College acceptance more competitive than ever | February 6, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - February 6, 2009

College acceptance more competitive than ever

by Maria Shen

While I'm still biting my nails, waiting for my college acceptance (or - gulp - rejection) letters, many of my friends can kick back and take it easy. This year, many Monte Vista-ians were accepted to prominent Ivy League and private schools through the colleges' Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) programs. MIT, Brown, Princeton, Stanford and Columbia are just a few of the schools who'll see Monte Vista students in their Class of 2013.

It seems that this year, more than prior years, students are seeing a lot of success by applying ED and EA to their favorite schools. Monte Vista, certainly, has not seen such phenomenal success rates for years. It's a credit to how awesomely intelligent we are, of course, but also, counselors theorize, because of the economic downturn and its adverse effects on higher education.

Because the Early Decision program is binding, students who are accepted must attend the school - and pay the tuition. Instead of shopping for the best financial aid package come March and April, students are "stuck" with the school to which they applied. Though private schools sit on billion-dollar endowments, school counselors say that many middle class families will be at a disadvantage during the economic crisis; they earn just enough money to disqualify them for substantial financial aid, but not enough money to pay the hefty $30,000 to $50,000 tuition.

What about turning to the University of California, which has always provided Californians with affordable higher education? This year, due to the proposed $6 billion budget cut, money going to the California state school system will decrease. What does this mean for students who are applying to UC Davis, UCLA, and the like? On Jan. 14, the University of California announced it will be taking 2,300 fewer Californian undergraduates, bringing the total number of undergrads down from 37,600 to 35,300.

The bottom line is that there will be more competition than ever for slots in the University of California this year. The Los Angeles Times cites the following statistics:

"Applications for freshman fall enrollment on at least one UC campus totaled 98,002, up 2.9% from the previous year. The numbers of Californians seeking entrance as freshmen rose 1.6% to 80,730, while out-of-state and international applicants increased 10% to 17,272, according to UC statistics.

"Meanwhile, undergraduate transfer applications showed stronger growth, increasing by 11.2% to 28,699."

I was told by a former UC admissions officer that the admissions committee usually has a "cut off" line in terms of SAT scores and total GPA. This year, the "cut off" line will be higher than last year's, though the exact numbers are unknown to me. (Of course, this piece of information was taken informally. This is not always the case. Different schools consider applications differently and most schools do consider applications holistically.)

For students who fall in the low income bracket (under $60,000) - though there are very few of these around Danville - most private schools are stepping up their aid, making private educations more affordable than attending the UCs. The catch is that acceptance rates are very low for good private schools. Last year, the acceptance rate to Columbia University's Columbia College was 8.68 percent. This year, with more applicants, the percentage will likely be lower. Liberal arts schools like Claremont Mckenna in California had an acceptance rate of 22 percent in 2006-2007. University of Southern California (USC) had a similar acceptance rate of around 20 percent.

Lee Brier, a columnist for, summarized it well in her article "Tough Year Ahead for Admissions":

"1. This year's high school graduating class will be the largest in history.

"2. Numbers thus far indicate that students are applying to more colleges and universities.

"3. Because of the economic downturn, financial resources have dwindled for both families and colleges.

"So: more students, more applications and less money - a tough year all around."

Indeed, it will be tough, but it's important to be optimistic and bite something other than nails. For high school students who have worked hard, greater competition just means a better opportunity to prove themselves. It's also important to remember that there's more to a college than rankings and admissions stats. As for me, I'm going to hope for the best and enjoy the post-college-application-due-date bliss.

-Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at