Telegraph Staff Writer
For a growing number of high school seniors, spring is no longer time to swap homework for college applications.
Or even time to sit back and wait for admissions decisions fill their mailbox, according to college admissions staff, counselors and high school students.
Instead, many students are selecting their prospective colleges their junior year, writing essays in September and sealing those last envelopes - or clicking on a mouse - by November.
The reason? A more competitive process in which more students are applying to more colleges, many of which have raised the bar for grade-point averages or SAT scores.
"Students are more prepared to act early, and all this has happened within the last decade," said John Cole, vice president for university admissions at Mercer University.
Cole estimates his office has received applications from at least 70 percent of those who will apply for the 2005-2006. This year alone, the number of students applying by Nov. 1 to receive an early notification has increased about 25 percent.
"They have to act early," Cole said. "It used to be (prepared) students in Macon and central Georgia could apply to a school and they'd get in. That's not the case."
Regina English, a counselor at Rutland High School, said many students waited until the last minute last year and didn't get into their first choice of colleges. Though many students are still gathering transcripts and recommendations from her office, it's not as many, she said.
"They've been in here pretty early this year," English said.
Mary Austin Killen, a senior at Central High School, mailed applications to the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by Nov. 1.
"Schools are becoming so much more competitive, especially the University of Georgia," Killen said. "Because it's so competitive, everyone wants to hear back from that school first."
Killen already has been accepted at UGA but awaits word from UNC, a school with much more stringent admission standards for out-of-state students.
"I'm just kind of consciously realizing that if I don't get into UNC it's not the worst thing in the world," Killen said.
Until recent years, many universities in the Southeast gave prospective students one deadline for fall enrollment - meaning admissions officers often ended up swamped with applications at once.
Many applications will still roll in at many colleges. UGA's final deadline, for instance, is Feb. 1. Georgia College & State University requests students apply by April 1.
But more universities, public and private, want to get an early idea of what their incoming class might look like, and they want to make their college more attractive to students who are applying to a growing number of colleges.
Mitch Clarke, spokesman for GC&SU, said applications have been coming in earlier since the school began allowing high school seniors to apply by December and receive an early notification.
This also will be the second year the university can only accept 900 applicants because it's requiring first-year students to live on campus, Clarke said. Only a few years ago, the college accepted 1,100 students.
"It's getting more competitive," Clarke said.
For some students, however, making sure you get into a college of their choice means applying to more schools. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, the number of students submitting three or more applications each year has risen nearly 10 percentage points in the past six years.
In 2003, for instance, 42 percent of students applied to four to six schools.
Zack Partridge, also a Central senior, applied by mid-November to four colleges, including the U.S. Air Force Academy. Already accepted at two colleges, he awaits word from the academy.
Applying early has lessened his stress, he said.
"I know I've got a lot of papers coming up for finals in the second semester," Partridge said. "Less paperwork is going to be easier on me."
High school counselors also have played a role, some admissions staff and students said.
Kate Zaloumes, a Stratford Academy senior, said her counselors urged students to apply early.
"They would get on our case about it, basically," she said. "They did help us stay on track."