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At this point in the year, high school seniors have been receiving acceptances, rejections, or deferrals from their Early Decision schools, and they’re eagerly awaiting word on the applications they submitted for January deadlines. As we start to see the results of the 2016-17 college admissions cycle and consider what it might mean for students applying 2017-18, it’s worth looking back to see what admissions directors at colleges nationwide had on their minds this year.
In September, Inside Higher Ed posted a summary of the results of their 2016 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors, a great resource for learning about the recent concerns, opinions, and priorities of college and university admissions offices nationwide. Here are some key facts and takeaways for the high school juniors who will be applying to colleges next fall:
Admissions is Getting More Competitive, But Not Everywhere
Even while admission rates continue to drop at top-ranked schools, community colleges have seen declines in enrollment. There’s a split in college admissions; as Scott Jaschik put it in Inside Higher Ed, “the vast majority of colleges admit the vast majority of applicants.” While this is reassuring, we haven’t seen this trend lessen the difficulty of getting in to the most selective schools.
First the Common App, Now the Coalition
Even though its announcement was met with heavy skepticism from many admissions directors, there’s now a “competitor” to the Common App, launched by the member colleges and universities of the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. Students next year will start to see more and more schools accepting the Coalition application, which means it will be more important than ever to start early and make a plan for completing different essays and applications.
The New SAT Writing Test and Test-Optional Schools
Even though only 19% of admissions directors “Agree” that the SAT writing test is “a good measure of student writing ability” (0% “Strongly Agree”), many schools still require the SAT writing section. And while the trend of more schools going “test-optional” and not requiring standardized test scores continues, Jaschik notes that “most applicants to most test-optional colleges continue to submit scores.” Standardized test prep, in other words, remains an important part of the college application process.
Challenges for Asian-American Applicants
Following up on an important July 2016 Supreme Court decision regarding colleges’ right to consider race in admissions decisions, Inside Higher Ed asked their survey takers two questions regarding whether they feel Asian-American applicants are held to a higher standard than other applicants, both in general and at their institution. To the question, “do you believe that some colleges are holding Asian-American applicants to higher standards?” 39% of admissions directors at public schools said “yes,” and 42% of directors at private schools said “yes.” It’s a significant minority, and it suggests that a student’s race may continue to be an important factor in college admissions.
The Upshot: Focus on the Fundamentals
Every spring, we see a rush of articles about big changes on the horizon in college admissions, and with changes in applications, test requirements, and continuing questions about issues like race and affirmative action, it looks like this spring will be no different. But from admissions directors’ answers to these questions, we see that no matter what happens, students will still need to focus on the fundamentals: getting an early start on applications, staying organized, and making sure all parts of the application—from test scores to supplemental essays—are as strong as possible.
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