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2009 State of College Admissions

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) releases a report each year on college admissions in the U.S. Key issues explored in the report typically include high school graduation rates, the role of school counselors, the number of college applicants, early decision and wait lists, the college admissions office and factors that influence admissions decisions. The 2009 report, also explores the effect of the recent economic downturn on the last admission cycle.

Secondary School Counselor

High school counselors are being overloaded by the number of prospective college applicants seeking their advice.

Application Numbers Are Increasing

As this blog recently explored, many jobless Americans are turning to college to fill time and gain work training. This upward tendency also holds true for applicants coming straight out of high school: The NACAC's 2009 State of College Admissions reports an overall increase in college applications.

This trend is developing amidst a growing cloud of uncertainty. Although many colleges are admitting more students, application rates are increasing faster than admittance rates, causing students to cast an even wider net - 22% of freshmen who enrolled in fall 2008 submitted more than seven different college applications. Yet even as more students apply to college, the economy is affecting the number of students who enroll. Another recent survey published by the NACAC, the 2008-2009 Effect of the Economy on the Admission Process, reported a significant increase in the number of students who choose to postpone school due to financial concerns. This is making it more difficult for admissions offices to predict 'yield,' a term that refers to the percentage of admitted applicants who actually enroll.

Financial Aid

Financial Aid Demand is Up

Many prospective college applicants fear that the struggling economy will make it difficult to get financial aid. On this point, the NACAC's 2009 State of College Admissions elaborates on the 2008-2009 Effect of the Economy on the Admission Process. The organization found that almost 90% of colleges saw an increased number of applications for financial aid. Public colleges saw more increases than private colleges, which may be due to the fact that public universities and community colleges are typically more affordable, thus attracting more students in need during the financial crisis.

Although schools budgets are being cut and federal financial aid is strained, the earlier NACAC survey has good news for students: Most schools were able to meet need for the 2008 freshmen class. There was an overall increase in institutional grants, loans and work study awards. However, the more comprehensive 2009 State of College Admissions paints a more pessimistic picture. No decline in the number of financial aid applicants is on the horizon, but schools may be reaching the end of their budgets. As the NACAC notes, it remains unclear how far colleges will be able to stretch their financial-aid resources.

NACAC Admissions Graph

Will The Pressure Ease Up?

As the graph above indicates, the current increase in college applicants is simply an uptick in a strong trend that goes back to at least 2004. Although public colleges may continue to struggle with too many applicants during the ongoing recession, there is hope that the overall numbers may go down soon. The number of high school students graduating annually was at 3.3 million in spring 2009, and some analysts say that will be the peak. As the number of high school graduates drops, so too should college applications.

This doesn't necessarily mean that waiting a few more years will increase your chances of getting in to your dream college. The NACAC report cautions that admissions and acceptance statistics are important for looking at the whole picture, but they're an 'imperfect measure' of an individual's situation. As much as you may feel like just a number sometimes, you aren't. Many factors go into admissions decisions, and putting together a strong application means setting aside the numbers and focusing on what makes you shine.

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