Applications are up! It's that time of year; the press is full of reports about colleges -- mostly the elites but others too -- reporting surges in applications, and there is detailed analysis of the relative size of the increases at Princeton vs. Harvard and so forth. A few words of caution: Most of the colleges capturing headlines were very difficult to get into last year, and the year before, and the year before that too, so the shift is less dramatic than it might seem. At the many colleges a notch or three below in competitiveness, college presidents will freely admit when not being quoted by name that they have more applications because lots of families are shopping for the best aid packages possible, and that applying doesn't necessarily mean serious interest. At many of these colleges, in fact, the number of applicants admitted may actually go up in anticipation of lower yields (the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll).