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College Competition

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Things are economically hard, and college competition among the few selective and Ivy League colleges is up. But, does that mean it’s easier to get into other colleges? Not at all!

The demand for a college degree as a pre-requisite for good jobs has not gone down despite unemployment being higher. In fact, having a degree that sets you apart, a prestige diploma, is even more important today when lots of new grads are looking to find work when fewer jobs are available.

A college applicant may think, then, that at least getting into a selective second-tiered school will be easier. Again, that’s wrong.

One reason it is harder to get into any college today is the applicant pool is getting larger.

First, there are more students applying today. More students are graduating from high school today, more women are in the job market and therefore in the diploma market, and more Hispanics and Asians are applying to school.

Secondly, application to college is much more accessible. With more encouragement from high school guidance offices and with the Common Application, it’s easier for students to apply to college. While the average number of applications per student was only 3 20 years ago, today it is 7 applications per student.

Third, colleges of all types are marketing themselves, and in that marketing they are defining themselves as the best for certain niches of students who have definite preferences and definite goals. Therefore, although there are more colleges, those colleges are still attracting more students.

Also, the number of slots for acceptance among the more-sought-after schools like Yale and Harvard has stayed the same. The result is more students are being rejected. When quality applicants are applying to more places but are rejected from top-tiered schools, then the second-tired schools have more choice, too. They can afford to raise their standards for acceptance, and they can raise their costs. Still, they, too, will be rejecting more students than they have before, and the more students a school turns away, the more they increase their competitiveness. It is a watershed.

The effect of all this, even though it is happening in a poor economy with fewer available jobs, is that all schools, not just the selective colleges, are getter harder to win admission to. Every college can be more demanding in their eligibility standards and in their costs. The bigger the applicant pools across many levels of colleges, the more expensive colleges can become.

Today, it’s about competition even more than about being a smarter student. The lesson from this is students who are college-bound and their parents must make sure they are focused on their goals. Students must still take challenging courses, keep up their grades, and be involved; but they and their parents must also set time lines for meeting college application requirements and deadlines.

Is it too early to start preparing for SAT or ACT testing in your junior year? Too early to begin building an interesting high school resume in the sophomore year? Too early the set out your curriculum outline your freshman year? Not at all!

High school students and their parents are going to need more time, more advice, and more guidance as the competition to get into the best, the second best, and third best colleges is ramping up.

Jan Rideout is co-founder of CollegeBasics.com. She works with Maureen Hodge, a retired guidance counselor, and with her husband Dwight Rideout, a retired Dean of Students. Together they have created an information website to help students get into and succeed in college. CollegeBasics.com offers free insider tips on the college application process for students (and parents, too!). Also read about the ins and outs of financial aid!