I bet your first glance at this post had you thinking that I had made an error and put a “3” where I should have put a “2”, but actually, I am writing about the goals that I have for college admissions for the next decade. Brennan Barnard is the director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in New Hampshire. He writes for Forbes magazine about college admissions. He wrote an end of the year three-part series, here, here and here. One of the pieces addressed the changes in college admissions over the past decade. It inspired me to write about the changes that I would like to see in the next decade. There are several things that could happen that would streamline the application process, add transparency and ideally create more access for first-generation students. Here are the changes that I would love to see take place so that when we close this new decade, things are simpler for families that want to pursue post-secondary education.
TESTING- The standardized testing machine needs an overhaul. The College Board and the ACT are big businesses that generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from individual families, school districts and colleges that buy student data from them. I hope that in the next decade these tests are eliminated or at least play a more minor role in college admissions. (And I hope that subject tests are entirely eliminated too.)
The testing experience is expensive and stressful. Families need to determine which test their student should take or whether to take both? Then there is the question of test prep and how much they need to invest in that. Should they take the test with or without the writing part? And who should take Subject Tests and when? And if the Subject Test are “suggested” are their scores good enough to send or should they hold off? There has been meaningful research published that demonstrates that grades are as good an indicator of college success as standardized test scores. Change is in the air, as I wrote about the lawsuit around standardized testing in California here. In 2030, I would be thrilled to have the SAT and the ACT be a thing of the past or at least play a diminished role in admissions.
FINANCIAL AID/COST- One of the first words that you will hear in the financial aid arena is to determine your Expected Family Contribution. You can do this on the College Board website, here. Most families are shocked at what the colleges determine they can pay. The numbers are so draconian that maybe you could live on the amount that is left after you pay for college for a year, but it is entirely unsustainable for four years (or more if you have more than one child). At some point, there will be a car repair or a medical bill or some other expense that arises and you will have to choose between paying for college or covering the expense.
The problem is that the government sets the formulas and anyone in college admissions will tell you that the numbers are not realistic. Most people cannot dunk a basketball. But imagine if there was a government formula that took random measurements of your body and then determined that yes, you should be able to dunk a basketball. You would be left shaking your head because there is no way that you can dunk a basketball. This is how the EFC works-you are handed a number you cannot afford and told that you can afford it. And since the government establishes the EFC, when you call your college to say that your EFC is unaffordable and that you actually need to be able to turn on your utilities and put food on the table, the schools point to the EFC and say that is what you should be able to pay. I want a system in place that will take a realistic measure of what families can afford and put packages on the table that limit student loan debt so that we no longer hear about people that have six-figure debt from their undergraduate degrees.
APPLICATION PROCESS- The application process needs to be streamlined from platforms to deadlines. Right now there are multiple applications like the Common Application and the Coalition Application and there are colleges that still use their own proprietary system. Within these distinct platforms, individual schools can ask for writing pieces to supplement the Common App or the Coalition. Some schools are Common App exclusive and some are Coalition exclusive. Some schools take them both and some take neither. And the deadlines start in October and go into February. In addition to this, there are multiple categories for applications, ED1, ED2, ED3 (thank you Colgate), EA1, EA2, Regular Decision, Priority and Rolling. In the middle of the application season, this complexity keeps people like me on my toes, trying to ensure that we do not miss anything. I would imagine it is more stressful for the average family that is attempting to negotiate this process. Creating a uniform system with consistent deadlines would go a long way to help students submit applications.
Truthfully? I would love to see the whole thing simplified to the point where no one needs help from someone like me. I would welcome a system that is so transparent that consultants like me become a thing of the past and students and their families can embark on this process with hope and joy, not stressed and overwhelmed. What would you like to see change?