Last week we got two very critical and telling sets of data that give us a lot of insight both into this year’s college applicants’ chances and into the impact that the changes afoot in Admissions and Financial Aid will have on future applicants.

The first set of information comes from a higher education symposium sponsored by the Private Colleges and Universities of Florida (PCUF) that I participated in last Friday. Also in attendance:all 24 of Florida’s private colleges and many other guidance counselors from across South Florida.

Three topics dominated our discussion:

  1. The soon-to-be-released-yet-delayed Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success;
  2. The changes in standardized testing; and
  3. The upcoming transition to “prior prior” year review with financial aid applications.

The conversations surrounding all three changes were marked by uncertainty, and I had intended to share the highlights and my analysis here. But then Early Decision announcements for 12th graders began rolling out… and those numbers changed my intention.

Note: For those who are interested in the symposium findings, Jill and I will be hosting a live web-based lecture/discussion specifically for our 11th, 10th and 9th grade families on Tuesday, Dec 22 at noon ET/ 9am PT. During that call, we will take a much closer look at all three issues.

So, what do the early acceptance returns tell us about what we can expect for regular College Admit Rates this Spring? In a word – LOW – as in that’s what they’ll be! But in reality, it’s far more nuanced than a word.

To start, it’s important to point out that Early Decision Acceptance Rates (Admit Rates) are typically nearly double those of ALL admissions categories combined. For example, if Brown University accepted 22% of its early decision applicants (which it did), we would expect to see an 11% overall Admit rate for Brown’s Class of 2020. For that to happen, we can reasonably expect Brown’s ‘regular decision’ acceptance rate (for the general applicant pool) to be in the low single digits.

As of this writing, only a handful of schools had reported: Harvard (15%), Univ. of Pennsylvania (23.2%), Princeton (18%), Stanford (10%), Duke (23.5%), Johns Hopkins (30%) among them. Notable thus far, Stanford has the LOWEST Early Admit rate, Penn’s Early Decision rate is down (again) and Duke’s early decision acceptance rate hit a record low. These numbers appear to be true at all colleges (including Public universities) with any variety of rolling or ‘priority’ action admissions options (e.g., FSU, Georgia). This is in line with our expectation.

Ok Pete, but what does this mean for me (my child)?

Good question. Here’s my answer:

First, I don’t believe that the colleges are actually accepting FEWER early decision applicants (that number tends to be a constant). Rather what I believe that we are seeing is a record number of Early Decision applicants. (If the pool grows, and the number accepted remains the same, the Admit rates drop). This bump would be consistent with the bump we’ve seen for years in the number of college Applicants and Applications overall. Folks, Application Inflation is real and it’s spreading to the ED categories.

Clearly colleges are doing a heck of job marketing to students, engaging them earlier in the process (hello, Coalition), enticing them to apply early – perhaps capitalizing on the general mania and hyper competitiveness of the college Admissions process, or trafficking on the fear of the unknown.

Second, in addition to allowing us to make some inferences about a college’s name recognition or the size of its marketing budget, these numbers do tell us about your child’s odds of acceptance.

To be blunt, nothing is assured in college admissions. Of the 7,297 Early Decision applicants at Stanford – or the 585 at Williams College – somewhere between 82% and 92% had identical grades and scores.

We have been preaching this for years, but it’s nice to have data to back up our assertion that the best admissions strategy is one that gives your child the most options to choose from in April. You are looking to marry the right MATCH, find the best FIT (academically, aspirationally and financially) among the many good college options. You should not be falling in love with ONE school (you’re too young). That’s why you have to ‘shop around’ early in high school. (Remember, they’re shopping you).

Many colleges will meet your budget, have the type of educational experience and the type of educational outcome that your child should be expecting. You just have to know where to look, what to do and then act accordingly.

We spend a lot of time strategically with our families, beginning early in high school, setting and balancing needs with expectations.. and then we do everything we can to ensure that our students are properly positioned to exceed expectations and have their needs met.

It is an intentional and deliberate process…and it’s why all of our students are prepared to Apply Early to college, but only 5% APPLY EARLY DECISION (which, while slightly more admit rate friendly is far too restrictive to have any real leverage later).

Restrictive early decision is only appropriate for a few students – which is why (and caution – shameless pat on our their backs) 90% of our student’s who did, got in and got great financial offers to boot.

Here are a sampling of some of just this past week’s EDs, earlies and initial 4-year per student awards (note some of these schools accepted and made offers to more than one of our students – the award amounts shown reflect the average GRANT/SCHOLARSHIP amount offered to each student):

Congrats, Mazel Tov and more to come!

Boston University ($47,000)
Vanderbilt ($54,000)
Yale University (award pending)
Stetson ($35,000 x 4)
Tulane ($32,000 x 4)
University of Pennsylvania (award pending)
Ursinas ($25,250 x 4)
FSU ($2,400 x 4)

If you’re the parent of an 11th, 10th, or 9th grader, you want options! To get them, the time to start the admissions and financial planning process is NOW. Waiting another year is not helpful, and in fact it can hurt your child’s chances at gaining an edge, and your chances at accessing the precious financial aid dollars (we’re talking about free money, or institutional grants and scholarships).

If you’re in South Florida, one way to get started, and get your 2016 off to a smart start, is to register for (and attend) my upcoming class.

Best wishes,
— Peter (and Jill)

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