What Selectivity Means for
College admission officers
across most of the nation report the same news: The number
of applicants is rising, making admission more competitive.
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
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
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.
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
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.
As you and
your child prepare application materials, it can help to
know what schools are really looking for in the piles of
Admission officers evaluate
applications in different ways, depending on how selective,
or competitive, their college is.
The Levels of
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 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 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
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.
colleges consider these factors for admission:
application questions and
grade point average
rank in class
activities outside the
major/college applied to
admission test results
special talents and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.