How the invisible enemy will wreck college admissions and reset it (for the better)

The week before Thanksgiving 2019, I was presenting to a group of parents of college-bound high schoolers who were extremely nervous about the whole “college admissions game.” Game? What game?

They were particularly concerned about their child going to a school that “must be ranked high, otherwise he/she would end up with no job.”  But they understood, those schools as “impossible to get into.” Major of study or careers is “secondary as long as my son/daughter gets in one of those schools.” Career and major are secondary to the college of choice? If we are worried about jobs at the end of this, why are they secondary? How could that be?

Then came one mom who was frazzled about her son receiving “a personal invitation to apply to a ‘super selective’ college.” How is that possible? Her son, after all, was “just a middle of the road, 2.7 GPA, 24 ACT, barely making through regular classes.” Was that a mistake?

Shortly after, a dad asked about additional options for footing the $60K/year bill for his daughter’s upcoming first year in college. $60K/year… That’s a brand new BMW or a decent country cabin to have vacations… Every year for four years. 

After having to calm the nerves of over 50 parents with facts and data with some real-life examples from our students, it occurred to me:  The college admissions bubble – which we knew had long existed – has blown so big that it creates questions, anxiety, and panic.

These were the Pre-COVID19 days for higher education and college admissions — otherwise known as the “dark ages of higher education.”  Those of us who have worked in or around college admissions for years would attest that this “bubble” would burst somehow, some time.  We just didn’t think it would be burst by something that’s only visible via a super sensitive microscope.

And yes, you heard that right. PRE-COVID19 days were indeed the dark ages (but only for parents and students — not for “prestigious” colleges, that is) for college admissions as parents and students were forced to live by the rules set by the “top 200, most prestigious” colleges that you’d find in any and every rank published in print or online. And the other 3,800+ colleges… They “aspired” to be breaking in that 200 somehow and in some way by playing the game by those rules. This was the “college admissions game” I mentioned earlier.

Rules of the College Admissions Game in Pre-COVID19

Post-COVID19 World of College Admissions Expected: The Age of Hope

Some things will change by default (for the better) while some things will change only if parents and students make a collective effort. Here is the breakdown:

By default:

By collective effort:

The only factor that might not change post-COVID19 in the college admissions game unless there is more of a concerted effort from families is the weight that’s put on college rankings rather than the fit.

While the changes that are expected to occur above might shift the focus of rankings from being “prestigious” and “selective” to more “career readiness” and/or “higher ROI,” the habit (or reflex, by now) of checking college rankings will continue — unless families become more intentional with their college choice, i.e. fit, moving forward.

After all, that’s for the better: fewer heartbreaks, false hopes, misguided facts, and broken budgets.