Most college-bound students don’t apply to enough schools

A recent article in Bridge Magazine on college admissions and the increasing number of college applications suggests that submitting a high number of college applications is the norm for today’s high school students. However, data compiled by the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) shows otherwise. MCAN’s mission is to increase college readiness, participation and completion in Michigan, and ultimately increase the percentage of Michigan residents with a high-quality degree or credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

After completing Michigan’s fourth College Application Week in October at high schools across the state, our data shows participating students apply to 1.25 colleges on average. Just under 34,000 applications were submitted by nearly 27,000 high school seniors during this year’s College Application Week efforts, with 43 percent of participating high school seniors indicating that it was their first time submitting a college application. Additionally, 31 percent of participating high school seniors indicated they will be the first in their family to attend college.

This data is based upon 271 high schools and career tech centers that reported their participation in the Michigan College Access Network’s (MCAN) College Application Week. Data from previous College Application Week efforts in 2011-1013 also shows this trend has held true. The American College Application Campaign has found similar results year to year with participating students completing an average of 1.44 college applications.

MCAN hosts Michigan College Application Week to give all students access to help with the college application process. For many students the application process can be cumbersome or confusing. Too often students do not apply to college because they don’t understand the college-going process. We’re dedicated to helping all students navigate this process, but especially students who statistically face more obstacles in their paths to college, including minority, low-income and first generation college students.

Michigan College Application Week gives these students the tools to learn how to properly apply to different institutions and find financial aid. It also provides crucial support throughout this important step in a student’s career.

While there has been a rise in the number of college applications submitted in our state, we can’t assume this rise is due to each student applying to 10 or more colleges. MCAN’s efforts to aid low-income and minority students with their college applications can explain the rise as well. Students who might not have applied to college otherwise are now realizing the importance of a college education and looking to their high school staff to work with them to complete and submit their applications successfully.

Rather than focusing on the number of applications students are submitting, we should be stressing the importance of a community helping students find the resources they need to decide which college is the best match and fit for them.

It’s clear that obtaining a college degree can provide countless career opportunities, including higher salaries and a better chance for upward mobility. No student should be denied the opportunity to get a college degree. As a state, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to make college an opportunity for all by providing our students with the tools to take that important first step – submitting a college application.

Brandy Johnson is executive director of the nonprofit Michigan College Access Network, dedicated to preparing students for college, particularly low-income and first-generation college students and students of color.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Tue, 01/06/2015 - 10:06am
If I'm understanding this correctly, those students with less of a support system are less likely to apply, and when they apply they are likely to apply to only one school. Is that accurate? I'm curious about the impact of dwindling counseling resources in public schools on college applications. I'm a "first to go to college" person who got all my guidance from my high school counselor.
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:49am
I am not clear, Ms. Johnson says, "the increasing number of college applications suggests that submitting a high number of college applications is the norm for today’s high school students", and yet she also says that "nearly 27,000 high school seniors during this year’s College Application Week efforts" submit 1.25 application on average. What is the norm, is 3 per student, is it 5, is it 10? It seems Ms. Johnson sees success of the college application process being the number of applications submitted. To me the acceptance rate is a more reflective metric of the process since the purpose of an application is to be admitted to a college. I wonder why Ms. Johnson is more interested in student applications than student acceptance. I am surprise Ms. Johnson doesn't consider why students may make so few applications. It seems that many students may have made some effort to assess what program they are interested in and apply to only schools that offer such a program, they may have assess their financial concerns and decided a school makes better sense, they may have family responsibilities that contribute to deciding on which school to attend, they may have academic issues to address and find that the local community college provides them with the best opportunity to demostrate academic success to facilitate their entry into a college with their desired program, etc. The reasons for applying to only one or two colleges seems to be many. I wonder why Ms. Johnson sees it as so important to apply to many schools. I would not discourage any student from applying to multiple colleges. What I wonder about is why they are should be submitting so many applications and if that are applying to colleges that will give the most likely path to earning a degree. If the purpose of the application is academic success then it would seem the selection of the college is most important rather then the acceptance to a college.
Dr. Nick
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 11:31am
Has anyone considered the expense of applying to many institutions of higher learning?
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 12:58pm
In a radio interview on WDET's Detroit Today Ron French clarified many of the questions posted here: In summary, it's upper middle class kids that are submitting up to a dozen applications to highly selective universities, while families who are lower income and/or first-time-in-family attending look at the sticker price of a university first, and then apply to just one or two based on the published sticker price. Factors of the likely financial aid package or whether the university will be a good fit for them aren't being considered enough which are both highly critical factors when it comes to actually finishing and graduating with a degree. I believe that's the crux of Ms. Johnson's commentary. Another factor is the application cost and process for a lot of universities. It is not unusual for the application fee to be $100 or more at each university, plus an extensive essay and application process for each university. I remember as a high school student growing up in a blue-collar family in Macomb Co. back in the 90s that the application process was tough to fit in with the homework load, sports and extra-curricular activities (which you need for a well rounded application), and a part-time job (the majority of which went directly into a college savings account). I can't imagine trying to fit in time for the gigantic application process that most universities have today for multiple universities.