n a college landscape that is changing rapidly and radically, the competition is tougher, costs are higher, and the college counseling process is more critical than ever. Recently Pamela Pratt-Galik, WT’s new Director of College Counseling, sat down with Thistletalk to discuss the current state of college admissions, how the field has changed and why, and what parents and students can do to support WT’s college application process.
Q: During the last 20 years, what are some big changes you’ve seen in the college admissions process?
A: Today’s students are asked to think about college much earlier than their parents had to, because their entire high school performance will be evaluated closely by admissions offices. Moreover, how students choose to spend time outside of the classroom has become as important in differentiating them from the number of qualified applicants that highly selective colleges receive in increasing numbers each year.
Q: The number of students applying to US colleges has increased dramatically. How has this affected competition for admission?
A: Many factors contribute to the increase in applications and competition for admission at highly selective colleges. Since the Common Application went online, the per-senior number of submitted applications has steadily increased; this, in turn, makes many colleges seem more selective—for example, more applications for the same number of admitted freshmen, which then promotes a greater frenzy of applications the next year.
Q: Colleges and universities are now dealing with international student populations in record numbers. How does this impact college admissions?
A: Most international students do not qualify for need-based aid, so they have become increasingly attractive for what they bring to admissions in terms of diversity and academic ability with little or no cost. A positive consequence is that colleges are able to direct financial resources toward building a greater diversity among their domestic students. With a greater number of international students being admitted into U.S. colleges, the competition for domestic students is greater, but has yet to approach other factors in determining selectivity.
Q: Students here achieve at the highest levels. How can they also distinguish themselves as individuals with unique experiences and an authentic voice?
A: WT’s multitude of project-based and student-driven learning experiences and classes, programs such as City as Our CampusSM, and a faculty that employs many different teaching styles and strategies, all encourage students to expand the boundaries of the classroom and see how their intellect and passion can actually change their community. Also vital is the rich array of resources at WT, such as the Malone Schools Online Network (MSON) courses that allow our students to access knowledge remotely and to craft a program of study that is uniquely their own. When it is time to present themselves to colleges, they can talk about how WT’s academic rigor prepared them to think critically about real-world problems and how they can play a part in solving them.
WT students head into the college process with an outstanding academic foundation preparing them to excel at highly selective colleges and universities, but there are other important ways in which students—and parents—can build a compelling application, beginning in freshman year.
“Our mission is to help students identify a unique set of colleges at which they will be attractive, well-qualified applicants,” says Pratt-Galik.
- Explore and evaluate academic and extracurricular areas to determine success and interest in both.
- Excel from the start; most colleges consider freshman grades!
- Talk with students about classes and activities they enjoy.
- Encourage exploratory conversations with family friends or colleagues whose career experiences may match their child’s interests and talents.
- Promote summer opportunities, including meaningful community service to deepen interests.
- Reflect on experiences and assess how WT’s array of academic and extracurricular options may be utilized to define themselves. What subjects and activities bring the greatest satisfaction? How can they build upon these strengths and passions over the next two years?
- Continue the conversation from ninth grade, focusing on helping the students clarify what they are good at and really enjoy doing.
- Support ideas students may have for summer enrichment.
- Start visiting colleges, particularly those close to home or near vacation spots.
- Consider PSAT prep work over the summer or at the beginning of junior year, if sophomore PSAT scores indicate National Merit Scholarship potential.
- Select classes thoughtfully.
- Increase best efforts; every year counts, but junior year grades are most important because they may be the last grades colleges use to evaluate a student’s transcript.
- Continue to support students as they challenge themselves academically and seek opportunities to define their character.
- Listen throughout the college process and encourage students to take the lead.
- Enjoy seeing students make decisions about their future; they are on the verge of adulthood and need parents to be their allies.
Junior year is also when one-on-one advising begins, and this continues until the student has committed to a college, reminds Pratt-Galik.
- Summer school: take the college counseling office’s essay workshop, and complete a working draft of the Common Application essay.
- For summer college visits, sign in at the admissions office to create a record of having been on campus. And remember, the vibe is different when undergraduates are gone for the summer.
- Check whether colleges of interest offer summer interviews; it’s a great way for prospective students to show serious interest.
- For students scoring summer interviews, practice in advance; contact the college counseling office to schedule a mock interview.
- Courtesy counts; post-college interview, send a handwritten or email thank you note
- Complete Parent Survey on Naviance account.