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Posted at 11:32 AM ET, 01/20/2011

Harvard nets 35,000 applications

By Daniel de Vise

Several top universities are reporting another year of record applications, perpetuating the industry trend of application inflation and striking fear in the hearts of worthy high school seniors everywhere.

Harvard received nearly 35,000 applications, a 15 percent increase over last year's 30,489 -- and a 50 percent increase in four years.

Even 30,000 applicants is a big number. It means, essentially, that one student in 50 applies to Harvard.

The applicant pool has grown some in that span, but most of the increase is a matter of top applicants applying to more schools. That, of course, is a self-perpetuating cycle: If all of your friends apply to 12 schools, you hurt your chances somewhat by applying to only six.

Another reason Harvard is becoming more popular is (arguably) the industry's most generous aid policy. Families earning up to $180,000 contribute no more than 10 percent of income toward tuition and living expenses. Middle-class families love the rule, although less wealthy colleges contend that it amounts to merit aid for the affluent. (Does any other college define a family earning $180,000 as needy?)

The 30,000 club continues to grow.

Stanford netted 34,200 applicants, a 7 percent increase over last year's 32,000.

Northwestern [disclosure: I went to journalism school there] crossed the 30,000 threshold with 30,529 applicants, an 11 percent increase and double the applicants of 2005.

Of that number, nearly 1,000 applicants came from the Chicago public high schools [disclosure: I graduated from that system], five times higher than in 2001.

That release arrived in my inbox 10 minutes after the release from the University of Chicago, which reported a 12 percent increase in applicants, to 21,669.

U of C was an underperformer in applications until it adopted the Common Application a few years ago, a move that tends to yield a one-time bump in applicants because of its sheer convenience. The school is also marketing itself more broadly.

I note the timing of the Chicago releases only to affirm my suspicions of perennial competition between the two universities, a rivalry officials of both schools have repeatedly denied.

Penn, too, crossed the 30,000 threshold this year, with 30,800 31,600 applicants, a 14 17 percent increase.

More than 29,500 students applied to Duke, a 10 percent increase. Duke applicants have risen by half in three years.

Dartmouth netted 21,700 applications, a 16 percent increase.

Boston University received 41,734 applicants, a 9 percent jump.

I haven't received similar news flashes from universities in the Washington area. Does that mean their numbers are comparatively flat? I invite anyone in the know to chime in by posting a comment.

Follow College Inc. on Twitter.

By Daniel de Vise  | January 20, 2011; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Admissions, Aid, Marketing, Privates  | Tags:  Harvard admissions, Stanford admissions, application inflation, college applications  
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Does no one think this increase might be a result of The Social Network film? I think it might play a role.

Posted by: beegrace123 | January 20, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I mean in regard to Harvard, that is...

Posted by: beegrace123 | January 20, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

A high-schooler can forget admission to these elite colleges unless his or her father AND grandfather matriculated there.

What's the term? 'Legacy'?

Posted by: kinkysr | January 20, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Is no one else shocked by the amount of money these schools are making in application fees? I think that if they reject you based on an automatic filter or some other mechanism that doesn't involve a human, they should refund the application fee (or at least a large portion of it)! Harvard at $75 a pop is pocketing a cool $2.5 million, assuming a fair number of fee waivers...

Posted by: model_un | January 20, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

If you think that number is crazy you should look at the numbers for the large public schools. I attended UCLA which got over 80,000 applications this year!

Posted by: Allison2222 | January 20, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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