The Changing Landscape of College Admissions 1

Are You Prepared?

Something I’ve observed after two decades in education is that very little of a student’s time truly belongs to them. They are juggling assignments, extra-curricular activities, family time, community service, jobs … well you get the point. Add to that the pressure of preparing for and applying to college and you have the makings of a highly stressed household. The college application landscape is constantly evolving, so it’s worth examining its current state and considering how it might impact your college preparation.

More Applications per Student

According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), freshman undergraduate applications grew 6% in 2016. This is due to several factors including more diversity in college applicants and the fact that individual students are applying to more colleges. The result? More competition to earn a seat in an incoming undergraduate freshman class.

The Process is longer and more complicated

Ten years ago, the thought of applying to college didn’t appear on the horizon until a student’s junior year. Today, recruiters are reaching deeper into the pool of applicants contacting high school freshmen, sophomores, and even middle schoolers. Accordingly, ambitious students start strategizing earlier in high school, carefully selecting rigorous coursework, pertinent extra-curricular activities, and summer experiences.

College Acceptance Rates at Their Lowest Point Ever

All this competition among students has resulted in a bumper crop of highly qualified applicants. Stanford, for example, accepted only 4.6% of their applicants in 2016. This competitive atmosphere has trickled down to state schools creating a category of “state ivys” where acceptance has become increasingly more difficult to attain. Schools such as William and Mary and The University of Texas at Austin fall into this category.

How to Avoid a Stressful Senior Year

Despite the current state of college admissions, there are several things students can do to plan ahead and avoid a stressful senior year.

  1. Make a timeline. Strategically planning coursework and activities goes a long way in being ready to compete your senior year. However, if you are a rising senior and you are just now starting to think about applying to college, IT ISN’T TOO LATE.
  2. Do your research. Look at the profile of the newly admitted freshman class of the schools you want to attend. Consider how you might rate in the “hard factors” (GPA, grades, test scores). Even if your scores aren’t in the top percentages, don’t give up. Focus on other elements of the application.
  3. Be deliberate. You can control the “soft factors” (essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations and demonstrated interest.) Use social media to communicate directly to admissions staff your interest in their school.
  4. Seek assistance. Using a college admissions coach can be a great help. Coaches review your essays and help you present your application in the best light possible.
  5. Parents – stay informed but don’t take over. Students, especially seniors, are probably stressed so let them vent.

In the end, if students develop a plan, stay on track, and apply to a balanced list of colleges, it is highly likely they will get into the school that is the best fit for them.