with early data on the University of California–U.C.L.A. was over 100,000 apps this year–and other local and national favorites.

And my college application essay seminars in the greater Bay Area start in Lafayette on June 9th, 2017.  Contact me for details.

Early College Admissions Data For 2012: What It Means For You

In college admissions, college application, college essay, university rankings on February 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm

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.). 

Stanford

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.

U.C. Berkeley

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 . . .

UCLA

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.
State Universities
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 http://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.