High School 2 College

February 17, 2010

Latest Trends in College Acceptance and How 9th, 10th, and 11th Graders Can Take Advantage

I’ve been reading articles lately about how this year was supposed to be the year that it would be easier to get into college.

This year:

  • there are fewer seniors, statistically
  • the economy is bad, so fewer students should be going to college
  • colleges should be looking for more students to ease their own financial troubles

So far, though, it hasn’t at all been easier to get into college. In fact, in my own area of northern Westchester in New York, fewer qualified students have gotten into their first choice schools than in my recent memory.

What’s going on? And is there anything that high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can do to make it more likely that they will be able to get into a “decent” college?

I believe there are several causes for the seemingly tough time kids are having getting into college this year.

Problem: First of all, more kids are applying to more colleges earlier. Kids are getting sophisticated about the early decision process.  Once magazines like U.S. News and World Report started publishing statistics showing that greater percentages of kids got into a given college if they apply early decision, even MORE kids felt compelled to apply early decision.  Then several colleges added “early action” to the mix, a non-binding early application/early response option.  Now most kids apply to at least one early decision college and as many early action colleges as they can.

Advice for current high school students: There’s no point in trying to buck this trend. You, too, will have to apply to some colleges early action or early decision, so begin to explore colleges – at least online or at college fairs – in 10th grade or in the fall of 11th grade.  By the summer before senior year, you should have contacted at least 20 schools online and have seen several schools in person.

Problem: Last year, the pundits all said that kids wouldn’t be applying early decision because they would need to wait to compare financial aid packages.  But the press has been so pessimistic about financial aid that many parents presume they won’t get much financial help and are encouraging their children to apply for schools that the parents can afford at the stated tuition rates.  And to have the best chance of getting some help from some place, kids are applying to a wide variety of schools.

Additional problem: Since money is tight, many parents are having their kids apply to many schools that the students have not seen or thoroughly investigated because travel is just too costly.

Advice for parents of current high school students: Encourage your student to apply to a several schools that are safety schools. If the school wants you more than you want that school, they’ll try to entice you with money.  But not all safety schools are equal. Prioritize what you want in a school: Are you willing to give up prestige for a good financial aid package?  Are you willing to go a little further from home?  Are you willing to accept a bigger school than your ideal?  What matters most to you and what are you willing to compromise on?

Smart college choices include plenty of out-of-state state schools. For New York students, check out the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers (particularly affordable), the University of Vermont, Towson University and others.  These schools charge more to out-of-state students (which helps the colleges’ bottom line), but that’s less than a private school might cost.  With an out-of-state state university, you’ll get all the distance you need from your parents and all the educational excellence without costing them their retirement fund.

Make up for fewer college trips with more online investigation. Take advantage of college fairs.  Make sure you talk to college reps when they come to your high school (ask your guidance counselor for a schedule for your high school).  When you do visit colleges, try to visit at least one school from each category:  large, small, urban, suburban or rural.

Problem: Kids are being too self-indulgent (read: lazy and unfocused) when it comes to after-school activities.  Kids tell me that they don’t join more clubs because they’re tired after school.  Kids tell me the clubs aren’t interesting enough.  Kids tell me they want to go to sleep away camp because that’s where their friends are, or they want to hang out with their friends over the summer.  That’s lovely, but it won’t get you into college.  When kids are involved in activities, those activities often scattered, unrelated to a students’ potential college major or career interest, and temporary.  Dance and soccer are sweet, but won’t really help you get into college unless you plan on majoring in dance or sports management.

Advice for kids grade 9 and up: You DO need activities to get into a college you can be proud of.  You need to find something you like and stick with it for 3 – 4 years.  Sports are good, but not enough.  Student government is unimpressive to most colleges.  Merely belonging to a community service group like Key Club won’t get you into school.  Join a few groups, see what you like, and become the president of that group.  Or strike out on your own and start something new.  Get your name in the paper for starting a town-wide donation program to something important.  Get some friends together and raise money to replace all your school’s light bulbs with more “green” bulbs.

