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

College Admissions: Easier or Harder? Or Is That the Wrong Question? Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

By Evan Jones
April 2011

What’s the deal with college these days? Is it more difficult to get in? Are admissions standards consistent? And what about non-traditional options like online learning? This is the first of a three-part series in which we interviewed seven professionals: five college counselors, a college coach, and a motivational speaker. I thank them for their thoughtful responses and regret only that I do not have the space available to quote them in full.

The first question we asked was: “Is finding and getting into an appropriate college harder than in the recent past, either because of costs or admissions criteria?”

Skyrocketing College Costs

Kamala Appel, www.collegeadmissionstips.com, a former recruiter for the Office of Admissions at Yale, and member of the California Association of School Counselors, thinks that while it is fair for colleges to charge enough to be competitive, things have gone too far. “The steadily rising tuition at state and private universities is appalling to me. This has been a problem since the mid-1980s. I have read about attempts to bring a class action suit against some of the renowned private universities for collusion. I have never read about any case actually going all the way to trial and winning.” She adds, “I think this is probably the biggest challenge facing families in terms of sending a child to college or attending college.” She advises parents to start planning for their child’s college education before the child is born, if they can.

Derrick Hays, President of WOE (Word of Encouragement) Enterprises, agrees that some students may be priced out of the market. “I think it is harder now to get into an appropriate college than in the recent past. I believe this is due to the increase in cost.” Pam Foreman, a veteran NYC high school guidance counselor, says, “Yes, I do agree that getting into an appropriate college is harder now than the past and it is due to both admission criteria and cost.”

It is true that the price of a college education has increased. As we have previously reported, over the past 45 years, the cost of public colleges has increased by 88% and by 138% for private colleges, after factoring in inflation.1 While it is true that incomes have also increased, the additional cost is a considerable burden.

Finding Solutions

On the other hand, there are options available today that did not exist in 1965. For one thing, financial aid is more widely available. Colleen Ganjian, founder of DC College Counseling, agrees that cost is an increasing obstacle, but points out, “Families should not, however, be turned off by the “sticker price” of any college, because financial aid and scholarship money can sometimes make an expensive private institution more affordable than the in-state option.” Dr. Jill Greenbaum, a college coach and president of Major In You, agrees. “Costs are certainly an issue in this economy, though quite honestly there are many scholarships available today – more than in the past, but it takes work to find them.”

Sometimes you have to settle for what is available and affordable. Ann Davis, a private college counselor in the Atlanta area, says, “I chose to go to a school that made sense financially for me, not the most prestigious school where I was admitted. … No one is forcing a student to take out student loans that will be an undue burden.” She looks not only at the cost side, but that of potential benefit: “Yes, it’s expensive. You are making an investment hoping for a long-term payout. If you need to work over summers and breaks, if you need to work part time during school, and, if you need to consider a less expensive option to make it work, those are real life, grown-up decisions that you have to make. Many of us have done that.” And the benefits are likely to be substantial: the average college graduate is expected to earn $2.1 million over a lifetime of work as compared with $1.2 million for those with a high-school diploma, alone.2

Claire Nold-Glaser, president of College Planning Help, and former high-school counselor, is roughly on the same page. “Leaving college debt free is not a goal I seek for students. The things I’m proudest of in my life are the things I’ve had to work the hardest for, so paying for college can be a source of pride, but it’s a challenge, for sure.”

There are other choices than conventional college. One thing to consider is the cost savings of online education. Yes, it is true that some online universities are more expensive than the average in-state community college tuition, such as University of Phoenix ($550 per credit plus $90 per course), but some, such as Colorado State University and Capella University charge less than $330 per credit. For under $100 a month (plus $39 per 3- or 4-credit course,) it is even possible to take ACE recommended courses through non-accredited providers of online college courses such as StraighterLine and then transfer the credits to their accredited partner schools. The online college option also saves you room, board, and/or commuting costs. (We feel it is only fair to point out that not all the experts we interviewed approve of for-profit, online, or non-accredited provider alternatives. More on that in part 3.)


1 Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting institutions, by type and control of institution: 1964-65 through 2008-09, Institute of Education Science, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Education, table 334 http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_334.asp

2 Brooks C. Holtom (Pro), Tony Brummel (Con) College Is Worth the Cost, The earning potential and variety of opportunities a bachelor’s degree bestows justify the cost of tuition. Pro or con? Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mar 2010 http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2010/03/college_is_worth_the_cost.html