10 things your students probably don't know about the admissions process

The college application process is often a stressful one for students and families.

There's the pressure to beat application deadlines, make campus visits, and figure out how to pay for tuition. The uncertainty and misunderstandings students often have about the process only adds to their stress.

In a recent article for the New York Times, long-time Chronicle of Higher Education journalist Eric Hoover shares a few things that often confuse students about the admissions process:  

1: It's not their fault

Students might blame themselves if they aren't accepted to a college, Hoover writes, because they don't realize that admissions officers are looking for a variety of different student profiles.

2: Grades still matter most

In the rush to rack up more extracurriculars than the next applicant, students (and parents) might lose focus on the two things that still matter most: grades and test scores. To help clear up this issue, some colleges have called for an end to the admissions "arms race" and have advised students to limit their extracurriculars.

3: Soft skills matter too 

Students may not realize that colleges get plenty of students with impeccable credentials, and that they need to use their application materials to demonstrate personality characteristics that will help them succeed, such as grit, empathy, and curiosity.

4: There's such a thing as too polished

Students probably don't know just how many applications admissions officers wade through each day during decision season. The high stakes of the application might also lead them to avoid taking risks and showing off their personality—not realizing that this is exactly what admissions officers are looking for.

5: They shouldn't hide where they come from

Colleges are doubling down on efforts to recruit students from traditionally underrepresented populations, but some students avoid emphasizing their background in essays and other materials. Research has found that social media can be a good way to connect with these students early in their process of choosing a college.

Read more: How social media can help you connect with underrepresented students

6: The role of tuition revenue 

Each year, enrollment officers work through complex calculations to ensure the school will meet enrollment goals, offering the right amount of financial aid to the right students. But from the student's perspective, the rationale behind tuition prices and financial aid offers can seem confusing and opaque. A 2016 study found that even experts can struggle to estimate the cost to attend college.

7: Colleges have geographic goals

Many students stay close to home when attending college, and may not realize that you're on the hunt for rural students, out-of-state students, or even international students.

8: Legacy doesn't guarantee admission

Some students may not realize that even legacy applicants can be rejected, Hoover writes.

9: Service doesn't need to be showy

Students may think that demonstrating community service means flying to another country for a week-long service project. You might have to remind them that simple volunteer activities like tutoring count too.

10: They need to demonstrate interest

Colleges have logical reasons to place so much emphasis on demonstrated interest, since it helps them increase their yield rates. However, a recent study found that the activities that demonstrate most interest are often those that are most costly to students. The paper's authors recommend that schools subsidize campus visits for low-income students and consider incorporating a family income measure into their demonstrated interest formulas (Hoover, New York Times, 11/1).

A school for my son

Next in Today's Briefing

How—and why—liberal arts colleges are doubling down on career services

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