Applying to college ‘ain’t what it used to be’

Students now applying to a greater number of schools


Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Today’s high school students face a greater challenge in getting into the colleges of their choice, and as a result involvement in extracurricular activities is more important than ever.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Today’s high school students face a greater challenge in getting into the colleges of their choice, and as a result involvement in extracurricular activities is more important than ever. College applicants looking to follow in the footsteps of their older brother or sister have recently been faced with a harsh reality — it may be necessary to blaze their own trail.

“I think we’ve noted that if a sibling has gone to a particular college two or three years ago with certain credentials, the younger brother or sister needs stronger credentials to get into the same school, and I think that’s hitting home with the families,” said East Brunswick High School guidance counselor Ian Hodos.

One reason for the recent shift is the sheer number of applicants, according to Allentown High School guidance counselor Rich Freccia.

“There’s an increase of the 17- and 18-year-olds applying to college. There’s just more of them,” Freccia said, adding that not only has the number of applicants increased, but the number of applications each student sends out has multiplied as well.

“A kid might be applying to maybe, instead of three or four schools, six to eight schools, or some kids 10 to 12,” he said.

Charles Geran, director of student services for the Brick Township Public School District, said guidance counselors used to advise students to apply only to three, four or five schools, but now “that’s being blown out of the water.”

Sharon Kenny, a guidance counselor at East Brunswick High School, said that applying for early decision, a binding agreement to enroll upon acceptance, used to afford those students a certain advantage, but that advantage has since diminished considerably.

Kenny said that students with high test scores, who would normally be accepted through the regular application process, are applying for early decision, thus strengthening the early applicant pool and making it harder for other students to be accepted through the same process.

Freccia said that while the well-known schools receive the bulk of the applications, many smaller schools offer an education that is comparable, if not superior, to many state schools.

“I think what happens is that students and their parents are more consumer-conscious, so they will apply to the ‘name’ school that has a high known quality, a reputation. The more popular schools have gotten more popular,” the Allentown High School guidance counselor said.

Because of this, Freccia said, applicants fail to “cast a wide net.” They may be applying to a large number of colleges, but those schools often happen to be the same schools to which everyone else is applying.

Also, Freccia said, “A lot of students and their parents will only apply to schools that are reach schools or high target schools, [and] now they basically limited their chances to get into schools.”

Kenny said that the price tag attached to a college education affects the applicant pool as well. She said that because of the reasonable tuition fees charged by many of the state schools, and the skyrocketing tuition fees at many top-tier and Ivy League schools, the state schools receive the lion’s share of the applications.

Additionally, many students with top-tier-caliber qualifications can only afford to attend their local state school. This is responsible for a domino effect of sorts — the quality of the state school applicant rises, which in turn decreases the chances of acceptance for most applicants.

For students applying to target schools — schools for which acceptance is neither a long shot nor guaranteed — they may benefit greatly by including in their application something that sets them apart from the other applicants.

Kenny said that an applicant may request an interview, though the school would not be required to oblige, or send first quarter or semester grades from their senior year, a time when many students slow their pursuit of perfect grades.

“They can say, ‘Here are my grades. I’m very serious about being a student, and here’s proof,’ ” Kenny said.

Freccia said that a student’s participation in extracurricular activities could convince admissions officers to accept them. He said that while colleges do look for well-rounded students, sometimes a specific extracurricular activity will catch their attention.

“If I’m a ‘Dartmouth,’ it might be one thing to accept a whole bunch of well-rounded students, but I might need a person who’s a hockey goalie, or someone who plays the tuba in the band, or an opera singer. I may need someone who could run the mile. So while it’s nice to have well-rounded students, I also need students with specialties that round out all my needs in the class,” Freccia said.

Because the pressure of the application process can be overwhelming, Kenny said, a student’s parents and counselors must be encouraging.

“You know, it’s the admissions office. We tell the kids it’s not the denial office, it’s not the refusal office. These are admissions officers,” Kenny said.

Freccia said that the students should understand that their parents and guidance counselors are there to help the process, not hinder it.

“As counselors, we have to be reassuring to the students that we’re there for them. Basically, we’re a valuable resource,” he said.

Freccia also said that just being proactive will help alleviate some of the pressure the student may be feeling.

“Action relieves anxiety,” said Freccia. “I think a student has to have a game plan, an action plan, to research and visit schools.”

Geran said that the Brick school district purchased a computer program called Naviance that organizes the students’ application process.

Naviance keeps track of the students’ test scores, college applications, scholarship applications, and school preferences. The program can be prompted to list colleges that most closely match the criteria entered by the student.

Kenny said that having the student work on one application at a time can also help.

“We’ve found that some kids will do a little of this, a little of that, and they’re not getting anything done,” she said, adding that since much of the applications are similar, once a student completes one, a good portion of the others will already be done.

Freccia said that once students have completed their applications, they should not be stressed out by the waiting process, but relieved that their part of the application is over.

“If a student has done all their research and visited schools, and they’ve done a conscientious job on the application process, we try and get them to a point where, ‘Hey, you’ve done everything possible now. You can’t control the strength of the applicant pool,’ ” Freccia said.

Once the application process is completed, and students receive their letters of acceptance or rejection, a new stage of the journey begins: choosing which college to attend.