As someone who scours college application requirements, I am keenly aware of changes in application requirements, and without a doubt, a new trend has emerged. High school seniors will initially be grateful for this trend, but will eventually curse the day colleges made life easier for college-bound students. A significant number of colleges are no longer requiring supplemental essays (or are requiring fewer of them) as part of their applications. Seniors across the globe may be breathing a sigh of relief; however, that celebration is premature.
First, its important to understand that colleges are changing their requirements in order to affect the number of applications they receive. Swarthmore College, for example, has dropped one of their supplemental essays after noticing a 16% drop in applications last year when they increased the supplemental essay requirement. After surveying applicants who didn’t complete their Swarthmore applications, administrators concluded that the addition of two, 500 word supplemental essays (in addition to the main 650 word Common Application essay) were deterring applicants who were simply overwhelmed with the vast requirements of the college application process. In the same year, the University of Pennsylvania dropped a supplemental essay and applications increased 15%.
The number of applications a school receives ultimately affects the admit rate of that college, and admit rate is one of the variables used in many of the ever-popular college rankings including US News and World Report. The number of spaces in a school’s first year class is unlikely to change significantly, so more applicants for the same number of seats means a lower acceptance rate. A lower accept rate can help a school in the rankings and otherwise make a school appear more selective and desirable. Making college applications easier in the short term, may actually make it ultimately more challenging for a student to secure admission. Simplifying college applications could mean that students need to apply to even more schools in order to find a home next fall…that’s not simple at all.
NOTE: Lynell Engelmyer is a founder of College Application Wizard, an online college admission and financial aid application management tool to ensure that students from all walks of life can negotiate these processes.