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Lakeside Middle School 13510 1st Avenue NE Seattle, WA 98125-3099
Lakeside Upper School 14050 1st Avenue NE Seattle, WA 98125-3099
Awaiting early decision news

For the Class of 2013, this month marks the start of a new phase in its college admissions experience. In a few days, many will begin to receive responses from colleges regarding early decisions.

As Lakeside’s college counseling team gears up to help students strategize about next moves, colleges have begun to release information about their early application pools. Trends are in line with what we shared recently in Inside Lakeside, especially regarding early admissions. (You can find those stories and others from college counseling on the new “news” box of the college counseling Web page.)

The college counseling office and counseling center recently emailed seniors and their families about the practical steps to take as they consider their options, as well as suggestions on how to help support each other during the process. Younger students and their families who wish to read the letter can download a copy.

A key point from the letter: Admissions deans and directors articulate again and again to our counseling team that they know Lakeside and value the caliber of our students. That gives the counseling team confidence that our students will enroll at outstanding colleges, all of which will be good fits for their academic and personal interests.

The Common App: still increasing numbers
That the University of Chicago reported more than a 75 percent increase in its early applications since 2009 comes as no surprise to admission and college counseling professionals. The university’s first major spike in applications in fall 2009 correlated perfectly with Chicago’s first admission cycle as a member of the Common Application. Nationwide, colleges experience a significant increase in applications when they join the ranks of “The Common App.” Such was the case with Columbia a few years ago, while the University of Michigan experienced a rise in one year that was so dramatic that it changed its notification policy midcycle—something colleges seldom do—to allow its admission officers more time to finish reading its unprecedented number of applications.

While many schools require supplementary essays in addition to the Common Application itself, gone are the days when applying to a plethora of colleges required completion of an equal number of applications. The readiness with which students can apply to a dozen colleges, coupled with an uptick in the number of high school graduates every year, has produced unprecedented application increases for more than the past decade. This fall’s early admission cycle is no exception.

Over the past two weeks, the vast majority of the most selective schools reported another round of early application increases. The University of Pennsylvania reported a 5.6 percent increase, while Harvard announced a 15 percent rise and Princeton 10 percent. Brown, Columbia, and Cornell also witnessed an uptick, although less dramatic than their Ivy League counterparts. Application increases are not limited to the Ivy League athletic conference: Carleton, the University of Chicago, and the University of Virginia—just to name a few—are also reporting their highest numbers ever for this early round of applications.

A partial context
The total number of applications provide only partial context for understanding how and why colleges make certain decisions. The demographics of their pools, the colleges within universities to which applicants apply, and the priorities established by university presidents and trustees, all directly affect admission decisions. For example, this year the University of Pennsylvania reported a drop in applications from traditional feeder areas, such as New England, and a rise from non-traditional areas. Thus, Penn applicants from these non-traditional regions of the United States may not experience the geographic advantage from which they would have benefited a year ago. At Georgetown, what the total application numbers fail to reveal is that the uptick in early applications is attributable largely to an increase in the number of students applying to its school of nursing; applications to Arts & Sciences actually decreased slightly.

Bucking the trends are Dartmouth’s unanticipated 12 percent decrease, and a slight drop in Duke’s numbers. While many colleges attribute a rise in applications to increasing numbers of international applicants, many of these schools acknowledge that they are not admitting more international students, thereby maintaining the level of selectivity for domestic students.

With all these factors in play, it’s understandable that admission decisions can be confounding. The process is much more nuanced than who has the highest grades and SATs, or who’s a star athlete or legacy at a specific institution. However, decisions are never arbitrary, despite the fact that they make more sense to those involved than to those on the “outside.” As we seek to interpret certain decisions over the coming weeks, it is important to remember that we will never truly know what accounts for a decision we receive—or for the decisions rendered on the applications submitted by classmates and friends.

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