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Originally published Sunday, March 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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College frenzy likely to ease as fewer graduate high school

Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students likely finding it easier to get into college.

The New York Times

High-school seniors across America are anxiously awaiting the verdicts from the colleges of their choice later this month. But though it may not be of much solace to them, in just a few years the admissions frenzy is likely to ease. It's simply a matter of demographics.

Projections show that by next year or the year after, the annual number of high-school graduates in the United States will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb. The number is then expected to decline until about 2015. Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students likely finding it easier to get into college.

"For the high-school graduate, this becomes a buyers' market," said Daniel Fogel, president of the University of Vermont.

That won't help Charlie Cotton, a senior at Madison High School in New Jersey. He has the grades and scores to aim for the nation's elite universities; yet, in the hypercompetitive world of college admissions, his chances of winning a spot at his top picks — such as Middlebury, Dartmouth and Oberlin — are highly uncertain. When his sister, Emma, who is in eighth grade, applies to college, she is expected to face a less frantic landscape with fewer rivals.

The demographic changes include sharp geographic, social and economic variations. Experts anticipate, for example, a decline in affluent high-school graduates and an increase in poor and working-class ones. In response, colleges and universities are already increasing their recruitment of students in high-growth states and expanding their financial-aid offerings to low-income students with academic potential.

Still, some admissions deans and independent consultants say the struggle to win entry to the most prestigious universities is likely to continue.

"The ones that have the strongest brand identification are still going to be awash in applications, but 99 percent of us are going to see declines," said Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

While many admissions deans expect to look nostalgically on what has become, for them at least, a golden era in college admissions, some say a letup in the admissions craze might not be so bad.

"I actually think it's kind of good," said Monica Inzer, dean of admission and financial aid at Hamilton College in New York. "We need a shake-up. I think the anxiety families are feeling right now is not the way we planned it."

The extent to which admissions become less selective may depend, many admissions deans say, on whether they can successfully alter their recruiting — by reaching out to a broader range of students, with a more national and even international approach.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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