Application denied: Class of 2011 may face toughest admission competition yet

Published: Sunday, March 27 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

WEST VALLEY — Jeanette Liu just found out she won't be going to her dream school — MIT.

She knew it would be hard to get in. That's why she applied to 14 colleges, many of them Ivy League and nearly impossible to get into — especially this year.

"I applied to a lot because the admission rates are so low," said the 17-year-old senior at Waterford, a Salt Lake City private school. "I am a pretty good student, but for a lot of schools it's about chance or who you know. I applied to as many as necessary to get into one or two."

Not only are admission rates going to be perhaps the lowest in history this year, but this comes at a time when a degree is more essential than ever. Due to the recession, students who would normally enter the workforce right out of high school are going to college instead. And with this heightened amount of competition, many students are no longer applying to three or five schools, but instead are applying to seven or more.

MIT only accepted 9.6 percent of students this year — down 5 percent from 2005. Last year, Harvard had a 6.9 percent acceptance rate, which is expected to drop even further with its 35,000 applications this year, making it perhaps the college with the lowest admission rate in the country. Many other Ivy League schools and even state colleges are seeing record-level applications as well as record-low admission rates.

Places like the University of Chicago used to accept about 70 percent of students. Last year it accepted just 18 percent. Even schools in Utah have seen acceptance rates drop in recent years. Brigham Young University had a 64 percent admission rate last year, down from 69 percent the year before and 78 percent in 2005. Westminster College expects its acceptance rate to drop by 11 percent this year to 67 percent, as the number of applicants jumped from 1,900 last year to 3,200 already — Westminster is still accepting applicants this spring.

Utah public colleges are fairly unique in that most are open enrollment, like Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College, or have no cap on enrollment, like the University of Utah and Southern State University, which means if a student gets a certain ACT or SAT score and GPA, they are automatically enrolled in the university. These universities follow a state academic index, which weights GPA and the ACT or SAT equally in deciding whether a student gets in or not.

But with three years in a row of state funding cuts and surging enrollment numbers, some of these schools may toughen their standards.

SUU upped its standards by five points on the academic index this year, which is either a .2 higher GPA to get in or four points higher on the ACT or 190 points higher on the SAT. The University of Utah plans to change its academic index next year to put more emphasis on grades, said Barbara Fortin, admissions director for the University of Utah. Grades are a better predictor of academic performance in college, she said the school has learned through research.

The U. also does not plan on giving out its minimum requirement for students next year. School officials believe that will allow the school to be more flexible in which students it decides to enroll and to help it deal with the recent application surge.

During February and March this year, the admissions department at the U. closed on Wednesday morning to the public to allow more time to process the applications.

"It is just much more challenging," Fortin said of dealing with more applicants this year. "We are just overwhelmed with transcripts."

Although the U. will be putting more of a focus on grades than on admission test scores, colleges nationwide still see the ACT or SAT score as more important than overall grades in high school, except when it comes to grades on college prep courses.

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