College Admissions 2.0

Arts and Education, Featured Article, Growth and Development

To say that American life was different 20 years ago is a massive understatement. There were still payphones on most city blocks, voice messages were left on answering machine cassettes, and folks had to actually go to friends’ houses to give “status updates.” Technology has changed everything, and in one major area where it’s quite apparent is in the college admissions process.

Parents of today’s college-ready students are largely unprepared for the college application experience. But fear not! We’ve compiled a comprehensive primer to help parents guide their kids into their dream school, circa 2013. It’s college admissions, new millennium-style.

1. Students can apply to multiple schools instantly.

Applying to more than one college used to mean blocking out an entire day (or five!) to pore over numerous paper applications and handwrite the same information over and over and over again. Now, in addition to moving the process online, the Common Application has made it possible for students to apply to their top five schools with one click.

“The Common Application was created to streamline the application process, bolster higher education access and decrease redundancy,” says Savena Allen, undergraduate admissions consultant for Admit Advantage. “There are some schools that require students to complete a school-specific supplement that allows for a more targeted and customized response, as the Common Application itself should not be customized for each individual school.”

And the Common Application isn’t just about convenience. Many universities also like the efficiency of the app and now require students to use it.

2. Competition is fierce.

Thanks to the Common Application and other digital innovations, more students than ever are applying to colleges. As a result, some schools (especially Ivy League universities) are reporting increasingly tighter admission rates.

“The number of high school graduates peaked at 3.3 million in 2009, and

though the number has declined slightly, there are still far more high school graduates each year than there were a decade ago,” says Ashley Zahn, a project manager and blogger for C2 Education, a network of academic support centers. “More graduates means more applicants to college. By 2020, the number of enrolled college students is expected to reach 23 million.”

The secret to getting a jump on the thousands of other students competing for limited enrollment slots is to excel academically, says Allen. “This means choosing the right mix of courses that will both challenge you and allow you to succeed,” she explains. “The more competitive the college, the more advanced courses (AP and honors) they will want to see you excel in.”

Allen also advises students to avoid resume building and instead focus on extracurricular activities that genuinely interest them.  That way, they are more likely to stick with those activities, take leadership roles and perhaps continue in them on the college level.

3. Let colleges come to you.

There is an alternative to competing against thousands of other applicants at the country’s most popular and prestigious schools. Thanks to, the brainchild of Steve Klein, students can actually let interested universities pursue them.

“I conceived after experiencing the college application process with my son,” says Klein.  “He had a great resume and applied to nine top-tier schools but missed getting in to his primary choices.  As we reflected on the experience, I began to wonder about all the other great universities and colleges that he did not apply to.

Through a unique student showcase and proprietary messaging system, students can find and interact with schools that may not have been on their radar previously.

“All students – no matter what their grades – are sought after by colleges,” adds Klein. “But how do you connect with those schools?  You can’t attend every college fair, but you can fill out a application and let schools find you.  Often schools are so interested they offer partial or full scholarships to these applicants.  The student has the right to turn down any offers, but our service exists to extend the reach of both colleges and students.”

4. Students decide which admissions test to take.

It used to be that students in the Midwest took the ACT in preparation for college applications, and students along the coasts took the SAT. Now, most colleges will accept either test.

“Between the ACT and the SAT, most students find that they perform about the same on both tests,” says Anna Ivey, a former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and co-author of How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice That Takes You from LMO (Like Many Others) to Admit (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, August 2013). “However, a significant minority do better on one than on the other. It’s good to do practice versions of both to see if you naturally perform better on one versus the other.”

How students report scores has changed too, adds Ivey: “Score choice” allows repeat testers to only report results from their best test day, while “superscoring” allows students to mix and match the best subscores from different days.

5. Technology is a double-edged sword.

With all of the benefits of technology in the college admissions process, there are also drawbacks. There are numerous cases of professionals being fired from jobs because of questionable comments or photos that they’ve posted to their personal social media profiles, and while we haven’t heard of a student being denied college admission based solely on a tweet or Facebook update (yet), there is evidence that admissions counselors are scanning online profiles of prospective students.

“According to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2013 survey of college admissions officers, for the third straight year, the percentage of college admissions officers who say they have Googled an applicant (29%) or visited an applicant’s Facebook or other social networking page (31%) to learn more about them has increased,” says Christine Brown, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of K-12 and college prep programs. “And 30 percent of those who took to Google or Facebook told us that what they found has negatively impacted an applicant.”

To be clear, checking up on an applicant online isn’t a wide-spread occurrence. Admissions officers simply don’t have the time to do follow-up research on the thousands of applications they receive. But, says Brown, “Admissions officers recognize that the traditional application — the essays, the letters of recommendation — is the polished and edited version of an applicant.  Often what’s found online is the raw version.”

So how can parents ensure that their kids won’t be impacted by a rogue post? Brown’s advice is simple: “Think first, tweet later.”

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