"Though this year’s data is still largely anecdotal, applications at more than 70 percent of colleges have increased for 10 of the past 15 years.
"The number of students using the Common Application — an online application that can be submitted to multiple schools at the flick of a credit card — rose to 920,000 through mid-April, compared with 847,000 at the same time last year, said Aba Blankson, a spokeswoman for the Common Application.
"Students continue to apply to multiple colleges; the overall average is 4.4 applications, though many students apply to many more, Ms. Blankson said. As of 2013, 32 percent of students applied to seven or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
"Charter school students in New England submitted the most applications, at nearly seven per student, followed closely by private school students in New England and the Middle States (a category including Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), with more than six applications each, Ms. Blankson said. Home schoolers and public school students in the South and Southwest submitted the fewest, about three each.
"While colleges celebrate their record-setting applicant pools, high school guidance counselors take a dimmer view. Bruce Poch, the dean of admission and executive director of college counseling at Chadwick School, in Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., said admissions had turned into more of a lottery, as students express their fears of rejection by applying to more institutions.
“It is seen by them as more and more something they can’t control, a crapshoot, so they pile them up,” Mr. Poch said. “The multiples are at the, quote, most selective places.”
"At the most elite institutions, the rate of acceptance grew even more restricted. Harvard reported more than 39,041 applicants this year, compared with more than 37,307 last year. It admitted a record low 5.2 percent, compared with 5.3 percent last year, accepting 2,037 students. Yale said it had its largest-ever applicant pool, 31,455, and offered admission to 1,972 students, or 6.3 percent.
"Stanford University offered admission to 2,063 students out of 43,997 candidates, a selectivity rate of 4.7 percent.
The competition is also hard on colleges trying to predict who will ultimately attend. So as insurance, waiting lists have grown. For example, Yale put 1,095 students on its waiting list, more than half the number it admitted."
Here's a related story: Common Application Saturates the College Admissions Market, Critics Say
"Admissions experts point to a trend called application inflation. Students are sending off more applications than ever. In 1990, just 9 percent of students applied to seven or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. By 2013, that group had grown to 32 percent.
"To ensure that freshmen classes are filled, “somehow, those institutions have to compensate,” said David Hawkins, the association’s director of public policy.
"They do that, he said, in part by accepting more students. They are also marketing their campuses more aggressively to widen the applicant pool while, when making admissions decisions, putting greater weight on how serious students are about attending.
"In the latest association survey, colleges attributed more importance to applicants’ so-called demonstrated interest than in class rank or teacher recommendations.
"At the same time, more and more universities are waiving application fees or buying the names of desirable students from testing agencies and sending them “fast track” applications that require little more than a signature."