Q: I applied under “early action” in November to two schools I considered my “safeties.” I wanted to know that I had at least one acceptance before filing my regular applications in January. I was pretty confident I’d get in, but both schools deferred me—so now I am in a panic. Maybe it’s true and college admission IS getting harder! If my “safeties” deferred me, what chance do I have with the others?

A: Actually, college admissions, despite what you might read in the media, is NOT getting harder. It’s ALWAYS been hard to get into an Ivy League school. But don't panic, admissions is reasonable at many other places, especially outside the Northeast.

The problem today is volume. More students are filing more applications, often to the same group of "popular" colleges. So, while College A may have received 20,000 applications five years ago, today they are getting 40,000. Twice as many students are applying, but College A is still the same size it was five years ago. And why are so many students applying? College A has been advertising and recruiting like crazy. Also, the Common Application makes it so easy to file many more applications than back in ancient times when you had to hand-write a separate application to each school. So College A’s application numbers and selectivity go up, and poor you are suffering as a result.

You are also a victim of all those newspaper and magazine articles that scream: “It’s IMPOSSIBLE to get into a good college! You need superhuman grades and scores!” The more articles like that appear, the more students think they have to file additional applications, which just feeds the situation.

Yes, your grades and scores need to be solid, but they don't have to be tip-top. There are lots of colleges and universities who accept solid students. But, when these schools receive a gazillion applications for early action, how can they tell which students are best AND who will actually enroll? Early action is not binding—you know it, and they know it.

First, schools do not want to over-accept during the early action round. They know plenty of applications are still to come in January. Second, they know that many early action applicants are using them as fallbacks, “just in case” schools, or as you put it, “safeties.” If you have not visited a school's campus, spoken with their admissions rep or written to them—in other words, expressed no interest in the school other than filing an application, you are are not going to be considered a serious applicant. If you treat a college as a “safety school,” they will treat you as a “safety applicant.”

THE LESSON: There are no “safeties.” Apply only to schools that you genuinely want to attend. Students, STOP GLUTTING THE WORKS WITH DOZENS OF APPLICATIONS YOU REALLY DON’T CARE ABOUT! Make sure that the admissions offices of schools that you really like know you are truly interested, and then have a solid high school record to reinforce your enthusiasm.