College Pete

Decision Day!

Decision Day!

Last Friday was ‘Decision Day’ for our college-bound high school seniors.  It was a stressful week for many, me included, as offers were weighed, appealed and weighed again.  The good news is that when the dust settled at about 5:30 pm on Friday, the vast majority of our students had been accepted to and received considerable inducements to attend one of their top choices.

The tally:  The overall acceptance rate across the country was 67% according to the NY Times – slightly lower than the 70% I projected, and there was some definite head-scratching, and even outright bizarre turns.  Like students accepted at Brown, but rejected from Vanderbilt; or in at Duke but not Tufts, or in at Indiana but not UCF. 

Nearly every school saw an uptick in the sheer number of applicants.  And even those that didn’t , with very few exceptions, admitted fewer students as a percentage of applicants than they did last year.  The results shouldn’t surprise – especially as more and more schools have begun accepting the Common Application.  In fact, more than 2 million online applications were filed this year – about 20% more than were filed last year.   Other drivers of ‘application inflation’ and the overall decline in the ‘admit rate’ include supply & demand – the largest number of high school students applying to college ever, vying for the same slots at so-called ‘hot’ schools (thank you US News & World Reports); cold winters that made Southern schools like Vanderbilt more geographically desirable than ever;  fatigue (of the admissions officers reading more applications than ever), and state schools that intentionally accepted more out-of-state students to raise their average net revenue.  There are more reasons, obviously, but I want to spend some time telling you what to do about it.

Why Less is More!

More than anything else, what I have seen is, that despite technology or perhaps because of it (see my notes on application inflation above), college admissions — which includes not just who gets in, but what price they’ll pay (list v net) –is a very ‘personal’ process, managed by real people who are moved by emotion and subtleties that are not reflected in scores, GPA or class rank.  What separates two seemingly identical students on paper are intangibles like the student’s demonstrated interest in a school, expressed career aspirations, potential contributions on campus, their ability to move the needle on the school’s competitiveness, etc. 

In nearly every case that I was involved in, the students who received the best awards were those whose families were able to effectively and sufficiently demonstrate three things: Need, Value AND Desire.  For students who had made a personal connection with the school in some way, I saw money found quite literally in the 11th hour.   

So, in a crowded field, the importance of niche positioning cannot be underestimated.    What I mean is that instead of defensively submitting more applications to ‘cover your bases’, even if  technology makes it enticing to do so,  it’s far more efficient to build a targeted list of 8-10 schools that you know in advance will consider your demonstrated financial need, find value in your student (be it academically, socially or even geographically), and meet your student’s academic, social and aspirational desires… and then focus your family’s energies on demonstrating those things to those schools. 

The irony is that while there is now more information available than ever – including various school rankings, net cost calculators, ROI estimates, etc.,  the process is becoming more daunting and confusing than ever.  The best advice I can offer is to go for depth over breadth, look beyond the obvious to identify great schools where you’ll be able to leverage your student’s strengths, and to have an integrated admissions strategy that is driven by both the scholarly and the financial by the time your student is in 11th grade.  (For those of you who have rising seniors, I’ve added a special ‘early bird’ admissions prep program to kick start the application process THIS SUMMER, before your student even steps foot into school for their 12th grade year.  Click here for more info.)

Last week I promised to issue a ‘disslist’ of schools that ‘market’ themselves as meeting 100% of a family’s demonstrated need.  I’m going to hold off on that until I am certain that all of my families have submitted and/or withdrawn their acceptances.  My goal is to hand out a list of 60 schools that claim to meet 100% of demonstrated need at tomorrow night’s workshop and then discuss all the ways some of those schools tried to wiggle their way out of that claim.  I’ll also give a few honorable mentions to school’s whose generosity surpassed my expectations. 

If you have a child in high school who plans to apply to college in the next few years – or know of someone who does – please consider joining me tomorrow night at 6:30 at the Upper Campus of The Sagemont School in Weston.  This will be the last class I’m teaching in Broward until next Fall.


P.S. There is no charge to attend the workshop tomorrow night.  However, if you don’t go, it could cost you and your family thousands in lost financial assistance.  The time to take action is NOW, and not when your child is in 12th grade and it could be too late.

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