The more things change…

At one of our Collegewise Back to School Nights last week, we were discussing how much pressure kids (and parents) are feeling surrounding the college admissions process today.  A father asked this question.

"When I was in high school, I only applied to two colleges, and got in to both of them.  What's changed?"

It's a good question.  Why are colleges so hard to get into now?  What's caused all this change?

On the one hand, a lot has changed.  There are more kids are applying to college today than ever before (we're just finishing the post-baby boom, with over 3 million kids graduating from high school this year).  And unfortunately, a lot of them want to go to the same 40 schools, schools whose capacity for students hasn't changed much, if at all.  So the applicant pool is growing, but the number of spots at the most selective colleges has remained the same.  It's the law of supply and demand at work, and that's very different from the college admissions landscape of 20-30 years ago. 

But at the same time, not a lot has changed.

A student can still take the SAT just once and accept whatever score he
gets.  He can still apply to just two colleges, get in to both of them,
and go to one.  And he can do all this without perfect grades, perfect
test scores, or a legal proof that he invented photosynthesis. 

But he just can't do that if the two schools are Georgetown and
Northwestern.  Or Amherst and Williams.  Or Berkeley and UCLA.  Or
Stanford and Yale.  Or Swarthmore and Tufts.  Or Columbia and Cornell.  Or Boston College and Notre Dame.  Or Duke and Michigan.  Or any of the other schools that reject 60-90% of their applicants.   

The competition for admission has changed dramatically at the nation's most selective
colleges.  But there are over 2,000 other colleges from which to choose
and all but about 100 of them accept almost all of their applicants.

It's up to you.  You can buy into the thinking that a more selective college means a better education and the promise of a successful life beyond college (we'll disagree, but you can believe it).  Or you can spend more time finding the right college for you where you'll be happy and successful, one who will gladly take a kid who doesn't necessarily have straight A's, where your potential to contribute is worth as much or more to them than your grades and test scores are. 

Not everything has changed since Mom and Dad applied to college.