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Challenges Aplenty in College Admissions Process

College applicants once again facing challenging admissions cycle

By Billy Downing, CEO and founder of ESM Prep

With the blink of an eye, summer is a thing of the past. Fall is now in full-swing, and seniors across the country are heading back to classes for their final year of high school. From Minnesota to Texas, Boston to Seattle, college-bound seniors and their parents are struggling to make sense of a college admissions cycle that is rendering many confused and confounded.

“The process of getting accepted to college today is so different than it was in my day,” remarked Kelly Matherson, whose son, Kevin, is a high school senior this year.  “When my husband and I went to college, we just showed up on the first day of classes to register.”

Boy has the game changed.

This new crop of college applicants face a changing admissions landscape, an economic downturn that has depleted college funding significantly and the realization that more kids are applying to more schools, thus making it harder to know what schools will admit, reject or waitlist an applicant.

In Dallas, Texas, Sarah Finlay has already started her Common Application (common, the preferred method of completing college applications for 414 public and private universities in the United States. “I have been working on my personal statement and my supplement essays. It’s really been a challenge to stay on top of all the different requirements for each school.”  Sarah says she’d like to apply to 16 schools, both private and public across the U.S. But unlike many of her peers from Texas who are applying to local or in-state schools like Southern Methodist, Trinity or Texas Christian University, Sarah’s dream is to attend UC San Diego, one of ten increasingly competitive UC campuses.

In recent months, The University of California has come under fire as information has disseminated regarding cuts in enrollment, reduction of student services and other programs, and, to add fuel to the fire, a potential raise of tuition and fees. Out-of-state UC students will now pay upwards of $52,000 annually for tuition, fees, room and board.

If the California budget woes seem like a mere set of statistics with no real impact on incoming and current students, just ask former members of the UC Davis Men’s Swimming and Diving program how California’s financial crisis has impacted them. Citing budget constraints, the University dropped four athletics programs, including Men’s Swimming and Diving late last spring.  For a swim program with national recognition, this was a tough fate to swallow. However, despite current challenges, there is light at the end of the tunnel for students who are willing to look at multiple school choices in different states.

Last year for example, The University of Michigan accepted 41% percent of applicants.  For a school with a national brand, great teachers, and a fantastic collegiate environment, this statistic is encouraging and a far cry from the daunting single-digit admissions rates posted by Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton last year.

So what can kids do to help make sure they are not left standing without a chair when the music stops?  College admissions experts and school officials all agree that getting the process started early is paramount.

Many schools have already released their online applications, essay prompts and application instructions.  Applicants should form their college lists, begin drafting their personal statements and sign up for required standardized exams. The dreaded SAT, the nation’s most well-known college entrance exam, will be held again on October 9, 2010.  Students can register online at

Get the application wheels in motion, explore in-state and out-of-state college options and the challenges of this admission cycle are far from insurmountable.

Billy Downing is the Founder and CEO of The ESM Group, an international consultancy that helps provide a wide-range of educational services to families, corporations and organizations.  His upcoming book College Quest, is due out in Spring 2011.