Applying to College In Another Age


Writer, College Admissions Counselor

“It was so easy to apply to college when I did it.” This is something I hear daily from parents across the country. Sure, a generation ago, we took the SAT once with no SAT II Subject Exams. Most of us applied to just one maybe two colleges using a black pen and paper and we snail mailed it. We really didn’t give it much thought after that. College was cheap. My first semester at UCLA was $150. Students that were qualified academically were accepted. So, what happened? Population growth as Baby Boomers’ kids reach college age, influx of international students, the Internet and the complexity of the college admissions process are some factors that contribute to the admission frenzy that now exists.

For parents to better understand this process, they should walk through it and learn what is involved.

Examine an application — Just see what is required to click that submit button. I understand universities need the information to make distinctions and decisions. However, the intricacy of the application is often difficult if not impossible for students to complete without proper guidance. The fact is that many students do not know all the current application requirements, options, statistics or what universities want to know. Reading any university website on what the school wants in their applicant pools, clearly demonstrates the vague nature of how admission officials make their decisions. There are factors in admission that change from year to year. What are the different ways to apply? Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive First Choice Early Action? Rolling Admissions? Who is explaining this in the high schools? Other factors students must know when applying to college include standardized tests — what tests to take where and when? And how to prepare… What are the differences in the college requirements? Who takes the ACT? SATI? Which universities require the SAT Subject Exams and how many of these? Are they optional? required? Students also need to know how to register for the exams. Look at the number of supplements and additional essays required by schools on the Common Application. Just how common are these applications anyway?

Then there are those recommendations — how many and for which school? Who should I give them to? What should I include? Should I send the universities supplemental recommendations? When should I submit them? What should I fill out? Do I waive my right to see them? These are just a few of the questions I get from students all the time. There are also Midyear Reports. Many students have never seen this before. What do I do with them?

There’s the brag sheet or list of extracurricular activities and honors and awards received in high school. Students need to know how to present those. Students want to know how to best state their activities. One of my students recently gave me a near twenty page extracurricular list answering numerous excellent and specific questions. Unquestionably, this gives any reader a clear sense of this student. However, who would read this at the university level. Students are given approximately ten short lines to list years of experience and accomplishments. They are entitled to know how to maximize this space.

Essay questions are a significant source of concern to students. Just what are these admission officers looking for? There are those questions that are amazingly specific — quoting legendary philosophers that have students decipher the content and then connect it all on a personal level. To do all this in anywhere from 100 to 600 words depending on the institution is yet an additional skill. We hear too that essays should be in story format, creative and wonderfully intriguing. Most recently, I heard an admission officer state that they often read the first and last paragraph and then decide whether or not to read the rest. Students generally do not learn to write first person essays like this in high school. Realize too that many applications require three to four essays… some long, some short — but nevertheless all different.

High school athletes also need guidance regarding NCAA rules and requirements — how and when to contact coaches and where to go for information.

If universities are requesting and requiring all these components, students are entitled to know what to do and what it all means. As long as most schools do not provide the adequate guidance, admissions remains a complicated process. Competition for select spots continues to increase along with the need and demand for private college consultants.

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