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What Selectivity Means for Your Child

Understanding Admission Factors

College admission officers across most of the nation report the same news: The number of applicants is rising, making admission more competitive.

Why Are Applications Increasing?

The increase comes from a surge in births during the 1980s. Children of the baby boomers are coming of age. Experts predict applications will continue to rise faster than openings at most colleges through about 2010.

"Most schools are a little more selective than they were maybe 10 years ago," says Joan Isaac-Mohr, Vice President and Dean of Admissions at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. This can mean more pressure for students and parents going through the application process.

Benefits of Increased Selectivity

There's a silver lining. As Isaac-Mohr points out, increased selectivity means better students are going to all colleges, broadening the choice of schools with a high-achieving student population.

Ann Wright, Vice President for Enrollment at Rice University in Texas, agrees. "There are lots of schools where students can be happy and successful," she says. Both experts encourage students and parents to consider a range of schools, rather than focusing on a single institution.

Experts predict applications will continue to rise faster than openings at most colleges through about 2010.

Community colleges, for example, allow a student to spend two years improving grades or selecting a career focus before transferring to a four-year university. While your child might be taught by a graduate student at a large university, teachers at community colleges are usually professors who primarily want to teach, not conduct research.

Smaller class sizes and more access to professors at small public or private colleges can be a boost to students, while some may prefer the energy and variety of a large university. It's important to help your child determine her needs and interests and select five or six schools that fit her profile and academic needs.

What Are Schools Looking For?

As you and your child prepare application materials, it can help to know what schools are really looking for in the piles of paperwork.

Admission officers evaluate applications in different ways, depending on how selective, or competitive, their college is.

The Levels of Selectivity

At one extreme are "open admission" colleges. These schools require only a high school diploma and accept students on a first-come, first-served basis. Many community colleges have this policy. At the other extreme are very selective colleges. They admit only a small percentage of applicants each year. Most colleges fall somewhere in between.

  • Less Selective
    Less selective colleges focus on whether applicants meet minimum requirements and whether there's room for more students. Acceptable grades are often the only requirement beyond an interest in college study. The SAT ®I or ACT may be required, but test scores are usually used for course placement, not admission.

  • More Selective
    More selective colleges consider course work, grades, test scores, recommendations, and essays. The major factor may be whether your child is ready for college-level study. He could be denied admission because of a weakness or a lack of interest in higher education.

  • Very Selective
    As many as 10 or 15 students apply for each spot at very selective schools. Admission officers look carefully at every aspect of a student's high school experience, from academic strength to test scores. Since many applicants are strong academically, other factors -- such as your child's essay -- are critical. Although they receive a great deal of publicity, only a small number of colleges (fewer than 100) are this selective.

Admission Factors

Selective colleges consider these factors for admission:

  • courses taken

  • counselor/teacher recommendations

  • ethnicity

  • grades

  • application questions and essays

  • geographic location

  • grade point average

  • personal interview

  • alumni relationship

  • rank in class

  • activities outside the classroom

  • major/college applied to

  • admission test results

  • special talents and skills

There's no general agreement about which of these factors are ranked more important. However, most admission officers place the most weight on your child's high school record.

How Important Are Extracurricular Activities?

The significance of activities has been exaggerated. While schools do consider them, they're looking to see if your child has shown a long-term commitment in one or two areas.

Need-Blind Admission

Most colleges have a need-blind admission policy. This means they decide whether to make an offer of admission without considering your family's financial situation.

Applying to college is one of the first steps to adulthood.

Other colleges are need sensitive; they do consider your family's financial situation in the admission process. These colleges know they can't satisfy the financial aid needs of all applicants. Some schools use need-sensitive admission when deciding to accept a borderline student or to pull a student off of the waiting list.

Matching Admission Standards

As part of the college search, your child should compare her academic and personal qualifications to those of students typically admitted to the colleges to which she wants to apply.

Learning From the Application Process

Applying to college is one of the first steps to adulthood. It involves the same uncertainties, and sometimes disappointments, that adult life offers. Helping your child navigate these circumstances with pride and a sense of independence will be powerful preparation for life on his own.

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