College admissions have changed dramatically in the last twenty five years. As your teens enter this process, it is important to understand they 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.
Testing Policies Changing
College admissions expectations for testing vary dramatically from school to school. In the last few years more colleges have moved to test optional admissions policies. With the pandemic limiting access to testing in many areas many colleges including all eight Ivy League colleges are test-optional for the Class of 2021. Most students will still benefit from test scores and some scholarships may require ACT or SAT scores.
Tougher Academics in High School
A generation ago many of us just took a couple of years of science and foreign language. Increasingly the expectation is that strong students 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 programs such as Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment courses in which students take college courses during high school are a typical expectation for selective college admissions.
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. Here are examples of acceptance rates during the 2018 admissions season at some of the nation’s top colleges:
University of Pennsylvania 8.4%
As these statistics demonstrate many highly selective colleges have admissions rates below 10%. What makes this more striking is that many of the students who are rejected are highly capable students with excellent grades and test scores. The rejected applicants likely could be successful at the colleges that denied them admissions, it is just a matter of space.
Applying to More Colleges
It is very common now for students to apply to 7 to 10 schools. One charter school in New Jersey has students applying on average to 45 colleges. There are many factors fueling the rise in the average number of applications. The Common and Coalition applications have 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. In this climate it is essential to 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 are disappearing. 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. The ACT and SAT have also been revised in the last year with changed content and scoring systems.
College costs have increased dramatically with costs rising faster than the rate of inflation. Students need to incorporate a realistic understanding of costs into their college admissions strategy. For families who are not eligible for financial aid the cost of an Ivy League education could be near $300,000 for a single child. Parents are advised to research college costs early and be open with their kids about what they can realistically afford.
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 colleges. The international applicant pool to US colleges also rises every year. 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, combined BS/MD programs where students are admitted directly to medical school from their high school program, three-year bachelor’s degrees, internships, and degrees in contemporary areas of studies such as environmental sustainability.
Most applications are now submitted online. Many schools participate in the Common Application which allow 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.