As college classes begin, many universities in Illinois say they saw a surge in applications for this year’s freshman class.
The University of Illinois, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago all reported receiving a record number of applications for the class of 2016.
The University of Chicago received 25,307 applications — up roughly 16 percent over last year — for approximately 1,525 seats. Northwestern University received 32,065 applications and admitted 4,895 of those applicants for its freshman class, an increase of just under 4 percent.
Nearly 48,000 students applied for about 10,200 available seats at the University of Illinois’ three campuses, a 6 percent increase over last year. University spokesman Tom Hardy said the number of applications to the Springfield and Urbana-Champaign campuses were the highest ever.
The increase in college applicants isn’t exclusive to Illinois. Experts say it’s a national trend.
Melissa Clinedinst, assistant director of research at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, said one reason for the increase is more students are graduating from high school. She said those students are also applying to more colleges than students in the past.
“It’s kind of a trend that sort of feeds itself. Students get, you know, either the perception that college is getting more competitive, which may be the case at specific colleges,” Clinedinst said. “And so they feel the need to apply to more colleges in order to give themselves more options."
Clinedinst also said the current state of the economy plays a role with students choosing to cast a wide net when applying to college. Clinedinst said applying to more colleges gives students more options when it comes to how much they have to pay.
Michael Tanner, the vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, also said the economy has something to do with the increasing number of college applicants. Tanner said historically more people opt to go to college during an economic recession. He said that’s because the opportunity cost of going to school is lower.
For example, a person is less likely to forfeit potential income by going to school if there are less jobs available. Tanner added in recent years the population attending college has grown because certain groups who haven’t gone to college in the past are now doing so in greater numbers.
“There are many places in the country where the [caucasian population] is dropping off a bit in terms of the incoming class, and the growing populations are significantly Latino or Hispanic and in some areas Asian,” Tanner said.
Tanner said there is also the belief that college is still a path to higher earnings.