During my admission counselor days, I was invited by an educational consultant friend each spring to give a talk to her clients, the title of which was always “Secrets from the Admission Office.” For an hour (or so), I outlined to parents and students the admission process as seen through the eyes of admission officers so they would have insight into how their application would be delivered, reviewed, and (hopefully!) accepted and then what the next steps were for accepted students as they narrowed their choices. Along the way, I gave tips, tricks, and hints that were designed to teach students not to think like the high schoolers they were, but to think like savvy college applicants – how to maximize their chances of admission, how parents could avoid annoying admission and financial aid staffers (hint: let your student make the phone calls), and how to keep perspective on the whole crazy process.
Now that I’m on the other side of the desk as an educational consultant myself, I’ve given a modified version of the same speech at the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show as well as to my own clients, but as I’ve thought over it lately, I’ve come to realize that there’s one piece of information I haven’t focused on as much as I perhaps should have – and it’s something that’s becoming more and more pertinent as the years go on.
Here it is:
If you’re a college-bound high school student (or even a junior high student), colleges and universities are talking about you right now.
Please don’t let this information breed paranoia in your life, readers. I don’t mean they’re talking about you specifically (as in, “Can you believe Michelle had a chef salad for lunch? Didn’t she eat the same thing yesterday? And I thought she was trying to go vegan this month…”); I instead refer to ongoing institutional research and the types of conversations that admission directors and enrollment VPs are having about your graduating class in more general terms.
See, here’s the thing: High school graduating classes are shrinking nationwide – a trend that we’ve seen for the last couple of years – which means that, as a result, the size of colleges’ freshman classes are shrinking as well. (Less high school graduates means less traditional college freshmen in the recruiting pool – makes sense, right?) Yet despite the loss of several for-profit colleges and a few smaller colleges and universities (including Sweet Briar College for a time – though it’s reopened for this fall after the alumnae banded together to save it), there are basically the same number of colleges and universities vying for students as there were when the number of high school graduates skyrocketed. Couple that with rising tuition costs (!), a student loan crisis, and a few other newsworthy social and cultural issues linked to the college-going public and you can imagine that it isn’t easy to work in college admissions these days.
But that’s exactly why they’re talking about you.
Faced with this picture, colleges are doubling down on their own identities right now – who they are, what type of students they serve (and what type they want to serve), who their biggest competitors are for these students, and how they can best inject themselves into your life so you’ll consider applying to (and attending!) their schools. They’re crunching numbers, hiring photographers to take the most flattering campus photos possible, purchasing Google search terms, flooding social media, and leveraging their alumni bases to get your attention.
Students, it’s the college admission equivalent of being J Lo on the red carpet – for this brief and shining moment in time, you’re the center of attention:
So what does this mean for your college search?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: College is a buyers’ market right now and the fact that colleges and universities are spending so much time talking about better ways to get their messages to you and bring you into their student bodies is only going to benefit you in the long run because it’s going to give you more options than you currently think you have.
Before you assume that your place at Harvard is safe for fall, however, there are a few things to keep in perspective; namely:
- The most selective institutions are staying selective. Stanford University only accepted five percent of its freshman applicants last year and the Ivy League weren’t much more generous, accepting around seven or eight percent. Schools with that degree of prestige and clout aren’t fighting the battle for high school graduates at the same level as some of their lesser-known brethren or even as the flagship public institutions of each state and they probably won’t ever have to.
- Being an equestrian isn’t an automatic golden ticket to your dream school either. In particular, at schools with a long-standing equestrian major (the programs that have been around 10 or 20 years), they already know that they recruit a lot of equestrians so they won’t necessarily see your application as a standout the way they might if the riding team or equine major is a recent addition.
- You still have to do the work. Very few institutions of higher education have open admission standards and will accept every student who applies, so in order to gain admission (and hopefully academic scholarship!) to the school of your dreams, you’re still going to have to do well in high school, take a challenging curriculum, and write a strong essay. Colleges might be fighting for high school graduates – but that doesn’t mean they’re relaxing their standards. Their goal is to graduate the freshman students they enroll and your high school performance needs to demonstrate that you have what it takes to be successful at the next level.
So as you embark on your college search, embrace the opportunity to learn about the schools who direct their brochures, emails, and social media efforts to you – even (and especially!) the ones whose names you might not be familiar with. Many of them might just have the programs and campus culture you’re looking for and you could be well on your way to finding your campus home there. After all, they’ve been talking about you for a while now – it’s time to listen to what they have to say.