Preparing for College

Higher Education Trends

There has been so much fast-moving action in the college admissions world lately that perhaps you may have missed some of the more significant changes. Keep in mind [Warning: personal commentary ahead] that colleges and universities make changes almost exclusively because those changes will benefit them in some way, rather than the other way around. One exception to that would be the dropping of standardized testing requirements. Currently, there are over 830 higher education institutions that do not require applicants to submit either the SAT or ACT. These are the so-called "test-optional" schools.

The benefit to this change is mutual for the school and the applicants. The school benefits, in most cases, by garnering more applications, which should, in turn, make them appear to be more selective by lowering their overall acceptance rates as they deny a greater percentage of their applicant pools. However, there is also a fairly significant benefit for applicants who may not test well but have strong potential for success in college. When these applicants have a chance to be accepted at a good school (examples to follow below) that does not require the SAT/ACT, they brighten their prospects, not to mention their mental health, by not collecting a pile of thin envelopes in the spring.


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I found an interesting article by Cristiana Quinn on three big changes in college admissions that can help bring you up to speed on what's happening these days, if you're a high school sophomore or, especially, a current junior, making plans for your application strategy. Read and take note.

College Admissions: 3 Hot Trends at Top Universities

What do you do if you are one of the nation’s top colleges and you want to maintain your elite edge? Well, you don’t sit back on your laurels. You assess your admissions policies, determine what the biggest draws are for top students each year, and then you make changes. Because in the end, even if you are Harvard, you don’t like losing a top candidate to Columbia or Dartmouth. This need to “stay ahead of the pack” is fueling important changes that college-bound students should be aware of.

Expanding Early Admission Options

It began last summer when Brown quietly removed the restrictions on their Early Decision (ED) policy. They did it without any press and left many of the nation’s guidance counselors in the dark. Previously, Brown had the most stringent ED policy in the country, banning students from applying anywhere else Early Action (EA). Now, they adhere to the standard ED policy which does not allow students to apply to any other colleges ED, but does allow students to apply to other colleges EA. Then last week, Princeton, Harvard and UVA announced that they will reinstitute an early admissions program in the fall of 2011. All three schools had pulled their ED programs in 2006 in an effort to provide a more equitable climate for students who needed to compare financial aid packages. But after reviewing numerous cases where they lost out on top candidates to other colleges with early programs, these three universities decided to dive back in. Complete details have not yet been released, so it is unclear if the programs will be “single choice” or “restrictive”, but however they are done, they will give candidates an early admission option.

Removing SAT/ACT Requirements

Two weeks ago, De Paul announced that they would no longer require SATs or ACTs for admission, becoming the largest non-profit university in the country to drop testing requirements. This follows a trend among catholic colleges to join the Fairtest movement which has seen Holy Cross, Providence College, Fairfield and Loyola Maryland go test-optional in the last few years. The grand total of Fairtest colleges in the US now exceeds 830 and includes very elite colleges including Bowdoin, Middlebury and Wake Forest. NYU made an unusual and innovative “test flexible” move last year when they announced that students could submit the SAT, or the ACT, or 3 SAT II Subject Tests, or 3 AP exams (taken before senior year). The policies may differ, but they all add up to universities expanding access to talented students who may not excel in their ability to take standardized tests.

Campuses in Abu Dhabi, Madrid and…

Nearly every four-year college in America has study abroad opportunities, but the latest trend is for colleges to actually set up shop in other countries with full campuses. St. Louis University has a campus in Madrid where you can opt to study for one to four years. Johns Hopkins has a campus in Bologna, Italy. Auburn University has announced that it will be building a campus in Danyang, China, and NYU featured its Abu Dhabi campus in all its admissions literature this year. In an era where globalization is the key to corporate and government strategies, top students want to know that they won’t just be eating foie gras or drinking sangria during their time abroad. They are looking for the best professors, research opportunities and international relations experts. In Asia and the Persian Gulf, governments and royal families are making huge investments with US universities to subsidize full campuses with top resources.

If you are a sophomore or a junior, now is the time to research the latest policies and programs at your target universities. Don’t wait until senior year to visit campuses and investigate your options-that’s too late. Get your list in place now and do your due diligence well in advance of fall admission deadlines!

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Essentially, then, you can apply early without an SAT and attend class in Europe or the Middle East. Sounds great! Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification, but the bottom line for high schoolers (and parents) today is: Stay in touch with admissions changes. The advantage you gain may be your own.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.