Trends in College Applications for 2015-2016: Increased Competition, and Data for Foreign Students Applying to American Universities

Increasing Pressure in College Applications Overall

The trend is for increasing competition for spots at the super-selective elite schools–Stanford and the Ivy League, the big Midwestern brands (U  Chicago, Northwestern, U Michigan) and others.  This trend is spreading, as applications increasingly flow out to what were previously considered “safety” schools, which then report lower rates of acceptance and higher average GPA and test scores for admits.  Rates of admission have been trending down across the board for over a decade at selective schools.

For some specific data on current application trends, have a look at my summary of trends from last year’s applications to the Ivies, the University of California system and some others here:  Application results from 2014-2015.  (Further data on GPA and test score averages from the 2014 application cycle are added to this post on my subscription-only website, which is $15 for the full application season through May, 2016.  Contact me for a subscription.)

Back to the overall application trends:  Keep in mind that more  applicants are applying to more schools, which inflates the number of rejections, but there is a reality behind the increased competition that has nothing to do with inflated application rates.

Higher education is probably our most successful domestic industry in the United States–in contrast to higher education, American tech companies, which are  regularly cited as the greatest source of American innovation, outsource most of their work internationally, with Apple as a poster child of this.   Very little education labor is outsourced, and U.S. colleges are major draw, with 886,000 foreign students enrolled in American universities for the 2014-2015 school year.  Contrast this to the 819,000 foreign students in 2012-103, and the trend is clear.  A recent Brookings institute study showed that many of these same students end up working for American companies–

“Forty-five (45) percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university. Metro areas that retain high shares of their foreign graduates under the temporary Optional Practical Training (OPT) program tend to be either large diversified economies (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), or specialized labor markets that align closely with foreign graduates’ training (e.g., Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas).

These findings suggest that foreign students can provide important economic benefits to their U.S. metropolitan destinations—serving as bridges back to their growing home cities and offering valuable skills to local employers. More metropolitan leaders should emulate leading practices that capitalize on the knowledge and relationships of foreign students to strengthen local economies while also maximizing students’ educational and professional experiences in the United States.”

The same Brookings report also shows that 2/3 of foreign students in the U.S. apply to STEM or business majors, compared to less than half of American applicants (48%).  This, of course, also represents a problem for those of you applying from outside the United States in terms of differentiating yourself in your application, particularly as you deal with the emphasis on extracurricular activities and supplemental materials, like essays.  See my post explaining the two kinds of college applications here–The Secret to College Admissions: How Applications are Evaluated.

Industries like domestic auto manufacturing should envy the brand appeal of American higher education, but despite its appeal, the United States as a whole has not been making much of an investment in any public goods and services, including universities–in one extreme example, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has been  massively cutting funding for universities, taking a cue from his hero, Ronald Reagan, who argued from 1968 on that higher education was  privilege that should be financed by those “using” it.   Which is too bad, because U Wisconsin has been a top pick in a number of disciplines, but when universities face budget problems, I factor that in to my evaluations of them as target schools.

In places like California, campus growth has not kept up with population growth.  This trend is not likely to change anytime soon, either.   Even with predictions that the number of high school graduates will begin to decline in the next decade, the application trend is still going to be up–and I don’t hear a lot about building more campuses, except with some satellite campuses for some schools in places like Abu Dhabi.

Add to that the fact that college and postgraduate education does attract more applicants to the U.S. from around the world every year, and you will continue to see increase competition between domestic and foreign applicants for seats. This has led to a rise in what I call College Application Factories, which promise everything from “original” college application essays to entire applications, manufactured to your specifications.  Among the many problems this raises is the fact that most of the applications are essentially formatted responses, including essays that are little better than fill-in-the blank pages, and the fact that this is outright fraud, which will cause the applicant to be rejected if it is caught on submission, or expelled when the application is found to be fraudulent after the fact.  Not good.  I will write about this more in my next post.

In the meantime, scan my website for this year’s application prompts and start your application essays soon.  Cheers.