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likely to be among the biggest ticket items they will ever buy: a college education. The internet has also been great news for college marketing departments, which can now reach many more students-and more cheaply-than they could via old-fashioned snail mail. But the growing piles of applications are also causing problems-both for colleges and for students. While schools might welcome the rush of national exposure from a broader pool of prospects, they also increasingly face the problem of sorting out qualified, serious applicants- students who not only have the right academic chops but would actually enroll if accepted-from the scrum. And so long as the sheer volume of applications continues to rise, the odds of colleges' guessing wrong rise too-which, in fact, is what's happening, with dire consequences. Nearly one-third of aspiring college-goers now apply to seven schools or more. It's part of an escalating college admissions arms race that favors those who know the rules. For students, the flip side is how to rise above the growing tide of competition, or how to hedge their bets if they don't. For middle-class and upper-income students, this means more hassle, anxiety, and expense. But for lower-income students, it means barriers that could prove insurmountable. While the college admissions process has long been a game that favors those who know the rules, a crowded market is just one more way of stacking the deck against those who don't or can't afford to play. or many schools, the national applicant pool made available by the internet has been a great way to raise their "selectivity"-a metric that matters greatly for traditional college rankings, like those of U.S. News & World Report. The lower the percentage of students admitted, the more "selective" the college. This means a school that admits the same number of students every year can appear more "selective" if its applicant pool is bigger and more students are rejected. Many schools discovered that online applications, including the Common App, were an easy way to help grow the pool of prospects. The Common App, for example, offers a standardized application, "auto-fills" students' personal data from form to form, and offers tools to help manage submissions. Adding new schools to a student's wish f 74 September/October 2016 list can be accomplished with a click. At some schools, simply replying to an email is enough to make a student an applicant. "As colleges moved to online applications, many of them looked to streamline the process so it wouldn't be as cumbersome for students," says David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at NACAC. "A lot of colleges also found that it resulted in a lot more applications coming in." At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, freshman applications jumped by roughly 28 percent in 2013, the year the university joined the Common App, and have continued to grow, according to the admissions director, Kevin MacLennan. While the school saw 22,437 applications in 2013, it fielded 34,100 applications this year. Most of that growth has also come from out-of-state and international students, from whom applications have risen by more than 10,000 since 2013. "The quality of our applicants has gone up," MacLennan says. "[It has] increased in grade point average and high school rank, but in test scores as well." For smaller schools, a digital admissions marketplace has helped to shortcut their path into the national or international spotlight. "Who knew about Macalester [in St. Paul] in the early 1990s-or Rollins [outside Orlando]?" says educational consultant Jeff Knox, who works with the Bethesda, Maryland-based firm PrepMatters. "But they're becoming really popular." The concern for colleges is that selectivity and national reach aren't the only metrics that matter. Just as critical is "yield"-the share of accepted students who actually enroll. It's what colleges use to project their revenues and manage their finances, and miscalculations can be fatal. Too few students-too low a yield-can spell shortfalls that lead to budget cuts, fewer classes, or even faculty layoffs. In 2013, for example, St. Mary's College of Maryland president Joseph Urgo resigned after the school fell short of its enrollment targets by nearly 25 percent. On the other hand, too many enrollments could mean not enough student housing or financial aid. At Temple University earlier this year, an unexpected number of acceptances for the incoming freshman class-a higher-than-expected yield- caused the school to exceed its financial aid budget by $22 million and resulted in the abrupt ouster of both provost Hai-Lung Dai and president Neil Theobald. Most schools, however, are having trouble finding the right students. In fact, despite the online application boom, schools are in crisis around yield. NACAC's 2014 State of College Admission survey found that the average four-year college yield rate was 35.9 percent-down from 48.7 percent in 2002. At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, admissions director MacLennan says that while about half of the in-state students who are accepted are likely to enroll, the school yields one out-of-state student for every five or six offers-a yield rate of roughly 20 percent. At Drexel, one of the schools that pioneered

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