And You Thought It Was Safe to Apply…

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: May 8, 2014

The population of college-going students has increased at a higher rate than that at which new colleges and universities have appeared on our landscape. More kids, fewer spots – most especially at the “brand name” learning institutions across the land.

And it’s to those well-known schools that many students and their families turn when it comes time to apply. The news is that the schools that may have been considered targets, “safe” bets, or even shoo-in’s for a student no longer fit that description! In one stark example of the changes afoot, Vanderbilt University has in about ten years seen its acceptance rate fall from a stratospheric 60% in 1999 to an über-competitive 12.5% for last year’s incoming class.

What’s going on?

Despite what some may hear on the grapevine, recruitment among international students is up. Also, larger schools with deeper pockets have invested heavily in their infrastructure, making four years look as enticing as possible, and attracting more students to boot.

Increasing numbers of applications through Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) programs make it that much harder for those students who apply in the regular admissions cycle because many name brand colleges are accepting as much as half their class from the early pool. And overall, the number of students applying to the higher tier schools often share equivalent data profiles: GPA’s, community service hours, this and that society, equivalent test scores, etc. etc. So how do admissions offices differentiate?

Ultimately, we can’t say, but we do get many glimmers of insight through the cracks of those closed office doors. Among them is a tried and true triumvirate of qualities that mark the attractive applicant:

  • Impact
  • Depth of commitment
  • Intellectual vitality

Impact. Schools like Vanderbilt and Tulane have a strong community service component attached to their undergraduate programs. Applicants who demonstrate vibrant, thoughtful contributions in their local communities will stand out in the application process. Schools want as many of their incoming students as possible to make a difference in the lives of others.

Depth of Commitment. Rather than membership in the Portuguese Club, the Chess Club, the Pizza-Eating Club, and the Honor Society, students should have a couple of activities which define their character and their developing vision for the future. Depth over breadth. Better to do two things well than to do five things weakly. And long-term commitment to those special activities is key.

Intellectual Vitality. This manifests itself in many ways. Video gaming and viola, basketball and summer biology research, cheerleading and leading Sunday church class for youngsters. On the cusp of four undergraduate years that propose an incredible diversity of study, students who can show that they are turned on to the notion of learning outside the classroom are sought after by elite colleges.

If you’re a parent or student reading this, and there are still a few years before you confront the application process, consider your options now. Call us to help develop a plan to stand out in the selective college admission process.

Topics: College Application Educational Consulting


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