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David Lapidus may only be in eighth grade, but that doesn’t mean college is far from his mind.

Along with about 100 of his eighth-grade classmates from Oyster Bay High School in Oyster Bay, N.Y., Lapidus was at Penn in late March for his first college campus tour. For Lapidus, learning about the University made at least one thing clear — the admissions process begins now.

Lapidus is not alone in his mindset. According to a report released last month by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, today’s middle- and high-school students are thinking about college applications earlier than ever before.

This trend — called “admissions acceleration” by NACAC — is worrying some college counselors and admissions officers.

More than half of admissions officers surveyed said earlier outreach by colleges has increased anxiety among applicants. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of high-school counselors surveyed said earlier recruitment has raised stress levels among students.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for NACAC, said, “Twenty or 30 years ago, it was expected that you’d begin the college search no earlier than your junior year. Today, that timeline has been pushed up quite noticeably.”

At Penn, the Admissions Office begins sending letters and emails to students in their sophomore year of high school, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. Initial lists of students who are to receive mailings from the University typically contain those who have performed well on standardized tests like the PSAT, he added.

“When we’re getting more than 31,000 applications, you might wonder why we even have to recruit,” Furda said. However, “we think it’s important to build awareness about Penn early, especially among students who have a developed interest in an area that we want represented on campus.”

Though he has not received any mailings from colleges yet, Lapidus — who wants to apply to Penn — said, “Just thinking about college right now makes me really nervous. There’s going to be a lot of competition.”

Among those involved in college admissions, opinions about the proper start time for the application process are split.

Applying to college “can be immensely stressful, and there’s absolutely no reason why students should be thinking seriously about it before their junior year,” said Jeffrey Durso-Finley, director of college counseling at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. “If schools are reaching out to anybody that early, it should be to under-served students … and that doesn’t seem to be happening now.”

However, Michele Hernandez, president of Hernandez College Consulting, said she doesn’t see much validity in NACAC’s findings.

“It’s better to have students learn how to manage stress now than to see them fail later in life,” Hernadez said, adding that she sometimes receives college-related questions from parents whose children are in fourth or fifth grade.

While younger students like Lapidus are already feeling the onset of college admissions stress, Penn students who received college information early in high school said they appreciated the ability to approach the process over a more prolonged period of time.

For Engineering freshman Cristina Sorice, receiving college mailings in her sophomore year of high school “definitely helped prevent too many things from piling up at the last minute,” she said.

Likewise, College sophomore Hamlet Urena said he appreciated “getting a taste of the college experience” by receiving admissions-related emails early on in high school.

For Furda, stress levels among prospective applicants can be reduced if the Admissions Office is careful with its messaging.

“You have to mix the message you’re sending with the knowledge that the student receiving it is still in high school,” Furda said. “If you can strike a balance between those two, then [early outreach] can be a useful tool.”

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