“I just know that if I was applying to my college today there is no way they would let me in!”
I am not sure how much truth there is to that statement, but I can tell you as an educational consultant and a parent of two HS students, it is a common refrain among the 40-something crowd. Maybe we say it as a point of pride in our alma mater’s selectivity that has grown since we graduated, or maybe it is a way to negate the soul-sucking fear we have for our own children as they enter the process.
Very little feels the same about applying to college, and that can be incredibly unnerving. The whole thing is very different than it was 20-30 years ago (so is basically everything else our kids are growing up with). Here are a few highlights of what has changed.
1. The Common Application
I often tell high school kids that the only thing I had to worry about when I applied to college was whether or not the application required blue or black ink. As with most 1980s throwback references the kids respond with a polite, yet confused, half smile-stare combo…You filled out applications by hand? Archaic, I know.
The Common Application concept was born in the 1970s with 15 members schools. Today over 500 colleges and universities use the on-line system which certainly streamlines the process and saves time for the applicants. No more hand cramps from writing your home address 8 separate times – now with a click of a button information is shared seamlessly with schools. As a result the average high school senior today applies to 10-12 schools whereas the norm used to be 3-4.
2. Social Media
We are all glad it didn’t exist when we went to college, right? It exists now, and every high school student needs to know that colleges and universities can (and often do) browse through an applicant’s on-line presence. Social media isn’t reserved for just the kids, however. It is a powerful marketing tool for colleges and universities to showcase their institution. It’s a rabbit hole that is hard to dig out of once you enter. Viewer beware – not all “accounts” are sanctioned by the actual school…
3. Standardized Testing
Did you throw up a little in your mouth? I did. Test scores are bantered about at cocktail parties, the lunch table in the school cafeteria, and on the sports fields. Kids carry around these invisible numbers, and trust me when I say they weigh heavily on their shoulders. Based on some conversations I have had, they weigh heavily on parents as well…and not in a good way.
Did we spend hours and hours doing test prep? Probably not. Take the tests over and over and over again? Rarely. Subject tests? Didn’t exist. Test optional schools? Score choice? Nope. Nope.
It is important to be strategic about standardized testing including understanding the nuisances of each test, the style of your child as a test taker, when to test, with whom to do test prep and the testing requirements for all of the schools being applied to.
So what’s the game plan? Focus on the school that is the best fit, not the brand name. Be realistic when building a list of schools and listen to your child. Ask a lot of questions, seek help from people who are the experts in the field (Want to know who they are? Read our post about educational consultants here) and feel secure in the notion that while important, college is just the next step in your child’s life – not the last one.
Garrett Rohr Educational Consulting, LLC is a full-service, academic consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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