The old commercial by General Motors went something like this: “The new Oldsmobile is not your father’s Oldsmobile…” Within a decade of that advertisement, the Olds line was abandoned. Such is the case with college admissions. It’s quite literally not your father’s admissions game. Instead it’s much more competitive, complicated, not to mention, significantly more expensive. Below I’ve outlined several of the most poignant differences between old and new.
Highly Competitive: When I applied to college in the 1980s, only 6 out of 10 high school students went directly from high school to college. Today, that number has increased to 7 out of 10. To make matters worse, colleges are now recruiting internationally, so kids are being compared to students not only across the U.S., but around the world. Factor in that because of online applications, kids are now applying to more schools (an average of 7 as compared to only 4 just 15 years ago), and you’ve got many more applicants, many more applications and the same number of colleges as there were 25 years ago. That all leads to a dramatically highly selective environment.
Test Prep and Grade Inflation: With the significant growth of the test prep movement, more students are focusing on SAT and ACT preparation, so scores for high performing students have increased over time. In addition, grade inflation has crept into our high schools like never before to the extent that today, a “B” is much closer to what a “C” was when parents were in school. Because grades and test scores are among the most important factors in the admissions decision, especially at the highly selective colleges, this adds to the highly competitive nature of today’s process.
An Overwhelmingly Complex Process: Applying to college used to entail writing an essay, completing some basic paperwork, and mailing the packet to the 2 or 3 colleges to which you sought admission. The Common Application, and other competing applications, promised to change all that. The idea was that you would do one application which would enable you to apply to any combination of 500 colleges who use that application. The problem is that the Common App is not very user friendly. It’s less than intuitive interface also has several additional pieces, called supplementals, that are specific to each school. As a result, instead of writing one or two basic essays, many students have to write more than a dozen college essays, depending on the particular schools to which they apply. Even submitting the applications has become time consuming. In many cases, you submit once, but you have to pay 10 times! And what if your college does not use the Common Application? Then you have to search, register for, complete and submit that many more applications at the college’s own web site. For many, this is a dizzingly challenging process which is why we recommend starting EARLY during the summer before a student’s senior year of high school.