Colleges Reject Record Number of Applicants

A lot of smart, accomplished kids are getting disappointing news this week as the nation's top colleges and universities are accepting record low numbers of applicants. The unlucky students are caught up in a simple numbers game: The class of '08 is one of the largest ever.

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This week, high school seniors are finding out whether they got into some of the country's top colleges. And for record numbers of those students, the answer was no. That's partly because a lot of babies were born in the year 1990.

As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, those members of the so-called echo boom have sent a number of college applications through the roof.

LARRY ABRAMSON: With over 27,000 applications this year, Harvard can be pickier than ever. Only 7.1 percent of applicants will be accepted. Yale will take just over 8 percent.

For Dean Strassburger, college coordinator at Lincoln Park High in Chicago, that means he's seeing some long faces as rejection letters arrive.

Mr. DEAN STRASSBURGER (College Coordinator, Lincoln Park High School): I have students with ambitions to go to the East Coast. I have a couple of students who were disappointed. They either only were in love with one school or they didn't take my advice and applied to enough safety schools.

ABRAMSON: Strassburger says even kids who do get accepted to their first choice may feel the impact of this year's statistics. He says schools in demand can be a lot choosier when it comes to financial aid.

Mr. STRASSBURGER: If you're a marginal admit to your favorite school, you're going to get a crappy financial aid package.

ABRAMSON: Even state universities are turning away more students than ever.

Steffanie Gentile advises students at Clark Montessori, a public high school in Cincinnati.

Ms. STEFFANIE GENTILE (Counselor, Clark Montessori High School): Ohio State University, you know, two hours up the road from us, they have written me letters, I think, the last two or three years, and said students that you'd normally think we would be able to accept just may not be accepted this year. They've been getting 19, 20,000 applications for 5,500, 6,000 spots in their freshman class.

ABRAMSON: But while the big picture may be gloomy, the little picture for each student is pretty rosy. A survey of high school students by the Higher Education Research Institute shows that 80 percent of freshmen got into their first pick.

So, the depressing numbers about admissions to Harvard and Yale may be part of the national obsession with the Ivy League. Kids who cast their net a little wider usually find a college they like.

Lincoln Park High student Ron Rosenberg(ph) says despite the grim numbers, he tried to get into three Ivys — Brown, Dartmouth and Columbia. He was rejected by all of them, but he took that as a sign.

Mr. RON ROSENBERG (Student, Lincoln Park High School): I always thought that if you didn't get in somewhere, then it's not really the place for you. And so I figured that if you don't get in or if you're waitlisted, it's not meant, I guess, not meant to be almost.

ABRAMSON: Rosenberg did get accepted by the University of Wisconsin, and he's happy with that. It's a good school, one that will allow him to come home more often.

This college bulge is supposed to thin out in a couple of years as the echo boom generation passes through college.

But Brad MacGowan, a counselor at Newton North High outside Boston, says it'll always be tough to get into a top school.

Mr. BRAD MacGOWAN (College Counselor, Newton North High School): You know, just because the numbers shift a little bit, there's still going to be a lot more demand than there is supply at those most competitive colleges.

ABRAMSON: Maybe if it was easy to get into those schools, no one would want to go.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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