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Our colleague and college specialist Donna Cournoyer contributed the following update for college planning

Applying to college can be a complex and multifaceted process, including several steps and requiring careful planning and attention to detail.

The most recent yearly cycle of the college admissions process has just finished, as high school seniors and their parents have completed the years-long college preparation and detailed application process by making a financial commitment to the school they will attend for the next four years this beginning this coming fall.

The current level of complexity of this process sent some families into procrastination mode, pushing off the inevitable facing of facts. For others, it means assuming an uncomfortable level of debt.

For those who started early and bravely committed to fully engaging and digging into the process- navigating all the steps and intricacies along the way- many found themselves completely exhausted emotionally, and unfortunately for some, financially.

How did we get here? Has the craziness finally peaked with the FAFSA debacle of 2024-2025? Not likely. Although we will learn more when the process starts up again this fall with the next application season.

The college application process in 2024 has been particularly tumultuous due to several key trends and changes that have intensified its complexity and competitiveness.

Key Trends and Challenges

  1. Surge in Applications: The number of college applications has increased dramatically. This surge is partly due to the widespread adoption of test-optional policies, which has encouraged more students to apply to a broader range of schools. Applications to public institutions have seen an 82% increase since 2019-20, while private institutions saw a 47% increase​ (IvyWise)​​ (Crimson Education US)​.
  2. Early Decision and Early Action: Early application options have become more popular, but acceptance rates for these rounds have decreased. Many top universities still admit a significant portion of their incoming class through these early rounds, which makes the competition fierce.​
  3. Impact of Affirmative Action: The Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action has removed race and ethnicity as factors in admissions decisions. Colleges are now exploring new ways to maintain diverse student bodies, such as through supplemental essays and other holistic review strategies.​
  4. Financial Aid Delays: The rollout of a new FAFSA form resulted in a large decline in applications, and caused delays, which means students received financial aid offers much later than usual. This had a huge impact for some students and families and their ability to make informed decisions about which college to attend​.
  5. AI in Admissions: AI technology is increasingly used by colleges to streamline the application review process, including evaluating transcripts and letters of recommendation. This has raised concerns about the authenticity of student submissions, especially with some students using AI tools to assist with their essays​ (CollegeData)​​ (College MatchPoint)​.

Overall, the college application process is a significant undertaking that requires organization, time management, and support from various sources.

Strategies for Applicants

  • Broaden Your Application List: Consider adding a mix of public and private institutions, including those that might not be traditionally prestigious but offer strong programs in your areas of interest.
  • Early Applications: Apply early if you are confident about your top-choice schools but be aware of the competitive nature of these rounds.
  • Holistic Applications: Focus on creating a well-rounded application that highlights personal experiences, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest testing policies of your target schools and prepare accordingly.
  • Use AI Responsibly: AI can be a helpful tool, however, be sure your application essays contain your work and authenticity.

The 2024 college application process has indeed been chaotic, driven by increased application volumes, evolving admission policies, and the integration of new technologies.

Preparing for the upcoming college admissions season: Staying informed and strategically planning your application approach can help navigate these challenges effectively.