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Admission Counseling

Millions of high school students apply to college each year. There were approximately 4.23 million in the high school graduating age group in 2018–19, with an estimated 3.68 million high school graduates (3.33 million in public schools and 0.35 million in private schools).[4] The number of high school graduates is projected to rise to 3.89 million in 2025–26 before falling back to 3.71 million in 2027–28. From within this cohort, the number of first-time freshmen in post-secondary fall enrollment was 2.90 million in 2019, divided between 4-year colleges (1.29 million attending public institutions and 0.59 million attending private) and 2-year colleges (approx 0.95 million public; 0.05 million private).[5] The number of first-time freshmen is expected to continue increasing, reaching 2.96 million in 2028, maintaining the demand for a college education.

High school students will typically begin the college admissions planning process in their junior year, with applications due in October of their senior year (for Early Decision or Early Action) or in December of their senior year (for Regular Decision) although the application timetable for each college may vary. For example, many public universities such as the University of California system have a November deadline. Because the admission process places much weight on a student's high school transcript, admissions planning in the broader sense might take place much earlier in a student's high school career.

Students can apply to multiple schools and file separate applications to each school. Recent developments such as electronic filing via the Common Application, now used by about 800 schools and handling 25 million applications, have facilitated an increase in the number of applications per student.[6][7] Around 80 percent of applications were submitted online in 2009.[8] About a quarter of applicants apply to seven or more schools, paying an average of $40 per application.[9] Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college as "undeclared" undergraduates and not to a particular department or major, unlike many European universities and American graduate schools, although some undergraduate programs such as architecture or engineering may require a separate application at some universities. As a general rule, applying to two-year county and community colleges is much easier than to a four-year school, often requiring only a high school transcript or minimum test score.

Recent trends in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries in applying to American universities,[10] more students applying by an early method,[8] applications submitted by Internet-based methods including the Common Application and Coalition for College, increased use of consultants, guidebooks, and rankings, and increased use by colleges of waitlists.[8] These trends have made college admissions a very competitive process, and a stressful one for student, parents and college counselors alike, while colleges are competing for higher rankings, lower admission rates and higher yields to boost their prestige and desirability. Admission to U.S. colleges in the aggregate level has become more competitive but most colleges admit a majority of those who apply; the selectivity and extreme competition has been very focused in a handful of the most selective colleges.[6] (Total freshmen enrollment at the top 100 most selective schools where an admit rate is below 35% is below 200,000 out of 2.90 million total freshmen in all post-secondary institutions). On the other hand, colleges have increased outreach to attract applicants who have been historically underrepresented in their applicant pool and admitted classes, such as applicants from lower income neighborhoods (which may not be well served by knowledgeable college counselors) and applicants who are first-generation college students.

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