What are your top takeaways learned from the most recent admissions cycle for rising seniors about to apply?

Yes, agree. My take-away from my two kids’ recent/current college searches so far is not to be afraid to come up with your own unique criteria for your college application lists. Avoid making perceived prestige a major criteria, but don’t be afraid to prioritize the stuff that’s important to you/your kid even if it’s more “quirky.” That could be a wanting a school that has an equestrian team, nice weather, proximity to the ocean, a linguistics major, a policy that allows students to bring their pets, or a strong honor code system. Any of these criteria, if prioritized alone or in combination, could result in a list that looks externally to be pretty random but if it reflects multiple things that the student wants, it’s a good list. And by prioritizing the quirky stuff, it will hopefully open up some interest in schools that are not in the T30, which have seen such an increased focus in the last couple of admissions cycles.

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You can add Johns Hopkins to this list. Their AOs have been super open about that for years. We toured in '17 and they point blank said you need to apply ED to have any real shot.

I’ll point out to those reading that some schools give a leg up to their deferred ED students because they statistically have higher yields than students who just applied in RD.

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In order (in retrospect):

  • Check your ego…completely. The results here are your childrens’, not yours. No matter how much work you put into it, it is their process, not yours. If you catch yourself saying “we” too often, do a gut check.
  • Realize that what schools are “prestigious” has changed in the past 30 years.
  • What have you saved? truly? what is the dollar amount? pull out the statement. Divide it by 4- you now have a a budget. Kid’s have very low borrowing limits (something like 27K), and you do them no favors putting yourself in dire financial straights.
  • Start with your in-state options. By far they will be the most economical, and almost all will have excellent options for almost all majors. This can’t be repeated enough times. These should be your first option- and the focus of most of your effort application and research-wise. Unless they are not within your budget- then CC+State should be an option.
  • Onto OOS- some will be close to your in-state (Alabama, U of SC, Arizona, ASU, UVM) in terms of costs, after incentives used to attract high stat OOS kids. Worth looking into if kid wants OOS experience- and many will be equivalent to your in state options in terms of quality- some slightly better or not quite as good. If stats aren’t high, the costs gets pretty high pretty quickly.
  • Now some other OOS are approaching private school costs, and will NOT give any significant merit. UC, UVA, UT, UNC, Michigan- these schools are big bucks. The better ones will tend to be the more expensive ones and don’t need to court OOS. There are also exceedingly selective- think public Ivy.
  • Privates known for merit: there is a long list. Its about what you’d expect- they will often get cost down to that of your in-state option if they really want your kid, but it might not be the place a high stat kid wants to go. They won’t offer these incentives for kids with lesser stats. (See Selingo buyers/sellers list).
  • Top 50- a lottery to get in even if your are a 1% applicant, and if you win this lottery, you get a bill for $85K if your income is over $150,000. For many majors (accounting, nursing, arguably engineering) the costs simply cannot be justified. The premium being paid, if you choose to, is simple for prestige. Don’t underestimate the power of the sticker on the back of the minivan though. It drives billion dollar industries.

If you screen schools in a similar way, thinking about money up front, you will save yourself alot of pain and time. I didn’t say some pain won’t be involved. Telling your kid that the school you yourself attended is not in the cards is a very tough thing to do- but better done in August that January.

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Is that real? I remember schools who emailed my daughter specifically said they don’t track emails etc.

Of course the only ones we clicked on were the best schools who sent us emails so maybe they don’t really care while other schools do.

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Just depends on the school. Some track DI and that info becomes part of the admissions decision and/or yield calculation. Some track things like emails for marketing purposes, but DI is not part of the admissions decision. Other schools don’t track DI.

DI also goes beyond email, including visits (virtual and in person), interactions with AOs, and even how often they open their portal after applying.

Policies do change as well, partially because there’s a lot of turnover in admissions departments. WashU used to be a big tracker of DI, used it in the admissions decision, but discontinued that practice this cycle, as just one example.

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This is not the place to diminish other users’ takeaways or to “explain” to a user the admission policies of a college; that violates ToS and is just inconsiderate.

So move on from analyzing ED percentages or demonstrated interest, as but 2 examples.

Some great points here. One of the ones we hadn’t thought about much until decisions were out, was cost. We had to ask as a family was the “public” top tier school worth as much as the top tier school? Why was the cost 20-40K more for OOS for public schools?

Had I known which schools kids was applying to in later Summer, the list would have shown that these top publics give no merit ( or very very little). We’re not eligible for FA, so we should have stuck to that knowledge. Also, we look for value so the $ should have been front and center and schools which didn’t give merit and were very costly and public should have been eliminated for us. We also should have weighed if we were willing to pay the same price for a public. as a private. ( We weren’t). But the cold weather had taken it off the table.

