Thursday, April 3, 2008

If You’re a Junior in High School Now -- Don’t Panic About College Acceptances

Today The Wall Street Journal had it annual doom-and-gloom article about how low the college acceptance rates were this year at prestigious colleges and how many high school seniors didn’t get into the schools to which they applied (“Bad News U: Colleges Reject Record Numbers” by Anjali Athavaley).

Here’s a reader beware caution: You almost have to have a degree in mathematics and the mind of a copyeditor to truly understand the numbers behind the alarming headline.

Yes, the acceptance percentage rates are down at some prestigious schools. But this does NOT necessarily mean a smaller number of students has been accepted this year. These schools had higher application numbers this year, which affects the percentage of applicants accepted.

Simple math – if you accept 10% of 20,000 students applying one year, that’s 2,000 students. If you take the same 2,000 students out of a larger applicant pool of 24, 000 students, that’s only 17% of applicants accepted. BUT THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS ADMITTED TO THE FRESHMAN CLASS IS STILL THE SAME – 2,000!

The reasons applications are up so high include:

  • elimination of early decision programs at some prestigious schools
  • larger number of students graduating high school and going on to college
  • the push for students to “apply at 10 to 12 schools, with some applying to as many as 20,” according to the Journal article

This trend for students to apply to so many schools is something with which I heartily disagree. Colleges know students are applying to so many schools, and colleges have an emphasis on yield (the percentage of admitted students who actually attend a college).

This means it is vitally important for colleges to be on the lookout for which students really mean the statement “This college is my first choice” and other such college application essay statements – and which students are using computer software to insert these statements in 20 applications.

Hold on a minute! Of course, students should not put all their eggs in one basket, or even three baskets. I think students should apply to six to eight colleges in a range of “difficulty” in terms of academic level in conjunction with well-considered appreciation of what the student has to offer the university.

Yes, you heard me correctly. What a student has to offer a university and NOT what a university has to offer a student. (It goes without saying that a potential college application list should only include schools that appeal to a student on whatever his/her own list includes – location, size, public or private, etc.)

The topic of what a student has to offer a college deserves its own post. What I want to emphasize here is that students should spend their time writing persuasive applications for six to eight well-chosen colleges – rather than using the scatter-shot approach of applying to 20 colleges in the hopes that some shots will hit the marks.

The normal high school senior just does not have enough time to do a good job of persuasively applying to so many schools. He/she should put in the time “up front” to carefully choose, and then do the best job possible applying to his/her well-chosen list.

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