January of Junior Year. You just got a notice from your 11th Grader’s guidance counselor that parents are strongly encouraged to attend upcoming “Junior College Night”. They want you to know it’s time to get serious about your kid’s college future.
What to expect? Depends on your school, but most likely it will include a perspective on today’s college application process, how it differs from “back in the day.” Why has the process become so competitive (therefore stressful)? S. P. Springer et al, authors of Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College, identify three factors: the “echo” boom (or baby boomlet), social changes, and the internet.
1. “Echo” boom. “More high school graduates than ever are competing for seats in the freshman class…In 1997, there were 2.6 million graduates…by 2009, the number of high school graduates had grown to 3.3 million…they are projected to stay at or above 3.2 million at least until 2022.” (p. 2). This demographic explosion explains, at the simplest level, why you were accepted at “Ivy U”, but despite playing Mozart for your kid in the womb and sending him to the best schools, he may find himself edged out of yesterday’s most prestigious colleges. What you viewed as “second tier” may be regarded as a great accomplishment today.
2. Social changes. “Application numbers have grown much faster than the age cohort…Not only are there more students graduating from high school each year, proportionally more of them want to go to college. A college education is increasingly seen as the key to economic success in our society, just as a high school diploma was once the minimum requirement…At the same time, colleges themselves have increased their efforts to attract large, diverse pools of applicants.” (p.3).
3. Internet. Not only can students research colleges more efficiently than ever before via the Web, but online applications (e.g., Common Application) have made it easy to apply to multiple colleges. (p. 3-4). The Common Application now has over 500 member colleges and universities.
In addition to the three factors mentioned by Springer, U.S. colleges also admit a substantial number of international students today. According to Open Doors 2013, published by the Institute of International Education, in 2012-13 ,the number of international students in the U.S. increased over seven percent to 819,644, representing almost four percent of all U.S. higher education students. Over a third of those students are undergraduates. The top three places of origin for international students studying in the U.S. are China, India, and South Korea. International students are desirable for U.S. colleges and universities not only because of their strong academic performance encouraged by the cultures from which they come, but also because they typically pay full tuition (two-thirds of higher education funding for international students in the U.S. comes from their own families).
At Northeastern U, for example, 15% of students are non-residents; at Boston University, 13%; at Columbia University, NYU, U Penn, and USC, for example, non-residents represent 12% of the student body. The influx of international students creates an enriching, diverse college experience for all, but the number of seats available to American students becomes more restricted each year.
Your counselor will mention some of the above factors, to manage expectations, but also will offer the comforting news that there are thousands of accredited four-year colleges. As Springer et al point out, “The crunch that drives the newspaper headlines and the anxiety that afflicts many families at college application time…is limited to about one hundred colleges that attract applicants from all over the country and the world and that are the most selective…” (p. 5).
You can also expect an overview of the college process in your particular high school. Your guidance counselor may ask you and your teen to fill out questionnaires that will help generate the initial college list, as well as provide input into the all-important counselor recommendation that will accompany every application. If your school is large and guidance counselors are not able to get to know students individually, your input into the counselor recommendation becomes even more critical, so don’t underestimate the importance of this task.
Your teen will be asked to create a college list, identify teachers as recommenders, perhaps fill out extra-curricular activity forms, develop a resume or “brag sheet,” depending on what your school requires. Your guidance counselor will also introduce you to Naviance (Family Connection) a computer-based program most school districts use to help students navigate the college process. As a parent, it will be essential to pay attention to deadlines and help your teen stay on top of the process. And clear the decks for spring break–plan to be doing some campus visits!
To offer further insights, I am sharing a segment from a recent interview I did on Hometowne TV, a local access cable network based in Summit, NJ, hosted by Myung Bondy. You can find additional segments of this interview covering a number of college application topics on my YouTube.
Related posts: Your 11th Grader’s 11 Steps to Success, 11th Grade Parents’ Reading List, High School Testing Strategy and Timeline, Should I Take the SAT, the ACT, or BOTH?, What Is Important to Colleges? Top Ten Factors.