College Admissions: Easier or Harder? Or Is That the Wrong Question? page 2

Academic Standards – Making the Grade

Is getting accepted more difficult than in the past? The answer is somewhat complex. Some aspects are easier, some may be harder. First, there is the question of searching for appropriate schools. Then there is the application process. Finally, there is the question of whether it is harder to get into any particular school than in the past. The fact that an increasing percentage of high-school graduates are going on to college does not necessarily mean it is easier to get into any particular school.

Nold-Glaser, says, “I actually think the college search process is becoming easier as students have so many resources literally at their fingertips with many good Internet sites. My favorites include College Navigator – has a great search tool… Inside College website has a ton of lists.” Appel agrees. “I actually think conducting a college search is easier today than in the past because of the easy access to the Internet and all its content: blogs, Facebook and other online websites that would allow high school students to talk to current college students.”

The application procedure itself has become easier as well. The Common Application (a/k/a “Common App”) can be used to apply to over 400 member schools. This streamlines and regularizes the process and makes it possible to apply to a large number of schools using a single procedure. But it remains important for students to consider schools that are appropriate to their particular needs, talents, and level of preparation.

Counselors warn of the perils of name recognition. “Look, we are a market driven economy. A college or university is, at some level, a business. Those running the business are going to make decisions based on the goals of the institution and on an attempt at selecting the best candidates to meet those goals,” says Davis, “I do believe that a large number of students and parents get snagged because of name recognition. While it is true that the most recognizable schools or perceived “top tier” of schools are extremely competitive, this is really nothing new.” Greenbaum adds, “Students and parents are often swayed by the name of a college, or rankings in US News & World Report – which are not the ways to find the colleges that are the best matches.” Nold-Glaser says it is the duty of a counselor to help people “understand the value of investigating colleges based on fit and not name recognition.”

Davis points out that the most prestigious schools are not necessarily the best choices for every student. “Students who are not working and performing at those top levels may not likely be happy and possibly not successful if they fell below those admissions standards. There are any number of wonderful, smaller colleges and universities that would be a better fit in many cases.” Nold-Glaser notes, “We are making strides in helping students and parents understand that the selectivity of colleges doesn't correlate to the quality of experience a student will have on a campus.”

The Internet has streamlined the tasks of finding a list of appropriate schools and the application process. But it is not necessarily easier to get accepted to any one particular school than it was in the past.

Ganjian thinks continually increasing competition makes acceptance more difficult. “Still, students who excel in the most challenging classes available to them, especially those who write effective essays and are actively involved in their school community, will find success in this process. Strong standardized test scores are no longer necessary at many institutions, but they will open up even more options for a student.”

Appel believes the situation hasn’t changed all that much. “Although admissions criteria do change from year to year, the basics stay the same: Has the student proven the ability to balance school with other aspects of life? Has the student demonstrated leadership abilities? Does the student have a solid GPA? And, if not, are there at least signs of steady improvement? Does the student have any skill set that would benefit the student body and alumni population such as sports, music, drama, or other extracurricular activity?”

As for the Ivy-League schools, six out of eight accept only 9% to 13% of applicants, which has changed little over the years. In nearly all cases, those accepted will have graduated high school in the top 10% of their class.3 But although it may be very difficult to get your first school of choice, that does not necessarily mean it is more difficult to get into college, in general. That is a very different consideration. On the one hand, one’s chances of getting into Harvard are as slim as ever. But on the other hand, there is a wider variety of appropriate choices available, including local and online colleges, than ever before.

3 Ivy League College Admission Summary, Admissions Consultants