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Published April 23rd, 2014
Taking Charge of College Admission
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an independent college advisor who draws upon 25 years of higher education experience to help guide and support the college admissions process for students and their families. Dr. LaScala is a member of NACAC, WACAC and HECA. She can be contacted at (925) 891-4491 or elizabeth@doingcollege.com. Visit www.doingcollege.com for more information about her services.

Many parents can recall the days when they applied to one, or perhaps two or three colleges, got accepted to their first choice school, and were done. Today, when over 12 million readers across the nation eagerly await the release of the annual August issue of US News and World Report on college rankings, those days seem far behind us and the college admission process is unduly stressful. There are many reasons why this is so. First, high school graduation rates are up in 46 states. According to the June 6, 2013 "Education Week" (http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2013/06/06/index.html?intc=EW-DC13-LNAV) the nation's high school graduation rate is approaching 75 percent, its highest rate in 40 years. The annual "Diplomas Count" report (http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2013/06/06/index.html) tracks graduation rates across the country and calculated the national average at 74.7 percent for the class of 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Projections indicate these numbers will remain high until at least 2022.
In addition to more high school graduates, the demand for higher education has risen steadily, translating into greater numbers of college applicants. For many, a college degree is viewed as the path to economic security, and studies confirm a strong correlation between lifetime earnings and educational attainment.
On their part, colleges (for reasons related to institutional priorities and college rankings) aggressively reach out to prospective applicants, escalating their marketing efforts to attract large and diverse pools of qualified applicants. Broad student recruitment and direct outreach continue to grow in popularity both nationally and abroad. Schools send students emails, attractive guidebooks and invitations to attend regional college conferences and visit campuses for specially arranged tours. College admissions officers visit local high schools and host booths at college fairs. And, of course, technology makes it easier than ever to access college websites, take virtual tours and prepare college applications. The Common Application, a standardized form that can be completed once and submitted electronically, has also simplified the process; it is currently used by well over 500 member institutions representing 48 states and a handful of European countries, including the United Kingdom.
These trends result in more students applying to more schools than ever before. Yet this is only part of the reason for the increased stress. Digging a bit deeper, we see that the sources of anxiety afflicting many families are fairly limited in scope. Admission stress is most felt by those who are applying to the 50 most prestigious colleges and universities in the country. More students are competing for the same number of freshmen spots at these institutions, so many well qualified applicants are rejected each year. As I frequently and wryly comment, "they [colleges] are pushing for more applications, so they can reject more students."
Unfortunately, heightened media attention on these super selective colleges makes it appear more difficult to gain entry to colleges and universities everywhere. The overall impact on students and parents can be nerve racking. The pressure mounts to take more challenging coursework, register for increasingly earlier test prep, and hire consultants to help students "get into" to the "right" college. College admission has become big business, and students are the consumers. Education begins to be treated as a commodity rather than a public good. The competition creates a game of winners and losers, and the good reasons for getting a college education as well as the quality of that education may become compromised.
There are a few simple guidelines that can help students reclaim the college admission process. First, control what you can control. With all the hype, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is you, the student, who should be highly selective in the college you choose. Students must research and select colleges that meet their interests, needs and academic goals and that their families can afford. Next, plan ahead and start early. Colleges admit students who take grades seriously, challenge themselves and demonstrate consistent involvement in several activities they are truly passionate about. This can include paid employment during summers and breaks or even during the school year if it does not compromise grades or when a family needs the extra cash flow. Taking charge also means taking an honest look at areas for improvement and focusing on these during the high school years. Being a senior is far more fun and rewarding if you prepare the groundwork by doing what needs to be done in the first three years. No matter when you get started, the secret is good organization and planning, taking the right steps at the right time and ultimately applying to colleges that are a good match for you. It is helpful to remember that a good, often a great education can be had at hundreds of schools nationwide, and most of these institutions accept 50 to 80 percent of their applicants.


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