Worried students deluge top colleges with applications Fear of failure, drive for success send many toward the Ivy

February 18, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The nation's prestigious colleges are being flooded with record numbers of applications as high school seniors increasingly worry about getting into the top tier, admissions officers say.

Admissions officers from the Ivy League schools, Georgetown, Tufts, Stanford and other colleges are reporting that the number of applications has risen by at least 50 percent in the past decade, while the number of high school graduates has risen only in the past year as the children of the baby boom generation reach college age.

"The toughness this year is in the sheer number -- we can't take everybody," said Fred Hargadon, dean of admissions at Princeton.

Top high school students appear to be sending out more applications than ever -- more than 10, instead of the four or five common a decade ago. Admissions officers said the increase was most likely driven by the same fears that have generated record numbers of students seeking early acceptance.

"There are definitely students who, if they would have applied 10 years ago or five years ago or even three years ago, would have had a better chance of getting in to the top tier," said Stephen Singer, director of college counseling at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx.

David Cuttino, dean of admissions at Tufts, said its increase of 8,500 applications from last year to 11,500 this year was unprecedented.

Admissions officers and high school guidance counselors suggested a variety of reasons for the increase: stepped-up recruitment by colleges seeking diversity; SAT scores that were revised upward last April, giving students false hope; electronic application forms on computer disks; and an increase in the number of 18-year-olds in the population. But the most common explanation is that students are worried about their prospects after graduation from college.

"The state of the economy and job market is probably scaring some people into focusing on recognized institutions," said Wayne Becraft, executive director of the 8,400-member American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Charles Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown, also agreed that students today are more concerned about their economic well-being after graduation.

"Whereas 15 years ago a college degree kind of insured your success, right now it doesn't guarantee anything," said Mr. Deacon, who has seen the number of applications at Georgetown grow from 6,500 in 1991 to more than 10,000 this year.

Students are focusing on the application process earlier and becoming more competitive, counselors said.

"There's more anxiety, more concern," said Daphne Rhodes, who runs a counseling service in New Jersey, "with students worrying, 'Have I done the best to prepare myself? Am I going to present myself well? What kind of classes do I need to take? What should I be doing outside class?' "

At Harvard, which received a record 18,000 applications this year, more students are including props with their written applications to get attention. The dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, cited everything from videotapes to all the papers a student ever wrote to Harvard logos made of chocolate.

Jon Katzman, president of the Princeton Review, the nation's largest SAT preparation program and the publisher of a guide to colleges, said students now think in terms of getting into any good school, rather than getting into their first choice.

"Ten years ago, students were stressed because they wanted to be the winner," Mr. Katzman said. "Now, they're stressed because they don't want to be the loser."

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