College Admissions: Then and Now

With two high school juniors, college admissions is a hot topic at both our houses.  We all agree that it was much easier when we applied to school and wish it wasn’t so brutally competitive for our kids’ generation. To try to understand why things have changed so much, we did a little digging and here are the facts:

SAT, College Application, Yale, college admissions competitive



  1. says

    I was lucky that there were no admission tests when I attended university about a thousand years ago–but it is less of a thing in Canada anyway.

    • says

      Every situation in time is so different as far as college acceptance is concerned. So different for us, too, way back when.

  2. says

    There’s no worse story about college admissions than the California state and UC systems – getting in to even a mediocre school in California is now a near-impossible act except for the most exceptional and highest achieving of kids. It’s a tragedy.

    • says

      As someone who went to the UC system 30 years ago, this is so sad. It was an amazing education and an affordable price. We were shocked to see how much the world has changed in these 30 years.

  3. Emily says

    I wrote a post a few months ago about how I am already stressing out over the college admissions process and my oldest is only in 9th grade. I am dreading it! Interesting reasons as to why it has become more competitive…I also think the parents drive each other nuts too, which feeds the frenzy.

    • says

      It is so intimidating even from the vantage point of 9th grade. Everyone will tell you that it will be fine, and it will, but that doesn’t mean that parents and kids don’t feel a great deal of stress because of all these changes. Good Luck!

  4. says

    You’re right, there are definitely more kids applying to college now than 30 years ago, making admission more competitive. Adding to that is the fact that most kids today apply to an average of 8-12 colleges. We, their parents, sent out about 4 applications. Today, the obsession is with getting into the “right college,” which may not necessarily be the one that is right for the student. There’s almost too much information available for current applicants and their families, including numerous college rankings based on irrelevant factors, making the process more stressful than it needs to be. Remember, there are probably several colleges where your child can be happy, not just one.

    • says

      You are so right about the flood of information. It has made their choices so much broader and more complex. Your site is a spot for real insight for parents who fear drowning in this flood.

  5. says

    I’ve helped students get into college and it is now much more competitive than it used to be, but it’s like all things we have done before with success: step by step. The biggest key is keeping great notes on all activities, grades, and extras, so when the time comes to apply, you don’t have to try and remember what happened when.

  6. Carpool Goddess says

    Great visuals! Back in the day, to get into the southern California university I went to, you just needed a pulse and a check book. Today, it’s one of the more competitive schools to get into! Crazy.

  7. says

    As a private college counselor and the parent of five adult children, I am constantly reminded how the college admission process has changed. I see the stress and anxiety that it causes in students and families. There is more college information everywhere, but it is not always accurate. How do you know what to believe? There are applications and essays and many students are faced with additional supplements they need to provide. New factors for college acceptance have become more significant, and others factors less so. SAT and ACT tests have taken on a new importance, in spite of what some colleges might admit, and the higher the scores, the more likely a student is to get merit aid from a school. And who doesn’t need money to pay for college? Need I say more? The rules have changed and college applicants are playing a new game.

    • says

      I’m an independent college counselor as well…actually just finishing with my last students this year. Oh yes, the rules have changed…it is so depressing for average and even above average students. Many colleges treat students as though they are commodities, not students. The bar has been set so high at some of these schools that I’m surprised anyone gets admitted without doing 2,000 hours of community service, building a house for poor people in Uganda, being class president AND having all A’s in all AP classes. Just thinking about it wears me out….and it makes me angry. What is the point of education, anyway?

  8. says

    As a former college employee who worked closely with admissions, I have first hand experience seeing and learning just how competitive colleges REALLY are. Admissions starts as a numbers game. When you have thousands of applicants, their essays sound the same. Boatloads of community service. Essays about family as role models. Involvement in a million different clubs. Good grades. Good SAT scores.

    There are three things you can do to help your kids be more successful. A high GPA and excellent SAT score are the top two. When colleges have more applications than they can read through individually, they use a computer to sort out the applicants who don’t meet their minimum test scores. They aren’t going to waste their time reading applications from students who don’t meet that score… UNLESS, the student is a specialist (such as an athlete), who was recommended by someone on the “inside”. Then, that student’s application gets pulled out from the pile and reviewed on its own.

    So help your kids keep on top of their academics, help them achieve high SAT/ACT scores, and/or help them become a specialist. Those three things should help your kids stand out in the applications process!

  9. says

    we’re relieved our kids are beyond this process and feel for anyone who is going through it. hopefully by the time your kids graduate the job market will be healthier than it is now. the anxiety we were spared in the application process is sitting heavily on our doorsteps as we watch our kids struggle to find some kind of financial equilibrium.

  10. says

    The college admissions process has gotten so complicated. It’s like our kids have to be super-teens: they need to have a perfect GPA, a high SAT score, be super involved, and still have to stress about getting in to the school of their choice.

    We’ve recently been doing a lot of research on what we are going to do for SAT prep. I recently read an article that being too involved or not involved enough can hurt your child’s chance at college admissions. It makes me so nervous! I am just going to keep doing research and hope the process goes smoothly.

  11. says

    I was a former Lecturer at the University of Texas Dallas, and am just completing my career as an independent college consultant. I have loved working with families, students, and volunteering my time. The college scene has changed so completely! Truthfully…with each passing year the students seem to become more entitled with helicopter parents hovering all over the place. No wonder these kids cannot problem solve or do much for themselves! I have blogged about college a lot, though I haven’t written anything much lately, my college blog was

  12. says

    Fast forward to the first part of the twenty-first century. Media headlines tell a story very different for students applying to college now.


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