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BAM Intelligence

Changes in College Admission — Seth Allen

Seth Allen, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.

At first glance, few parents will recognize today’s hypercompetitive admission process as similar to the one they went through. The late 1980s gave rise to a bull market in college admission, characterized by ballooning applicant pools and decreasing acceptance rates, that has continued for more than 25 years. What led to such competition?

  • Beginning around 1990, a steady annual increase in the number of high school graduates fueled application growth.
  • Around that time, admission offices adopted more sophisticated recruitment and outreach programs. They became marketers as well as gatekeepers and intentionally sought larger applicant pools, driven, in part, by the public’s embrace of college rankings.
  • Admission pools became nationalized, facilitated by cost-efficient communication technology so that today even local and regional institutions aspire to recruit students from outside of a comfortable driving distance.
  • Many institutions began offering non-need-based financial aid (aka merit scholarships) to alter students’ enrollment preferences and increase applications.
  • As college costs soared and selectivity increased, students began applying to more schools to maximize their admission and financial aid offers.
  • Most recently, applicant pools have grown larger by the aggressive recruitment of international students and, for those institutions with generous financial aid, the courting of low-income applicants.

While it is true that getting into college today has become more difficult, especially at more selective institutions, the differences are not as pronounced as the major media would have us believe. Much of what has become selective college admission has been manufactured by colleges and universities in an effort to appear more selective and more in demand.

For Students Starting the Admissions Process

By and large, what worked a generation ago still works today.

  • Pick a selection of schools that are a good match for you socially, academically and experientially.
  • Find something to get excited about at each school.
  • Research prospective schools on what they look for in candidates to ensure your credentials line up. Demonstrate authenticity, engagement and passion throughout your admission process. Be yourself, and don’t portray yourself as someone you are not.
  • Be present in the process. Make it a point to develop a relationship with someone everywhere you apply.

College admission is a human process, after all. The more that a school really gets to know a student, the better the chance it has of making the best admission decision.

About Seth Allen
Seth Allen is vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Allen has been quoted extensively by members of the national media, including NBC’s Today show, CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Allen has served on a number of national admissions committees, and he is a former president of the board of directors of The Common Application. Prior to Pomona College, Allen held leadership positions at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa; Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.; and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Allen earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the BAM ALLIANCE. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

© 2013, The BAM ALLIANCE

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