Got tons of applicants? Don't celebrate just yet.

More students applying doesn’t mean more students enrolling

Application numbers are going up at many colleges, but that doesn’t always translate to a rise in enrollments, Eric Hoover reports for Chronicle of Higher Education

"An institution can make itself more accessible by joining the Common Application or waiving application fees, but that’s not the same as becoming more popular. Plenty of students apply to colleges they have no intention of attending. As metrics go, application numbers aren’t what they used to be," Hoover writes.

Many schools use application figures to signal success to donors, legislators, alumni, faculty, and current students. But among those groups, application growth probably matters most to the institution's own staff members, says Pamela Horne, vice provost for enrollment management at Purdue University.

Application growth "provides a tangible measurement of their effort and is a great morale booster and source of pride," Horne says.

Announcing the acceptance rate can also help applicants who weren't accepted better understand the decision, says Timothy Brunold, dean of admission at University of Southern California.

"It's a way to say, Here's what we're up against," Brunold says. "It's laying groundwork for explaining why someone didn't get in."

To keep such announcements from deterring underserved students from applying, Brunold says USC includes notes about admitted students' socioeconomic diversity and the institution's financial aid programs.

Applications don't equal enrollments

Students apply to more schools than ever before, according to a 2014 report by Moody's Investors Service. While the number of high-school graduates grew just 5% from 2004 to 2013, the total number of applications to private colleges and universities jumped by almost 70%. 

Related post: Wondering which students will enroll? Just ask.

So while applications may increase, yield may actually decrease.

"I've pretty much quit looking at app numbers as any kind of indication of where we're going to end up with the freshman class," says Beth Wolfe, Marshall University's director of recruitment. "It's not that the numbers don't mean anything,  but the underlying reasons that get students to come are so much more complex than numbers going up or down" (Hoover, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/1). 

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