If for some zany reason you ever decide to slog your way the very helpful set of data at the College Board’s college search website, you can make all kinds of interesting discoveries.
Take the College Board’s lists of “also viewed” schools. When you are at the webpage for, say, Loyola University Chicago, you can see a list of the 20 schools most commonly viewed by other students who also looked at Loyola. It’s an interesting way to see how applicants at various schools overlap.
People who look at Loyola, for example, frequently view DePaul University — a Catholic school also in Chicago — and Northwestern — a Big 10 school in the next town over.
When you look at each of these overlap lists for, say, several hundred schools, you find that the same schools constantly pop up again and again on the “also viewed” lists. Several are exactly the ones you’d expect to remain popular year after year. Harvard comes up a lot because it’s Harvard. A million kids fantasize about going there and two million parents fantasize about attending graduations there. A few more hardy perennials that aren’t terribly surprising include, for example, Penn State, Arizona State, and the University of Southern California.
Other schools that persistently show up on the “also viewed” lists are fascinatingly harder to explain. They seem to be, for whatever reasons, the hot schools of the moment.
American University (Washington, D.C.)
Acceptance rate: about 44 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Location, location, location. Both Georgetown and George Washington — two other schools in the District — are permanent fixtures on the list of sought-after undergraduate destinations. Applicants could be falling in love with the idea of going to school in Washington and looking around to see what else is in town.
Clemson University (Clemson, S.C.)
Acceptance rate: about 63 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: The Southeast is the new Northeast. Students and parents en masse are starting to notice that there are some illustrious academic powerhouses in the South. The weather is balmier, the cost of living is cheaper, and in many cases the job prospects look substantially rosier. Emory, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia are a few other the schools getting greater national consideration.
Brown University (Providence, R.I.)
Acceptance rate: about 10 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Brown is the Ivy of the moment. That’s a ridiculous notion, but it’s a real thing. While Harvard, Yale and Princeton will always be all the rage, the rest of the Ivies fall in and out of fashion a bit more. Celebrity undergrads roaming the campus have unquestionably helped Brown, especially Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies).
Elon University (Elon, N.C.)
Acceptance rate: about 49 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Elon University meticulously plotted its current hotness years ago. As late as the 1970s, the school was essentially an academic backwater, catering mostly to locals. Today, about 70 percent of Elon’s students come from outside North Carolina. Elon is such a case study in how to grow a university that a professor at Penn wrote a book about it. The book is called Transforming a College: The Story of a Little Known College’s Strategic Climb to National Distinction.
Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio)
Acceptance rate: about 40 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Throngs of naive high school students have somehow come under the adorable but heartbreaking impression that they will be able to earn a living by writing. The English department at Kenyon is very strong and Kenyon has something of a reputation for producing poets and novelists.
Ithaca College (Ithaca, N.Y.)
Acceptance rate: about 70 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Slots in the school’s visual and performing arts (and, for the record, physical therapy) programs have become exponentially more sought after. Ithaca College could also be riding on Cornell University’s coattails.
Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)
Acceptance rate: about 31 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: The long shadow cast by quarterback Doug Flutie. The Flutie Effect occurs when a successful sports team raises a school’s prominence. The term first appeared when applications to Boston College increased approximately 30 percent in the two years after Flutie’s Hail Mary pass beat Miami in 1984. BC’s location in the Boston area certainly doesn’t hurt.
Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
Acceptance rate: about 38 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Work and money are cool again. Not too long ago, Northeastern was largely a commuter school that accepted pretty much anyone with a pulse. Today, its long-established co-op program, which gives students real, full-time, paid work experience, has come into serious vogue. Even better, students at Northeastern can now cram an undergraduate degree and two six-month stints of work (anywhere in the world) into four years.
Boston University (Boston, Mass.)
Acceptance rate: about 59 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Location again. Madison, Athens, and similar locales are wonderful but Boston could well be the planet’s greatest college town. There are at least a dozen bona fide undergrad schools in the immediate area. BU stands out because its students tend to live in the actual, gritty city of Boston rather than on some manicured, well-guarded campus.
Tufts University (Medford, Mass.)
Acceptance rate: about 25 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: A maniacally dedicated admissions staff. Quite a few liberal arts schools of the small, elite variety are seeing diminished applicant pools. Not Tufts, which saw the largest applicant pool in its history last year. This glorious record was apparently the result of a deliberate and very aggressive focus on recruiting potential students in California and Texas (as well as in foreign countries).
Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Penn.)
Acceptance rate: about 40 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Everybody wants to be a doctor when they grow up these days. Gettysburg has a tremendous reputation in the hard sciences (especially for a school its size) and the annual medical school acceptance rate for Gettysburg graduates is impressive. Alternatively, we are seeing a generation of Civil War buffs.
New York University (New York, N.Y.)
Acceptance rate: about 38 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: The Disneyfication of New York City is complete. Students (and parents) now feel perfectly fine about spending four years with no traditional campus in and around the Greenwich Village locale of NYU. As a result, for that faction of kids from around the nation who delight in city life, NYU has become the premier destination school.
Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)
Acceptance rate: about 24 percent
Possible reason why it’s a hot school right now: Vassar is among the most expensive colleges and universities in the country, so perhaps it’s a widely held belief that an exorbitant sticker price must mean higher quality. Vassar does have quite a bit else going for it, though. The campus is storybook beautiful, for example, and the science programs and writing programs are very strong.