Also, my kid added schools that had criteria which had originally limited the school. Kid didn’t want cold state. So when acceptances came in for great schools in cold states like IL and MI, it came up again. Once you eliminate a school for a good reason (like weather, cost, program) don’t add it in back to get the requisite number of schools. The weather in MI is always going to be cold.

Learned a lot for the next round. It’s a crazy process. You just have to do lots of research. Trust your gut in terms of fit. Look at costs as value. For us, ROI is really important so some programs seemed to be worth more than others. Every family has to weigh all of the factors. They’ll come up with different conclusions. It’s hard.

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  1. The admissions process is really different than it was in your day. Your child may not get into schools that you (or even their older sibling just a few years ago) got into, even with better stats. Some schools you may remember as “safety schools” are now very difficult to get into.
  2. If you go to a public school, even a high resourced one, your guidance counselors are likely overburdened, so verify anything they say. For example, ours told us that our kid was out of luck after missing the PSAT during Covid. But I kept digging and found out about the Alternate Entry pathway using an SAT score instead.
  3. A lot of schools that used to give big merit just a few years ago are now shifting their money to need-based aid.
  4. Beware that there has been substantial grade inflation since you were a student, and apparently this has accelerated especially in the last 2 years. A “straight A student” is now commonplace. Also the SATs have been renormed. Today’s 1500 is more like 1375 was in your day.
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A variation of this is: older sibling got into college X with a big merit scholarship some years ago. For the current high school senior with similar college admission credentials, college X may still be a likely or safety for admission, but the big merit scholarship is now much more competitive and unlikely.

Another variation is: the major that older sibling easily got into at college X is now much more competitive so that the current high school senior is unlikely to get into that major at college X.

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Check the balance on your 529 and if it’s a critical source of funding for college think carefully about how much risk you are taking (ie how conservative or aggressive are your investment choices). Even a fairly conservative fund is likely to have dropped 5-10% since the beginning of this year. If it drops again will that affect the schools you can afford next year?

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A lot of very good general advice regarding college admissions.

My specific takeaways from the last two cycles:

  1. Holistic admission favors more well rounded kids with inflated/higher GPAs. On the other hand, SAT/ACT scores have crept up because majority of those submitted scores tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. So, for middle of the road kids (3.5/1200) with limited ECs, this is a double whammy.

  2. I see three groups of parents: (1) Tiger parents that want that sticker on the SUV and their kids. This makes up a large portion of T50 applicants. Seems like this number has mushroomed over the last decade or so as the middle class has gotten richer (9% syndrome.) So, it is not a surprise that most admission rates in selective schools is now around that number as well. OK, that was a joke. (2) Merit chasers. More practical parents that have high stats kids and they want money. What I have found out is that with very few exceptions, significant merit at public schools is becoming harder to come by with each passing year. I was shocked to learn that to be competitive for high merit $$ at a school like U of South Carolina, one needs ~1560 SAT and 4.6 GPA, plus strong ECs. Still this is a good route if you are seeking OOS options. (3) Everyone else. Most schools are looking to fill classes. Finding a school that will meet your budget is the key. My takeaway is that find the best sandbox for your kid in these crazy times by doing a lot of research. IPED should be your friend and you should know how to read the CDs.

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4.6 HS GPA is not that high by the way South Carolina HS GPA is calculated.
https://ed.sc.gov/tests/tests-files/eocep-files/uniform-grading-policy-february-2018/ (page 3)

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Do they recalculate the SAT/ACT scores too? Just making sure. Lol.

I think T50s comprise a wide band. Typically, a 50th ranked school tends to be a state flagship with low acceptance rates only for OOS and for competitive majors. If you apply for a regular major and instate, they are not hard to get into. T20s and upto a 30th ranked, especially private schools, tend to be as hard to get into as you argue, simply because they don’t have many seats.

This has been true for many years now. My college grad 2020 had friends who got in NEU with good stats and at least some kind of scholarship. Now, forget it. My son, now a college junior, got into two colleges where literally two years before, kids with his stats were routinely offered scholarships yet he was offered nothing.

Is this all bad news though? As the popular (not necessarily elite) colleges get swamped with more apps and higher yield, those colleges don’t have to offer as many scholarships. The next level of colleges will become more popular as students discover they can still get both a good education and fun experience for less money if they look beyond where all their friends are going.

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I agree with a lot of these point but not necessarily that something is “wrong” if UMich and Williams are on a student’s list. After all decisions were in, my S19’s final choices included Vanderbilt, Brown, Colgate and Georgia Tech - obviously very different from one another. However, financial considerations were at the top of the list. Also, my S liked things about each of those schools and thought he’d be happy at just about any college and I believed him. It depends on the student.

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