Are you applying to college in the coming year? Are you a parent of a student who will be applying, or are you counseling students who will be?

If so, it is important to remember that 2019 saw some of the biggest changes ever in college admissions – changes that will exert a major impact on the way colleges are evaluating applicants this year.

Here are some changes that we believe we can all agree will happen.

The College Admissions Scandal Will Usher in an Age of New Realism

Colleges, more than ever before, will be asking whether applications ring true, or whether they are just too perfect to be real. When a student presents a perfect GPA, perfect scores on the ACT and SAT, and a perfect essay, admissions committees, more than ever before, will be likely to ask, “What’s up?”

If you are a perfect student, or if you are coaching one, there is not much you can do about that, nor should you. But if you or that student has a few “warts” and imperfections, this could be the year to let them be just a little bit noticeable in application materials.

To be more specific:

  • Very, very high scores on standardized tests are good enough. Do you want to go for prep tutoring for these tests? If you can afford it, yes you should. But students who take these tests just once and score impressively could be the most sought-after applicants of all in this new age of realism.
  • A strong, imperfect and palpably genuine admissions essay is a valid goal. Admissions committees, you can be sure, can “smell” essays that have been professionally polished and edited to perfection by college essay coaches. As a student, this could be the year to tell your parents and counselors, “I want to do it myself.” And if you are a parent or counselor, you might want to limit your input to simple proofreading or light suggestions. The applicant should be allowed to shine in his or her own words.
  • Make reasonable claims of extracurriculars. In years past, it has not been uncommon for college applicants to say they founded charities or special projects in their later high school years that were clearly intended to appeal to college admissions committees – projects that cannot be expected to continue to function over the course of years, for example. Remember that admissions committees aim to admit students whom they feel will fit into their communities and be good citizens. For that reason, active participation in existing projects and programs can ring truer than exaggerated claims.
  • Similarly, present athletic credentials in a realistic way. If the college admissions scandal did nothing else, it cast a harsh light on students who make exaggerated claims of athletic accomplishments. Unless you, your child or your counselee is a genuine recruit for a top college athletics program, simply report the truth of what he or she has accomplished. Again, admissions committees are looking for students who will “fit” and contribute to campus life. Truthfulness and accuracy will win the day.

Financial Planning Will Play a Bigger Role in Getting Admitted

The year 2019 was a time when endowments and college budgets came under scrutiny and sometimes shrank and came under fire. The result is that schools are actively recruiting well-qualified students who will need minimal financial assistance. That does not necessarily mean that colleges and universities will only admit students whose families can afford to pay full tuition. It also means that taking steps like the following can help gain an advantage when applying:

  • Ask about financial aid before the acceptance letter arrives. Admissions offices will be happy to arrange for phone or in-person conferences with financial aid officers, even before a student has applied. Those conversations can demonstrate to admissions committees that a student and his or her family is making appropriate financial plans.
  • Fill out the FAFSA early on. Your ability to tell a college admissions office that you have done so shows that you are exploring appropriate ways to pay for college. Similarly, check out Sallie Mae loans and other sources of funding as early as you can.
  • Make affordable back-up plans if you possibly can. A student can attend a community college for two years and then transfer to a state school, for example. It is also possible to apply to colleges that will be more likely to offer financial aid than more elite colleges are. Again, a student’s record of making sound financial plans for paying for college can make him or her more appealing to colleges – and actually more likely to receive aid when packages are handed out.

Be Careful about Rushing to STEM

There is no doubt that 2019 was “the year of STEM.” School systems initiated STEM programs starting as early as elementary school. High schools nationwide are evaluated on the strength of their STEM programs. And among students and their families, the term “STEM” has come to mean a path to starting a successful and high-paying career.

But while that is all true, it is also important to consider whether you (as a student) or the students you are counseling should really be pursuing STEM studies and making them the focus when applying to college. Despite the STEM craze, it is worth remembering that technical careers are not for everyone.

To Learn More about STEM College Programs and Career Options

We invite you to explore career options by participating in our career and college research studies. Students who complete the free career test for high school students will receive information on college and career opportunities matched to their interests.