The life of a first-year application

The University has received more than 28,000 applications to fill far fewer spots.

by Emma Carew

College and university applications hit an all-time high this year, with schools reporting double-digit increases in applications received.

The University has received 28,893 applications to fill 5,230 slots this year.

In the beginning: fall

Students usually begin planning for the college application and admissions process around the spring of their junior year in high school.

Amy Desmond, director of college counseling at Benilde-St. Margaret’s high school in St. Louis Park, said students meet with their counselors and plan for doing applications.

When students choose the University, Desmond said she “encourages them to apply early.”

Samantha Smith, a Brainerd High School senior, said she decided on the University after visiting her cousin on campus last spring. The University was Smith’s first and only choice, and she said she mailed her application in September.

Throughout the fall of students’ senior years, they may meet with counselors to finalize application plans, Desmond said.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s students are encouraged to apply to three to six schools, Desmond said, but in the past few years, some students have been applying to 10 or 15.

“They’re applying to these schools, not doing the research, not having visited,” Desmond said. “They’re saying, ‘Oh this is a pretty campus, oh I could see myself hanging out here.’ But you could see that at a lot of colleges.”

Application to admission: winter

Once the University receives the application, it’s scanned into computers, although most arrive online, Wayne Sigler, director of admissions, said.

Each application goes through at least two reviews, and many go through a third round, associate director for freshman recruitment Rachelle Hernandez said.

About 90 percent of applications are received by the December priority deadline, Sigler said.

The University uses an approach called “holistic review” to admit, waitlist or postpone admission for a student, Hernandez said.

The “holistic” approach means each application is individually assessed and no single factor holds more weight than others, he said.

“We don’t like to postpone or waitlist,” Sigler said. “But it’s very difficult to know at different points in the year how many students will enroll.”

In addition to primary factors like test scores and high school record, reviewers consider secondary factors like work experience, family at the University or overcoming difficulties.

The University used to admit students using a formula based on class rank and SAT or ACT scores, but abandoned this practice in 2003, Sigler said.

Though Smith was admitted to the University in January, she said she was nervous waiting for her acceptance letter.

“I felt pretty confident,” she said, based on her ACT score and GPA.

But, “it’s hard to put yourself on a piece of paper,” she said. “They’re looking at all of these pieces of paper and can’t know you.”

Smith was admitted to her second-choice college, the College of Education and Human Development, and said she might try to transfer to her first-choice school, the College of Biological Sciences, in her sophomore year.

Admissions and decisions: spring

Many students take advantage of their senior-year spring breaks to visit the University.

Desiree Keenan, a senior admissions counselor, said she meets with students and their families, taking phone calls and visiting high schools during this time.

Many students raise questions about “what it takes to get into college,” she said.

Desmond said her job also gets busier in March and through April, as students weigh their options with May 1 Decision Day looming.

Parents and students come to her office with a list of schools they’ve been accepted to and want to know what to do next, Desmond said.

“My job is kind of to give them the reality of it,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t believe what you hear,’ and kind of help them understand Ö they don’t need to be like everybody else.”

Overall, the application process is increasingly competitive. Desmond said she and other college counselors sometimes have to explain to students just how competitive it is.

In the past few years, the University has “been blessed with increased popularity,” Sigler said, which he credits largely to word-of-mouth reputation.

“Part of our job is, we have to say no to a great number of applicants,” he said. “No one gets into this business to say no to students and families.”

Emma Carew is a senior staff reporter.