Originally Posted by Bostonian
3 but the most important factor is probably the ease of applying to more colleges. This causes an increase in applications-per-admission which is mostly illusory. However, part of it may be real if it means students are stratifying themselves by ability more effectively. There might also be increased competition just because students got themselves stuck in a high-competition equilibrium (ie an arms race), but in the absence of data this is just speculation.

Millennials tell stories of an awful dog-eat-dog world where you can have perfect grades and SAT scores and hundreds of hours of extracurriculars and still get rejected from everywhere you dreamed of.

I take those 2 points. There is clearly an arms race. Just the fact that there are dozens (that I just know of) college consultants charging so much to package your kid. Getting great scores, have some good extracurriculars and community service and you are passed as ordinary. That is the most telling. Too many kids that fit the profile. They want kids that will take a broad array of subjects since they have professors teaching a broad array of subjects. It is a logistical dance to cull the kids that will succeed academically, see that they take a broad array of subjects and participate in a broad array of extracurriculars so that the school thrives as a total community. So for 2000 spots there are 5000 applicants with perfect SATs. And corresponding great scores in AP courses. Then it is a matter of defining you by your interests, your socio-ethnic background and whatever personality indicators they assess so they don't have a bunch of kids in the dorm just staring at each other.