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College Admissions Changes That Shock Parents, 4 Ways to Adapt

College admissions looks a lot different than it did 20-30 years ago. We dive into these changes and get input from a parent as she compares her 1980s college admissions experience.

Shawna Newman

January 10, 2022

College Admissions Changes That Shock Parents, 4 Ways to Adapt
Time changes everything.
Parents of college-bound students may be shocked to see how much the path of college has changed in the past 20 to 30 years. From college life, costs, and fees to the methods of getting into a top-choice school, there have been big shifts within higher education. Time changes everything, including the world of college and college admissions. While there are numerous points of change, we’re diving into the top 4 college adjustments parents seem to be the most shocked to discover. To get the inside story, we reached out to Grown & Flown’s managing editor, Helene Wingens, a 1985 college graduate and parent to two recent college graduates and one current college student, for her perspective. Below we’ll explore these top college admissions changes and provide solutions parents can use to adapt to these changes.
  1. The cost of college tuition and general cost of living for college students has increased—a lot.

    If you have not kept your pulse on the rising cost of college and you are now a parent of a current high school student, be prepared to be shocked. The price you paid to attend college 23 years ago is a lot less than it is today. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a full-time student attending a public, 4-year college in 1995-96 was approximately $11,498 per academic year. Fast-forward nearly 25 years, the cost to attend a public, 4-year college in 2019 close to doubles that at $20,598 per academic year.
    ADAPT SOLUTION: It’s best to work with your student to understand what his/her goals are. Whether that is enlisting in the military or becoming a college student, you will want to support them as much as possible. If college is in their future, begin taking an active role in the scholarship search as a team. Be realistic with them, too; discuss financial hurdles and begin planning together! Consider opening a 529 college savings plan and contributing to this as early and as much as you can.
  2. Deciding on a college today seems to take a lot more time and effort.

    Now parents can expect to attend campus tours of each college their student is interested in. You may even be invited to information sessions from a variety of colleges’ admissions teams. As a parent to a high school junior or senior, your mailbox is filled with admissions materials from several schools, too. It can feel overwhelming.
    In the 1990s, college research seemed more passive; this process involved personal connections to school alumni, conversations with high school teachers to talk about your options, and sometimes borrowing or purchasing a massive catalog that detailed United States colleges. Wingens, describes her college research process as feeling more simplistic, compared to her sons’ experience. Wingens said, “I took a road trip with a few friends to look at schools and then decided on the ones I liked that were within a few hours' drive.” The college research process today takes much more effort than it did 37 years ago. Wingens adds, “When my kids were looking, we went with them, took tours, went to info sessions. It was much more of a family endeavor.” ADAPT SOLUTION: Before committing to touring each and every college your student is interested in, encourage them to narrow their list. The more campuses visited, the more mail you’ll receive, too!
  3. Find and rely on tools that will make the process easier for your family. Create a Fastweb profile to find and apply for scholarships. Get financial aid tips from Check out sites such as Grown & Flown. Use resources such as U.S. News’ College Rankings to narrow down your student’s list of colleges, or use colleges’ social media accounts as a research tool.
  4. The college admissions process is a lot more competitive.

    Today students are expected to begin building their own personal brand in high school to stand out on a college application. Active participation in a variety of extracurricular activities gives students the robust experiences needed to craft an outstanding college essay or personal statement. But all this school involvement and volunteering takes time and money for a student’s family—and we’ve yet to mention the academic aspect. In today’s competitive college admissions process, students are still expected to have good grades or the required GPA to get into their top college choices. Today’s students also seem to apply to a lot more colleges than they did before. Collegeboard recommends students apply to 5-8 colleges. Wingens recalls she didn’t apply to nearly as many colleges in the 1980s as her children recently did. ADAPT SOLUTION: Encourage your student not to overcommit; use a balanced approach that weaves in extracurriculars with volunteer workand academics. Tell your child to work with their school counselor and to narrow down their college listbefore sending in dozens of college applications (application fees can add up fast).
  5. Standardized test scores are not as important as they once were.

    Thanks to a pandemic, the past two years have brought about tremendous changes within the college admissions world, especially to standardized testing. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing or reports that more than 1,800 colleges are now test-optional. Prior to 2020, many of these schools originally had set ACT and SAT score minimums for admittance. According to U.S.News, the SAT test historically played a key role in the college admission process. High school seniors in the 1980s and 90s took the ACT and SAT at a time when standardized testing was considered essential for college admission. Wingens’ account supports this as she adds that standardized testing was much more important in the 1980s when she was researching and applying to colleges. ADAPT SOLUTION: If your child is a great test taker, then consider encouraging them to take standardized tests. Colleges and universities often offer institutional scholarships for students with high scores. Using your student’s top-choice college list, find out if the school is test-optional or test blind for the upcoming academic year. If each college on their list is test blind, there is no need to take the ACT or SAT.

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Shawna Newman

Managing Editor, Contributing Writer

Shawna Newman is the Managing Editor and a writer at Fastweb. She has over 10 years of experience in higher education. Her direct work with college admissions teams, financial aid officers, college deans, ...

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