The College Admissions Race.
by Abby Margolis Newman
Our oldest son is a high school sophomore, so we are still two years away from the college application process, but from what I'm hearing, there is ample reason to start freaking out now.
Anyone who has read anything about the insanely competitive nature of the college admissions in the 21st century will tell you that we would never, in a million years, be admitted today into the colleges from which we graduated decades ago. In fact, a valedictorian with a 4.5 GPA and 2400 SAT's no longer has a surefire ticket into America's most selective colleges.
Ready for some depressing information? My husband has been doing alumni interviewing in the Bay Area of potential applicants for Brown University, from which he graduated in 1987. For the incoming class of 2013, Brown received over 27,000 applications and accepted 2,500 kids (about 9%), for a matriculating class of around 1,350.
Here's the scary part: of those 27,000 kids, more than 2,000 of them had perfect SAT scores in reading and math - and Brown accepted only about 20% of those students. About 1,500 applicants were class valedictorians - and Brown accepted only one of four of these kids.
This atmosphere of almost laughable competitiveness is much worse than 20 years ago, when we were applying to college (OK, so it's closer to 30 years ago, but who's counting?) And the increase in pressure surrounding college admissions has real and lasting consequences for today's high-schoolers. A new documentary by director Vicki Abeles, "Race to Nowhere," looks at - among many other facets - how this "college application madness" is negatively affecting our kids.
At Yale, the number of acceptance letters sent out to high school applicants has dropped from 20% in 1980 (when there were about 11,000 applying) to 7.5% today (26,000 applicants for an incoming freshman class of about 1,300). Applications have doubled just since 2000, when there were about 13,000 applicants. The situations at Brown and Yale are sadly typical for "highly selective" schools in today's admissions environment. And it's not just the Ivy League schools who are seeing remarkable increases - colleges throughout the U.S. are noting similar surges in applicants.
What does this intense competition - and the crushing disappointment that inevitably follows when many, many students are rejected from these schools - do to today's high-school students? According to "Race to Nowhere," it can lead to acute stress, paralyzing anxiety, and depression. Not to mention the hours and hours of time required to complete all those applications: the numbers of colleges kids typically apply to has also gone up; wanting to hedge their bets, it is not uncommon for students to apply to ten schools or more. (For some firsthand accounts of life in the college application lane, check out the New York Times blog, "The Choice.")