College admissions changes every year. Staying up to date is critical in order to be successful in the admissions process. At Empowerly we have helped thousands of students navigate the process for the past several years. Through this experience, we have noticed some trends that will be useful for students and parents in high school today. In this article, we will review changes in college admissions to both applications and the financial aid process.
The application process has gotten more competitive across the board because applicant sizes are growing faster than seats. In the last 10 years, many colleges have gone from a few thousand applicants to 30,000 or more! On the other hand, their class sizes have only increased ~20%. This in turn reduced admissions rates; thereby causing students to apply to more schools; and ultimately, makes the admissions process harder as colleges try to figure out who truly wants to attend their school.
Colleges track a figure called yield, which is the percentage of students who accept an offer of admission. Yield is viewed as a proxy to selectiveness and student preference – it takes into account students with multiple offers to similarly ranked colleges. Colleges pursue higher yields each year by refining their methods of selecting students most likely to attend their college if given an offer.
These factors together have caused the admissions rates at many of the top colleges to plummet in the past ten years. Below is a graph that shows this phenomenon:
As a reaction, students and parents have started to apply to more colleges as there is no downside. The average student now routinely applies to 5 or more colleges, with many students applying to 15 to 30 schools. In this way, colleges benefit from the additional application fees and selection of applicants.
Financial Aid Process
Most universities will offer a financial aid package upon admission which is a combination of scholarships from the university (need and merit), federal student aid programs, and state aid programs. These packages usually include information on federal student loans and student employment opportunities in college as well. From our experience, merit scholarship to the Top 50 colleges has drastically decreased as academic applicants grow exponentially. Colleges can now choose who they want, with or without aid.
Most loans available to students are through the William Ford Federal Direct Loan program (which offers both subsidized and unsubsidized loans). In 2014, the most common interest rate on these loans was a fixed 6.8%.
To maximize your aid, submit your FASFA application on time as some opportunities are first-come, first-serve. Once accepted, we recommend students counter schools with offers of aid if they are serious and have been offered a spot, as well as keep colleges updated of certain circumstances (other children in college, one parent household, first generation). The first approach sometimes works but often the Top 50 colleges do not respond to that.
Simply asking for more financial aid does not result in a better offer. Being open with financial aid officers, who are often different than admissions officers, is the first step. Sometimes, assets are mis-categorized which can result in a significantly different financial profile.
The other factors to consider include duration of loans offered, expected time to degree completion, and the long-term view on education as an investment in a career. The last of these factors is usually the most variable and the hardest to predict. At Empowerly, we have seen hundreds of students go through this process and generally there is a strong positive trend between those who believe they will utilize college and find a meaningful, well-paying career and those who actually do it. In short, those students who keep an open mind are those that often succeed in finding something they love. Often, that is different than what they came into the college thinking they would study.
Changes to the college admissions process continues to morph each year – both from the applicant and college perspective. The financial aid landscape has in turn changed, and likely the college experience itself will continue to morph as supply of the educational experience and demand find an equilibrium.
For current high school students, there are practical things to do: apply to more colleges, find colleges that you actually like and demonstrate interest, and be open with financial aid officers about your situation. In many ways, the journey is an exploration for the student, and the supporting cast of counselors, parents, and colleges play a role. If you have any questions, please reach out!