Parents of soon-to-be college students may notice that the college search isn’t what it used to be. Getting into college today has become more cutthroat, stressful, and frenzied than it used to be. It’s also become more personal, targeted, and in some ways, simple. Technology, rankings, and an increase in applications have had an incredible impact on the state of college search today. Read on as we explore how college marketing, search, and admissions have all dramatically changed in recent years.
- Students can connect with a college way before stepping foot on campus:
Thanks to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, today’s prospective college students can get a feel for a campus before they come for a visit. Following news, joining networks, and discussing questions one-on-one with admissions counselors are just a few of the ways prospective college students are getting connected with schools today.
- It’s easier than ever to find a unique experience:
Once upon a time, students had to rely on rumors that a campus was artsy or foodie friendly, now they can find social proof. Thanks to student blogs, interactive guides, and a plethora of social media postings, it’s easier than ever to find your tribe in college these days.
- There’s an overwhelming amount of information available:
College statistics have been around for some time, but in today’s information age, they’re supercharged. Students once had to look out for special yearly magazine issues highlighting colleges, or head to the library or counselor’s office to check out a college guide. Now, all they have to do is search online, making it ridiculously easy to find the perfect college fit.
- Schools have more information, too:
College admissions officers once had to rely solely on a student’s application and letters of recommendation, but today, many prospective college students have a digital paper trail. Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and online resumes have opened students up to more opportunities (and liabilities) when it comes to showing off what they’re all about.
- Students are looking closer to home:
Although students still enjoy going to school out of state (or at least, out of city), many these days are considering options that keep them closer to home thanks to today’s economic situation. To save money, some are starting out at community colleges, knocking out core classes before moving on to a four-year college. Others are commuting from home, choosing colleges that allow them to live with their parents while they attend class.
- Students who can pay cash enjoy better admissions opportunities:
Students who have parents that have saved up, or who have earned a full-ride scholarship may find it easier to get into the college of their choice. Schools these days are interested in admitting as many “full pays” as possible, and with all other factors being equal, students whose parents can “write the check” are more likely to get admitted.
- Rejections are en vogue:
In an effort to raise their rankings, some schools send out a ridiculous amount of rejections. This makes their school look much more sought after, but of course, it hurts those who didn’t make the cut. This trend can be frustrating, but it’s just a fact of college admissions these days, making wait lists, agony, and anxiety a growing part of today’s college search.
- There’s more competition:
Another reason rejections are up is that there are simply more students trying to get into college. The children of baby boomers, known as the “echo boomers” are graduating now. There were 2.5 million high school graduates five years ago, but now, 3.3 million students graduate each year. Plus, more graduates are applying to college these days. Thirty years ago, only half of high school graduates applied, but now more than two-thirds make the effort.
- Students are applying to more schools:
Yet another reason rejections are up: more students are applying to a greater number of schools. As schools reject more students, prospective students find that it’s necessary to apply to more schools just to make sure that they get into one that’s suitable for them. Most students apply to at least three schools, but an increasing amount of students are applying to seven or more schools. Some experts recommend applying to up to 20 different schools.
- Common applications have made things easier:
Getting in may be tougher, but paperwork has gotten easier thanks to the Common Application and the Universal College Application. This application can be used to apply to multiple colleges at once, even online. Of course, this has made it easier for students to apply to more schools than ever before.
- Audits are getting tougher:
You may know the fascinating story of Adam Wheeler, who lied his way not only into Harvard, but Stanford as well. Colleges know his story too, and now, they’re careful not to get burned by scammers like him. It’s riskier than ever to lie on your college application, thanks to tougher application auditing.
- Opportunities at upper-echelon schools are greater:
Although it’s still tough to get into schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Vassar, at least students these days have a chance. In the late 19th century, applying and taking entrance exams at Harvard was reserved only for students who could display a command of both Latin and Greek, “with the accents.” Students who applied were much more likely to get in, with 185 out of 210 tested students admitted into Harvard in 1870, a much better rate than today’s 6.1%, but the pool of applicants was already so limited that the schools were home only to the super-elite. Today, any students who work hard and are high achievers have a chance to get in.
- Students may be selling themselves short:
Although it’s possible for high-achieving students to get into better schools today, some students may not be taking on the challenge. Reports show that many students suffer from “under-matching,” and aren’t applying to higher-level schools that would likely accept them. What’s keeping them from these schools? Students at low-income schools may not have the guidance counselors or visiting college recruiters that can get them connected. Other students shy away from the potentially huge bill from elite colleges.
- Students are no longer impressed by generic marketing materials:
Marketing, in college and beyond, has become highly personalized, so today’s students have come to expect more than college fairs and information sessions. Students prefer to be targeted by colleges that will be more likely to be a good fit, and a likely bet for admissions. Plus, they appreciate a personal touch that’s available through social media marketing and email connections.
- College admissions has become very stressful:
Applying to college has always been an anxious situation, but students today now experience extreme stress due to college admissions. Prospective students today now suffer from sleeping problems, eating issues, and even physical symptoms due to college search stress.
- Almost everything is done online:
Save for interviews and campus visits, students are largely finding and applying for college completely online. Online rankings, information searches, and online application submissions are making today’s college search almost 100% virtual.
- Students are making friends before visiting campus:
Thanks to social media, students are able to connect with others before coming to orientation or starting classes. This is great for students who are shy or who once would have had trouble finding the right school to fit in.
- The SAT and ACT aren’t as important as they used to be:
Students who don’t perform well on standardized tests, or don’t feel that these tests measure their college preparedness accurately can rest a bit easier these days. Although these tests were once a no-brainer for gaining admission to college, there’s a growing number of colleges and universities that do not require the test scores at all.
- Writing skills have become more important:
The college application essay has always been a staple of admissions, but the need for great writing skills has grown in recent years. Although not every school requires SAT scores, many still do, and today’s SAT has an increased focus on the importance of writing. With longer reading passages and changes that reflect the need for clear and succinct writing, students who take the SAT today will have to display better writing skills than ever before.
- Colleges are getting more aggressive:
Colleges today are going to great lengths to find the students they really want. Now employing “enrollment managers” and “recruitment specialists,” colleges start the flow of marketing materials early and in great numbers. Students today see more aggressive college marketing than their predecessors, but often, colleges are marketing themselves to students they will ultimately reject in order to inflate their college rankings.