As a parent, you have probably started a sentence with the phrase, “When I was in school.” While sharing real-life experiences can provide valuable wisdom for your kids, college admissions has changed dramatically since you were a teen. The college admissions process can be overwhelming for both parents and students, which is why understanding how college admissions has changed will help your student get the acceptance letters he or she wants.
More young adults than ever are attending college, and today the average high school student applies to four colleges. Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in United States colleges more than doubled; by October 2015, nearly 70 percent of American high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities.
In fact, the competition for acceptance to elite colleges is fiercer than ever. To illustrate the problem: the acceptance rate for Harvard’s class of 1994 was 18 percent; for the class of 2015, the acceptance rate was just over 6 percent.
While some top-ranked universities and state flagship schools have become more challenging to get into, the average acceptance rate at most four-year colleges and universities has remained stable at about 65 percent nationwide. Overall, nearly 80 percent of ranked schools accept more than half of students who apply. That means that there is a place somewhere for nearly any student who wants to go to a four-year college or university.
Since 1981, college prices have risen five times faster than family incomes. A whopping 68 percent of students who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in 2015 had student loan debt. Before college, your student needs to apply for financial aid and scholarships—and then continue applying each year of his or her education.
Even the college application process is expensive! The average cost for a college application is $50, and some schools charge nearly $100 to apply. When your student is applying to multiple colleges, those costs can add up quickly. Of course, there are ways your student can eliminate expensive college application costs. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch services in high school can begin by asking about college application fee waivers. Most colleges have information about fee waivers on their websites. Students can even get waivers for applying online, visiting colleges, or being related to alumni.
Colleges determine a family’s financial need using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Everyone should complete the official government financial aid application (FAFSA), but some students may also need to fill out the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which more than 300 colleges, professional schools, and scholarship programs require to award institutional financial aid and scholarships. Students who need help applying for financial aid or finding waivers should reach out to their school counselors. In fact, many high schools have counseling offices dedicated to college and career preparation, staffed with expert counselors who guide students through the college application maze.
It is easier than ever to apply to colleges: a major reason students are applying to more schools. Students have several options when it comes to college application platforms. The Common Application is one popular choice. When the Common Application started in the 1970s, there were only 15 member colleges. Now, with more than 700 universities using the application, it is a prominent part of the college admissions process. The Common Application streamlines the application process by allowing students to apply to multiple schools at once.
But not all schools accept the Common App, and the list is always changing. Other application options include the Coalition Application and the Universal College Application. Some schools even have their own school or university system-specific applications. For example, the University of California system has its own application, and it is the only platform accepted by UC schools. ApplyTexas.org serves as the common application for state schools and some private universities in Texas. Students can visit a college’s website to determine which applications are accepted.
There are several things your student will need to know or have completed before he or she begins applying for college. In addition to basic information, your student will need extracurricular activity information, money for an application fee, a high school transcript, recommendation letters if required, standardized testing scores, and college essays if required. See college and university websites, which detail specific requirements for recommendation letters and essays.
Many parents remember taking either the SAT® test or ACT® test, but maybe not both. Now, all colleges will accept either test, so it is in the student’s best interest to try both tests. Colleges and universities will accept the highest scores, and preparation for one test will provide some benefit on the other.
The SAT® test changed in 2016, so it isn’t the test many parents remember. In fact, it now looks similar to the ACT® test in many ways. The SAT® test has made its essay portion optional and scores it separately. There is no longer a guessing penalty on the SAT® test, meaning that students should answer every question even if they aren’t sure of their answer.
The ACT® test has a much faster pace than the SAT® test and includes a separate science section which can be hard for some students. The ACT® test also has an optional writing portion, which contains three different perspectives on an issue that the student is asked to evaluate and compare with his or her perspective. The essay is also scored separately. When students receive their ACT® test scores, in addition to the usual individual and composite scores, they also receive scores describing performance in categories such as STEM, career readiness, and English language arts.
Summer SAT® Test and ACT® Test Dates
Summer test dates allow students to finish standardized testing early and move on to college applications. This means that many students can start to apply to college the summer before their senior year. In 2017 the College Board announced a nationwide summer SAT® test administration beginning with an August 2017 test date. Before August of 2017, the last August tests administered were in the early 1960s. The August test date replaces the January administration, which had been held for many years.
The ACT® test then made its announcement that the first summer ACT® test date would be administered in July 2018. The new ACT® test date increased the number of administrations of the ACT® test from six to seven.
Every university and college has its own application deadline, but they may start earlier than parents realize. Some colleges may also have early action or early decision deadlines as early as November 30.
Regular college application deadlines vary widely, but many schools have deadlines in December or January. Encourage your student to start his or her essay writing in the summer. You might counsel your student to approach teachers about writing a recommendation letter early, giving the teachers plenty of time. Give the teachers a resume as well, filled with your student’s academic and extracurricular information, so teachers have significant material with which to work. As with every part of the application process, it is important to start early and be thorough.
While the college admissions process can be overwhelming, you can prepare by understanding the six ways college admissions has changed since you were a teen. Mark important dates on your calendar, and help your teen gather the items needed for college applications. Don’t let your student wait until the last minute to submit his or her college application. Things can get lost in cyberspace, and colleges are often processing thousands of pieces of information in the final days. Always confirm that everything has been received by the college and that the application is complete.
Following our application guidance will lead to greater chances of success for your student. Wherever your teen is in the college preparation process, we can help. Contact KD College Prep to connect with a Director who can provide the personalized guidance you need.