By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach
Today’s College Admissions
Every year many parents of our students express shock at the fact that they would not, today, be accepted into their own alma maters. The entire college application process has become more competitive, more costly, and more complicated than it was when we opened our doors and began counseling students more than 18 years ago.
The Ivy League Colleges, and many other popular/selective schools, have become extremely selective in today’s college admissions process. As one example, Colgate University’s applicant pool increased by more than 146% from 2019 to 2021. As a result, their acceptance rate decreased dramatically from 26% to 12%. Even Northeastern University in Boston – once a safe school for many – accepts only 7% of its applicants, as it now receives more than 96,000 applications. Factors such as grade inflation, the jettisoning of SAT and ACT scores, campus diversity goals, and complicated data mining have turned what was once a mundane rite of passage into the Hunger Games. Colleges intentionally entice a rising number of applications and want to protect or improve their yields—the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll. That yield is critical to the business of the university; it affects their bond rating, rankings, and the quality of their future first year classes. And it is driving many of the changes families are now experiencing.
For some perspective, consider that there are about 27,000 American high schools, ergo 27,000 valedictorians. Ivy League colleges admit about 18,300 freshmen. This means that not even all valedictorians are attending Ivy League schools. Although applications have increased by one-third or more during the last five years alone, available spaces have remained constant at the small set of elite institutions where class size has remained relatively unchanged for the past half century. Today there are simply more students applying to more schools. According to the Common Application, the average student now applies to 6 colleges, and overall, apps this year have increased by more than 36%. High achieving students often apply to 15 colleges, which we do NOT recommend. More importantly, thirty years ago, half of high school graduates were applying to college. Today nearly two-thirds of graduation classes submit applications.
With the huge increase in applications, yields have decreased, so some colleges are now tracking student interaction and using that data in their decision-making processes. The staff knows precisely when prospective students opened an email from the school, how long they spent reading it, and whether they clicked through to any links. They know how long a student spends looking at their website and even at what point in their high school years they began researching their college. Admissions officers say information on demonstrated interest is generally used to decide on borderline candidates and select those most likely to enroll. At The College Advisor of New York, we teach our students how to establish relationships with their college admissions representatives. We help them understand the various strategies to help them boost their demonstrated interest score. If they follow our advice then they can impact their admission decisions.
Complicated and Stressful
We want our students to stretch themselves, but grade inflation means almost half of American high school students now graduate with an “A” average. The SAT has been redesigned twice since 2016 and another major change is taking place in 2024. Most importantly, the Covid-19 pandemic created a need for test optional admissions. As test scores and GPAs hold less sway, admissions offices are searching for other metrics. This has evolved into the story that softer, more subjective items are deciding factors in admission, and this fiction is another factor in the increase of applications submitted by graduating seniors. That notion is simply not true at the top 60 or so most competitive colleges and universities. However, at many of the 2,000 4-year colleges across the United States, more than half of the applicants are admitted. The fluctuation in scores and testing protocols makes it more difficult for applicants to properly manage their applications and for admissions staff to assess applicants.
All of this elicits many more questions for our families: Should my child take the SAT at all? Should he try the ACT? What’s a “good” score? To which colleges should he send his test scores? Will my applications be competitive? This is why guidance, goal setting, and reality checks are the cornerstones of our program.
Campus visits, once critical for the student in deciding where to apply, have evolved into costly demonstrated interest campaigns used by admission committees in decision making. One college visit can easily cost families over $1,000. If the prospective campus requires an airplane then that cost can easily triple. The price of application submission ranges from fifty to one hundred dollars per school, meaning merely sending in applications can easily cost over $1,000 for an average student and $2,000 for those who have submitted multiple applications to “Hail Mary schools.” We help our clients save money on these visits by targeting colleges that will be a good fit early in the process. Our staff has collectively visited more than 600 colleges, so we can filter students’ lists significantly, thereby saving our clients time and money.
More importantly, there are now 60 plus colleges that cost more than $80,000/year or more than $320,000 over 4 years. Even public colleges are approaching $30,000/year, and out of state publics now approach $60,000/year in many states. Understanding financial aid and scholarships early in the process – as our clients do – decreases overall costs.
Fixing Today’s College Admissions
So wouldn’t it be nice if colleges would stop advertising to students who have no hope of admission, simply because they want to pad their applicant count? Wouldn’t some clarity of academic expectation in admissions help alleviate all these needless applications and their ensuing literal and psychological cost? Overwhelmed admission officers end up quickly scanning files or deferring early action applicants to the regular admission pool. The confusion generated by these new practices is placing an enormous emotional toll on students. The students themselves are trying to hedge their bets by applying to more and more colleges. At The College Advisor of New York, we say “Please! No!” You need to be more thoughtful. Admission isn’t the lottery, and fantasizing “You never know, I could get in” is the wrong mindset. We DO know. Let’s focus on quality over quantity. You can only enroll in one school so let’s carefully manage the selection and application process to find the student’s best fit at the best price.