First Generation American asks:
How has searching and applying for colleges changed since we went? I am realizing my experience may not be relevant anymore and I don’t even know what the metrics are. Like this whole new trend of many kids not being accepted into their “safe” schools.
So, for us, we were right on the cusp of the common application revolutionizing college applications and early decision/early action were just starting out as things at top schools. Weighted GPAs and more credit for AP and honors classes were also starting to catch on. If you’re just a little bit older than us, then YES, the application process has changed a LOT. If you’re our age or younger, then it’s like what you went through, just more so.
So what does that mean?
1. If your kids are aiming for a top state school, look at your state laws/rules to see if they have a top X% rule. IIRC University of Michigan got sued for affirmative action policies and that spurred some states to try automatic acceptance for people who are in the top % (initially top 10%, but that number has dropped in many states for their flagship universities) of their high school graduating class. This change has caused some parents to move their (privileged, white) kids to lower income districts for high school or the last few years of high school in order to maximize the chance that they’re in that top X%. I’m not sure if that’s overall a good thing or not. Class rank is thus more important for getting into a top flagship school than it used to be. Currently because that X has been dropped at most schools you can still get in if you’re cool in other ways, but when it was a binding constraint, flagships could only let in people who met that criteria because they took all available slots.
2. Early decision/Early action is very important for selective schools. This has basically moved when kids apply for colleges much earlier than it used to be. (At the same time, a lot of lower ranked schools have been struggling and have rolling admissions, so you may be able to wait until May if you just want to go to any college.)
3. If you’re aiming for selective schools, you’re going to want to apply to LOTS of colleges if the early decision thing doesn’t work out. (And you may be applying to lots of colleges early action.)
4. There are still some selective schools that require you to do their special application, but many let you just do the common app. That makes it easier to apply to many schools, but also you get judged more on a single essay rather than having the chance to answer different questions and maybe have one of those stick. Still, many selective schools now have add-ons to the common app.
5. If you’re in a school district with weighted GPAs, you have to be careful about what classes your kid takes in order to keep their GPA up. For DC1, it would have been GPA optimal to do marching band instead of orchestra because the first two years of both are 4.0, but marching band *also* counts as the PE requirement, whereas DC1 has to take another 4.0 PE semester which will drag hir GPA down even if zie gets 100% in it. (The guidance counselor told DC1 to take a study hall instead of another PE so as not to hurt hir GPA further.)
6. All the other stuff about having to be excellent at extra-curriculars and competitions, sports being helpful, being famous for something, your parents donating a building, etc. All those things still help just like they did before. I haven’t heard about students not getting into their safety schools, unless that means they’re not getting into the flagship state school because they’re ranked 10th percentile at a super fancy public school in a state where only the top 6 or 8% of each public school get in. There are cases in the past where people have gotten into Harvard but not into Berkeley. But maybe they’re misjudging what a safety school is (not uncommon in the past either!)
7. One really big thing that is different: before the pandemic a lot more schools were starting to drop standardized tests like the SAT/ACT in the hopes of encouraging more diverse applicant pools. This process accelerated during the pandemic and subject tests are disappearing/have disappeared. I don’t know if this is going to stick or if it’s going to continue, but for someone wanting to go to a selective school, you still want to maximize those SAT/ACT scores. You’re still going to want to try for National Merit. (And National Merit has gotten harder to get in many states because it’s been hitting ceilings.) But DH’s relative’s kids can get into state schools now that they were prevented from getting in before because of low standardized test scores.
Otherwise, I’m not really sure what’s different. We will find out in a couple of years!
Grumpy Nation– do you have any better knowledge? Have any of you recently been through this process on either side of the market? Do you have any suggestions for new books on the process? I know that we have an occasional commenter who is an admissions officer at my alma mater…