Most valuable advice for planning for the future: Your activities have to match your college or career plans. That’s tough to do in 9th grade, but you need to think that far in advance.  So if it’s likely that you’ll be studying something in the sciences, do science research in high school.  Your after school activities should have something to do with science or math. Join the math club or the math olympics.  Your volunteer work should have something to do with science, too.  Volunteer to run a 6-week after school science club for elementary-school aged kids.  Your paid work should have something to do with science, too.  Work in a pet store.  Be the nature counselor at a summer camp. Get it?  You need to have a focus, and every activity you do must build on that focus. Does that feel forced or phony to you?  Well, how badly do you want to be able to choose among good colleges rather than be stuck with something closer to the bottom of your list?

This article summarizes what I’ve been reading all over the place:  too many kids applying to too many schools for too few spaces.  But you can apply smarter if you plan ahead.

Wendy Segal

UPDATE:  Another article on high number of applications.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Here’s an article about Stanford’s record number of applications.  This article says the reason for the increase may be the poor economy —  jobs are so hard to get, students understand they need a good education to compete.  I’d also add that the job prospects are so poor, students might as well go to college rather than try to find a job.

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February 2, 2010

What To Do While You Wait To Hear

This is a rough time for high school seniors. (Don’t close this post yet, juniors. You’ll be here in exactly one year, and it’s good to know what to expect.)   There’s the flurry of panicked and pressured activity in the fall to get those early decision applications in.  Then there’s the second burst of activity for all those regular decision applications.  By now, you’ve probably heard from your early decision schools.  And you may have even heard from some rolling admission schools.

Now what? Now you wait.  While you’re waiting, read some advice I’ve collected over the years to pass on to students like you.

First of all, read this article from Forbes.com about what colleges look for in an application and how many really qualified kids don’t get in.

It’s important to know that if a college says “no,” it’s not saying that you aren’t an appropriate candidate for the school.  It’s not saying you’re not smart enough, or pretty enough, or athletic enough.  The “sorry to inform you” email merely means they’ve got enough smart, pretty, athletic kids from New York, or they wanted to round out their orchestra with a French horn player but you play the oboe, or they already have too many psychology majors.

According to this New York Times article, we should have pity on the poor colleges who have to choose.  Admissions counselors have too many qualified applicants for too few spots.  The author interviews admissions counselors who talk a little about their work load at this time of year and how they make decisions. (Juniors, pay attention!)

So when a college finally says yes, you can relax, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, the colleges that said yes want you to say yes back to them. As this New York Times article says, now is the time that colleges really turn on the charm.   Among the factors that determine which colleges are ranked close to the top and which are ranked farther down the list is a statistic called “yield,” the number of students who actually enroll from among the ranks of those who were accepted.  Harvard’s yield is very high — almost everyone who gets into Harvard goes there.  Your safety school probably has a lower yield — nearly everyone who applies will get in, but not many will wind up going to that school.  Yield makes a school look sought after, so now that the college said yes, it will do everything it can to get you to enroll.  That can make it hard to decide.  (If you need a little help sorting out the pros and cons of specific schools, feel free to email me with questions.)

With all those colleges wooing you, you might think you’ve really made it and you can finally relax. I don’t want to be a party-pooper or a buzz-kill, but you should read this LA Times article about how UCLA and other schools do withdraw acceptances from students whose grades slip too much.  And this New York Times article, entitled “Slackers, Beware” echoes the same warning.

If your grades had been all A’s and you drop down to a B+/A- , you’re probably fine.  But if your A’s are now C’s — or heaven forbid, D’s — you need to know that colleges can and do change their minds about letting you enroll.

But that won’t happen to any of MY students, right?  So take a deep breath, laugh at the juniors who are slaving away, and keep up the good work while you wait.

When you DO hear from schools, please don’t forget to let me know where you applied and which schools said no and which said yes.  I use that information to help next year’s students, just like I used the information from previous years to help you.  Thanks!

Wendy Segal

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