As your teens enter the college admissions process are you wondering what to expect? College admissions have changed dramatically in the last 25 years. It is important to understand our children are playing on a different playing field with a new set of rules. Imposing our expectations based on experiences from years ago can lead to confusion. Fortunately, with a good understanding of the current rules students can be well-prepared to maximize opportunities. Here are the top ten ways college admissions have changed:
Tougher Academics in High School
Thirty years ago many of us just took a couple of years of science and foreign language. Increasingly the expectation is that strong students aiming for selective admissions will have four years of all core academics – English, math, science, social science, and foreign language. More students are taking calculus in high school. Make sure you are checking on requirements early during your student’s high school career. Participation in options such as Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment courses in which students take college courses are much more common.
More Emphasis on Test Prep
It used to be many students just took the SAT or ACT once, cold, without preparation and that was all it took. Now, students are preparing more intensively for tests. Some students may feel like it is a kind of cheating to prep for tests. That’s simply not the case. Putting some time into prep is the norm and if test prep is done well it may help students pick up skills they will continue to use in college. Students also plan test strategy years in advance and consider taking tests multiple times to improve their scores and to take advantage of superscoring.
Acceptance rates at highly selective colleges are much lower than they were in the past. What it took to get into an Ivy League college thirty years ago is quite different than what it takes today. Many highly selective colleges have admissions rates below 10% and some below 5%. What makes that statistic more striking is that most of the students who are rejected are highly capable students with fantastic grades and test scores. The rejected applicants likely could be successful at the colleges that denied them admissions, it is just a matter of availability of spaces. Falling admissions rates at top schools mean students need to plan their application strategy carefully and make sure they have schools they will be admitted to and can afford.
Applying to More Colleges
It is very common now for students to apply to 10 or more colleges. There are a number of factors fueling the greater number of applications. The Common Application has made it somewhat easier for students to apply to more schools, which has in turn driven acceptance rates down. Many students also apply to more colleges because financial aid and scholarships are unknown and they wish to improve their odds of a good financial package. Make sure your student is building a college list that is balanced allowing good odds of both admissions and scholarships.
ACT or SAT
Regional variations in the acceptance of the ACT or SAT have disappeared. Every college accepts either test so more students are taking both tests. Students are advised to take practice tests at home early and concentrate on the test they are likely to score higher on. Both ACT and SAT tests have been revised in recent years and students need to use up to date test prep materials.
College costs have increased dramatically with costs rising faster than inflation. Students need to incorporate a realistic understanding of costs into their college admissions strategy. Parents are advised to research college costs early and be open with their kids about what they can realistically afford. It is heartbreaking for students to get accepted to many schools they cannot afford and honest communication about family resources and values helps applicants.
Wider Geographical Area
While most students do still attend college within 100 miles of home, more and more students are looking outside of their local region. This has also increased the competitiveness of some colleges, as more students from the East and West Coasts consider Midwest and Southern colleges. Students’ college costs may be affected by where they choose to go to college. Understanding regional advantages can help students earn more scholarships and lower costs.
Greater Variety of Specialized Programs
Students are increasingly seeking out programs that offer something special. These programs include advanced research opportunities, honors programs, combined BA/MA programs, three-year bachelor’s degrees, internships, and degrees in contemporary areas of studies such as environmental sustainability.
Online Research and Applications
Many students will begin their college search online by looking at college websites and social media. Virtual tours are a great resource to help students see college campuses without leaving home. Most applications are now submitted online. Many colleges participate in the Common Application which allows students to use one form to apply to many colleges at once. Other schools that do not participate in the Common Application often have their own online systems, each with a different procedure.