From Game Apps to Waning Essays, College Admissions Changing


The college admissions landscape continues to evolve, from the number of colleges to which students apply, to the tools available to help them through the stressful process.

It wasn’t long ago that applying to a few colleges was the norm and applying to 9 or 10 was considered ambitious. Today those numbers have essentially doubled. It isn’t uncommon for most students to apply to 10 schools and some students apply to as many as 20 or even 30, writes Ariel Kaminer for The New York Times.

There are several reasons why the numbers have escalated. The use of the Common Application, which makes it easier for students to send their application to multiple schools, is a major factor.

Students also have to worry about finding schools that will meet their financial aid needs and are casting a wide net to snare a better offer, or simply to assuage the fear of not being accepted anywhere.

“Every year the story is that college is harder to get into, so kids panic and think they have to apply to more places,” said Jim Jump, academic dean and director of guidance at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va. The resulting surfeit of applications drives acceptance rates down even further, making the next year’s high school seniors even more panicked.

However, this practice is costly and ineffective. Application fees average $80 and applying to more schools doesn’t give students better odds — and may actually make it so they can’t put as much effort into each school to show that they’re serious.

To help guide students through this panic inducing process, NextTier Education has created a helpful app. The free platform gamifies the application process by organizing the student’s college application deadlines and offers rewards as they meet them.

Writing an essay or cleaning up social media pages are marks that students can hit to earn badges, writes John Carpenter for The Chicago Tribune. Justin Shiffman, the co-founder and CEO of NextTier, hopes the app will help drive good behavior and get them through the application process.

Another piece of technology designed to help college-bound students comes in a video game format. “Mission Admission” gives players an avatar to navigate through scenarios that familiarizes students with deadlines, application requirements, and financial aid.

“It is taking something that is very complex and scary and making it more accessible,” said Zoe Blumberg Corwin, research director at USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education.

Larry Gordon of the LA Times writes that the game’s creators hope it will encourage low-income students who might not get as much help from parents or guidance counselors.

While technology is becoming an important part of college admissions, the essay may have less influence than in the past. For years, students have been told that their essay can make or break an application, but that may not be the case.

Officials in higher education admissions say that hard numbers like GPA, tests scores, class rank and AP and honors classes are much more important when it comes to who is admitted and who isn’t, writes Mitchell Stevens for New Republic.

For colleges, Stevens say, the essay question serves as a marketing tactic – Who can be the most unique or clever? — which is more important than how the applicants actually respond.