College admissions turned upside-down in past decade

Almost all seniors have been told by their parents or grandparents, “When I was your age, I applied to one college and got in. No worries.” But seniors have learned that things have definitely changed since then.

“It is definitely harder to get into college now than any time prior to this,” CHS counselor Jeff Schatz says.

From SATs to GPAs, the world of college admissions has flipped upside down in the in the past decade. The number of students applying, the number of international students and the overall competiveness of getting into college have skyrocketed, making it harder than even to get into college.

Undergraduate enrollment has been increasing since the mid-1980s. Between 1985 and 2010, enrollment rose 78 percent, and from 2000 and 2010 alone it rose 37 percent. During fall 2013, there were a record-breaking 21.8 million students expected to attend colleges in the U.S, a 6.5 million student increase since fall 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Schatz believes these increasing numbers are due in part to the Common Application making it easier than ever to apply.

“I think people are afraid, so they apply to more schools, but also because it’s easier,” Schatz says. “The Common App has really made it easy to apply.”

The Common Application definitely made things easier for CHS senior Carly Eggers, who applied to 21 colleges, 13 of which were on the Common App form.

Ten years ago, CHS students and students all over the nation went by what Schatz calls “the two, two, two rule.” They applied to two safety schools, two target schools and two reach schools. Now the average CHS student applies to between eight and nine schools with some students applying to up to 20 different schools, according to Schatz.

“Students over the last ten years are applying to probably two or three times as many colleges as they did,” CHS college and career counselor Patricia Hunt says. “So the sheer volume of applications makes the application much more competitive everywhere.”

Since more students are applying for the same spots, acceptance rates are being driven down nation-wide and making once relatively accessible schools harder to get into.

The volume of students applying to colleges is in part due to international applicants, who alone contribute over $24 billion to the U.S economy. According to the Institute of International Education, there has been a 40 percent increase in foreign students coming to the United States to pursue a college education in the past 10 years. During 2013, there were a total of 820,000 international students to U.S. colleges.

From China alone, the number one contributor of foreign students to the U.S., there were nearly 235,000 Chinese students in the U.S., a number that has almost quadrupled in the past seven years. In 2006, there were only 62,582 students from China, and today the number just seems to continue to increase.

“[UC’s and CSU’s] are admitting more out-of-state and out of the country applicants because they pay so much more,” Hunt says. “They can take three California kids or one kid from out of the country… I think it’s all financial when it comes to that.”

With the increased number of colleges each student applies to, large many students within a high school will apply to the same colleges, making it more competitive within each school. This year alone, 25 CHS students applied to Santa Clara, 15 applied to Saint Mary’s, and a large number of students applied to colleges like UCSD and Cal Poly. Even if each applicant to Santa Clara is qualified to go there, they just can’t take twenty-five students all from the same school, Schatz explains.

“You are kind of competing against each other when everybody wants to apply to Santa Clara or LMU,” Hunt says.

At the same time, CHS and the Monterey Bay area is at a slight advantage within the U.C. system.

“There are certain counties in California where historically they’ve had low numbers of students going to U.C.’s,” says CHS science teacher Tom Dooner, who was a 2013 U.C. Santa Cruz essay reader. “And so those counties you get a little bit of a bump on your evaluation, and Monterey County is one of those counties.”

These shifts in college culture have hit home here in Carmel. CHS counselor Darren Johnston says that there was a major shift eight to ten years ago when members of the CUSD Board of Education pushed for a much more college-oriented focus.

“The big picture was to increase the college-going culture here at CHS,” Johnston says. “I came into my first senior class, and most of those kids had an abysmal education [on the college application process].”

Johnston says that at this point the counselors moved their focus to students taking more Advanced Placement courses and meeting A-G requirements, necessary courses for U.C. acceptance. From 2008 to 2011, CHS raised the number of graduated who meet A-G requirements from 52.7 percent to 74.9 percent, which jumped in 2013 to roughly 82 percent. The percent of 2008 graduates that said they were going to attend a four-year university was roughly 44 percent, compared to 63 percent in 2013.

Teachers have also seen this shift within the school.

“I saw the beginnings of a shift that said four-year schools, four-year schools, four-year schools,” social studies teacher Jeff Wright says.

The bottom line is this: the college acceptance process does not make sense to seniors and even college counselors who spend much of their time focused on this issue.

“It’s not a checklist you’re going through,” says Dooner of the U.C. system. “It’s not a matrix where you’re going down the x-axis with the SAT scores and going down the y-axis with the GPA and arriving at a number like it used to be.”

And this is the same for colleges all across the country. CHS senior Caroline Lahti knows this is true. She has a 4.1 GPA, a 2200 on the SAT and a 34 on the ACT, but didn’t get into U.C. Irvine, whose average accepted student has a 4.03 GPA, 27 on the ACT and 1854 on the SAT.

“It’s not a completely predictable system,” Schatz says. “There is a randomness to it.”

-Helaine Ridilla