May 15, 2013

5 Potential Game Changers in College Admissions

Wake Forest University is one of many test-optional colleges
Over the next couple of years, elements of the college admissions process will undergo some major changes.

And for many “insiders” who advise high school students on colleges and admissions, change can’t come soon enough. 

But as applications, testing, and financial aid look for ways to streamline the process and take advantage of readily-available technology, it’s vital the organizations driving change make student-applicants the priority. 

It’s not just about speed and ease of access.  And it shouldn’t just be a bottom line game where business and revenue trump the human elements of the process.

At some point, the players need to stand back and look for ways to simplify the chaos caused by a rush to bring in bigger numbers—dollars and applicants. 

And effort should be made to make the process of change more open and inclusive not closed and secretive.

For the moment, however, here are five potential game changers in college admissions that bear watching:

A New SAT.  The College Board recently announced plans to redesign the SAT to better meet “the needs of students, schools, and colleges at all levels.”  Comments from the College Board suggest that an improved SAT would focus on core knowledge and skills that support student success in college and careers.  Look for the new SAT to look more like the current ACT, which for the first time jumped over the SAT in terms of
popularity—another possible game-changer for many colleges and applicants.

New Applications.  Both the Universal College Application (UCA) and the Common Application (CA) are moving to new application software with bells and whistles designed to introduce the application process to the 21st century. The UCA is a year ahead of the Common App, with an all-new website and application emphasizing ease of use and individualization options for applicants, counselors, and colleges.  In fact, the UCA is already compatible with mobile devices, including iPads and iPhones.  While still in the development stage, the Common App will be unveiling a new look, new essays, and a user-friendly interface on August 1, 2013.

Computerized ACT.  The ACT is proceeding with plans to offer an online, computer-based administration of the ACT as early as 2015.  Students will be able to take the test on devices such as desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. For now, the digital version of the exam will be offered only in schools that administer the ACT on a school day as part of state, district or school assessment programs.  There is no timetable at present for introducing the electronic option in other testing situations such as national test days—but it’s likely coming. Although details have yet to be worked out, scores earned from the online tests will be available for reporting to colleges (constructed-response or technology-enhanced items are labeled "optional and separate").

Less Eligibility for Federal Financial Aid.  The income threshold for an automatic $0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—the number used to determine a student’s eligibility for student aid—decreased dramatically from $31,000 to $23,000, this year. Students who are not home schooled and do not hold a high school diploma or GED no longer qualify for federal aid.  And beginning in 2014, students whose parents are unmarried but living together, as well as the children of married gay and lesbian couples, will be asked to list both parents when applying for financial aid.  In other words, the availability of federal financial aid is tightening up.

More Standardized Test Options.  The list of colleges implementing test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies continues to grow.  And many students are benefiting from state college systems that reward extraordinary high school performance with automatic admission—no testing required. In general, test-optional policies raise “holistic” review to a much higher level and require admissions offices to work harder to make the college/applicant match.  But given the proven success of these programs, more colleges are looking at ways to diminish or otherwise do away with the role of standardized testing in admissions.

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