Today’s College Admissions Landscape

college admissions Purdue University
Purdue University

“Will my kid get into a good college?”

The question we are most frequently asked by parents is, “Will Johnny get into a good school?”

Our answer is YES.  But today’s college admissions landscape has changed.  It’s an entirely different world than it was when you and I applied to college, and knowing the landscape before your teenager begins this process is an important way to maintain your sanity.

When I applied in 1988, for example, the admit rate where I ended up was 40%.  Today, it’s just below 10%.  This mirrors what has happened at many highly selective schools, and it’s a reflection of the fact that top colleges have highly qualified applicant pools that have made their job tougher than ever before.

Why has this change happened, and what does it mean for you, the parent of a high school student looking to attend a ‘good’ college?

Students apply to more colleges than before.  Online and joint application platforms have made it much easier to apply to an average of 12-15 colleges, instead of the 6 to which I applied individually.  How many did you apply to?  I promise your child will apply to more.

The average GPA has edged up nationwide.  When we (of parent age) were in high school, the average GPA looked like a bell curve:  a smattering of Fs and a few Ds, the majority were Cs or high Cs, a healthy handful of Bs and just a few As.  Today, 40% of graduating high school seniors have an A average.

The number of students who earn perfect SAT and ACT scores has doubled in the last three years and quadrupled since 2012.  More and more students are seeking out test prep – and succeeding with their efforts.  This, combined with the GPA situation above, means that more students are presenting spotless, or near-perfect, academic records to colleges, which has made it more difficult for them to choose their class.  And think about it – it’s also become more difficult to make your case to the top-level colleges if you DON’T have a perfect transcript or a stellar SAT/ACT score, because so many of their applicants do have those things.

Colleges are looking for more now.  They HAVE to go beyond grades and test scores – because so many students’ grades and test scores now look the same.  The headline in this article is misleading – your grades and test scores are NOT less important – but they are just the first stage of the process.  They get you a seat at the table.  Then what?

Remember trying to show colleges that YOU were “well-rounded?”  Well, unfortunately, colleges aren’t looking for “well-rounded” students anymore.  Well-rounded has come to mean that you’re a jack-of-many-trades-but-master-of-none.  They don’t need kids like that.  They want INTERESTING students, students who bring something SPECIFIC to the community.  An Olympic-hopeful archer.  A published researcher.  Someone who’s taught an octopus how to paint.

We call it “pointy” now.  It’s kind of the opposite of well-rounded, if you think about it.

college admissions diversity
Over half of UPenn’s incoming class identifies as students of color. Diversity in many forms is a priority for many colleges today.

Finally, colleges are aware and sensitive to the importance of diversity – in its many forms – of their community.  They want students from all different types of backgrounds.  They’re looking for students who haven’t experienced a privileged upbringing.  Those whose parents didn’t attend college; those who come from urban areas, and rural areas.  Those whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to summer academic enrichment programs on faraway college campuses.

And the funny thing is, regardless of how you feel about this change in focus, you’ll probably find that your teenager respects it and wants to be on a campus where these values and this emphasis on diversity are practiced.

So.  Will your child get into a good college?  YES.  The answer remains yes.  But as the college admissions landscape has changed, you’ll also need to change your perception of what “good” means.  We focus on helping students find colleges where they will be happy and successful.  Where they’ll fit in academically, socially and emotionally.  And colleges that are a good fit for YOU financially!  The good news is that there are more than 25 colleges that fit this description!

That’s why we spend so much time visiting colleges – to find that special hidden gem (or more than one!) where your special kid will be a superstar.  And that’s why each of our clients has his or her own unique college list, one that we help them build, research, narrow and attack, one task at a time.

If this update on the current college admissions landscape sounds intimidating to you, or if you want some help or guidance, please feel free to reach out and contact us.  That’s what we do.

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