My coworkers and I have engaged in some not so secret missions lately - we visited four of our rival schools.
Basically, when it comes to private colleges you go to the one who offers you the best financial situation and / or is the best "fit". I have found many times this year that EC tends to offer students both.
When students apply to EC we ask them to list other schools they're looking at. If it's us and state schools then we're not too broken hearted if they end up at one. If they want big they'll be miserable here.
If it's us or a junior college and money is a big issue then, while there is some disappointment, we're not too sad. Even with loans there will be some out of pocket expense for most families.
If we're too small, or too far away from home, or too close to home or we don't offer massage therapy and that's what they want, then we wish them the best and cancel their application.
But when you have a kid looking at only small, private, liberal arts schools - well that's when the competition can begin. :)
The schools we went to are all usually listed (at least one) by applying students. So my two fellow freshman admissions counselors and myself called up the four schools and asked if we could visit. We went on the standard tour and visited with fellow counselors. It was a great experience.
The truth is there isn't really a lot of competition between the schools - if someones going to be happier at XYZ and they'll transfer there after one semester here then we don't want them here in the first place because they'll ruin our retention rate.
But the real truth is there is competition and we took good notes about how each school is better or worse, or equal, to us. It was very eye-opening for us. We saw how where we're good, where we're great and where we can improve.