College Admissions

College admissions in the United States refers to the process of applying for entrance to institutions of higher education for undergraduate study at one of the nation's 2,675 schools. Generally, the college search begins in the student's junior year of high school with most activity taking place during the senior year, although students at top high schools often begin the process during their sophomore year or earlier. Multiple metrics and criterion are considered for admissions into the undergraduate institutions of the United States including: grades, athletic performance, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, legacy considerations, among others. In addition, there are considerable numbers of students who transfer from one college to another. Students file separate applications to each school, although the Common Application expedites the process in many instances. Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college 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.

Millions of high school students apply to college each year. While the number of graduates from high school peaked temporarily at 3.3 million in 2008, then to 3.4 million in 2014, numbers have been forecast to decline through 2015 and then rebound thereafter. Still, the number of students enrolled in college is expected to increase through 2020 when there will be approximately 23 million students in college. About a quarter of high school seniors apply to seven or more schools, paying an average of $40 per application. Fewer than half of all students entering college graduate in four years and slightly over half graduate from college during their lifetimes.

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. New developments in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries in applying to American universities, more students applying by an early method, applications submitted by Internet-based methods including the Common Application, increased use of consultants, guidebooks, and rankings, and increased use by colleges of waitlists. One estimate was that 80 percent of applications were submitted online in 2009.

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