Trends in Admissions: Lessons from western U.S. conference (SuperACAC)

In mid-May, I attended the western region’s biggest professional development conference for college admissions folks, high school counselors and independent college counselors: SuperACAC. As a part of my commitment to continuing education, I attend at least one conference every year to stay current on admissions trends and college updates. Here are my top takeaways from this year’s conference.

  • University of California- Berkeley will soon be the first UC school to accept letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. In this same session, admissions directors from several of the UC campuses walked our group through their comprehensive review process. The review is nearly identical to the review I conducted on thousands of applications to the University of Washington, so I leave feeling much more confident about advising students on admissions to the UC system.
  • The Common Application is adding more than 60 new member colleges this application cycle, which is good news for students. However, much to my dismay is the fact that colleges can now decide whether or not they want to require essays and recommendations. These two application components are absolutely vital to helping a student showcase their unique qualities and story to a school. And the recommendation is a great way of providing context for a student’s GPA, test scores, curriculum, etc. I’ll be curious to see the impact on application numbers for colleges that move to optional essays and recommendations, and will be curious to see what attrition rates look like a few years down the road. I suspect that colleges with fewer requirements will see an increase in applications but they may not be admitting and enrolling students who are a great fit – there is only so much that numbers can reveal about a student’s interests and personality! More information on these changes and others can be found here.
  • A lot of the discussion centered on financial aid and college affordability, an area that is constantly evolving. I learned about some excellent resources for families seeking more thorough support with managing their assets and savings in preparation for sending a student to college. Financial planners with this focus can become a part of professional associations such as the National College Advocacy Group or Higher Education Consultants Association (of which I am a member). I’d encourage families to seek out financial advice from folks who are actively involved with these groups and have a strong commitment to this aspect of financial planning.
  • In a survey of the nation’s top universities (top 100 national universities + top 100 liberal arts colleges), 54% of admissions representatives responded that they have viewed a student’s social media accounts and/or conducted online research of applicants. Cornerstone Research administered this survey and their findings are quite interesting. As admission becomes even more competitive, colleges really are turning to social media and other avenues to learn about prospective students.
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