What’s Going on with College Applications?

In the high-stress world of college applications, students are in the midst of a volatile, ever-changing environment. So what issues in the college application world should students be aware of, and what should they expect for the future?

The college application world has always been difficult. What has become even more problematic for students in recent years is the way colleges view applications. 


Mr. Harkness, the Director of College Counseling at Malvern, spoke on this big change in how applications are assessed and critiqued. 


“Basically, higher education is going through this big upheaval where all the faculty are retiring and new faculty are moving into those roles. The business and the marketing have taken over the academic model.”


With higher education transitioning to a younger admissions staff, admission counselor positions are in low demand despite there being so many applicants. A job for an admission counselor at Bucknell University begins at around $36,000 a year. That is less than being paid twenty-five dollars an hour at Target. At a larger school like Penn State or Rutgers, salaries range from $46,000 to $55,000. 


In fact, many colleges are reducing the number of counselors in recent years. According to Mr. Harkness, even large schools like Penn State are downsizing their admissions department.  


“Penn State is down five or six recruiters, which means they have that many fewer readers [of the applications]. Every college is looking to hire. So the people you’re meeting who are recruiting have been run ragged through COVID, online [recruiting], in person, or both.” Harkness said. 


What do fewer recruiters mean for students? It means it is easier for applications to go unnoticed or get lost in the sea of other applicants. In addition, with colleges moving to a more business-esque model, how does this change the application process for prospective students? 


“If you can’t enroll students who are going to pay full tuition, how do you balance the budget?… There are a dozen small Catholic institutions in the Philadelphia area, all vying for the same students…I think it impacts the type of education you’ll get. It impacts the experience you get as an applicant,” Harkness said. 


Further complicating the admissions process for students is the topic of affirmative action. According to Oxford Languages, affirmative action is “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups regarded as disadvantaged or subject to discrimination.” The goal of implementing affirmative action is to provide equity in the environment it is employed by favoring marginalized groups of people. The Supreme Court is currently ruling on the case of affirmative action in colleges, and the ruling has the potential to shake up the entire world of college admissions. 


“The Supreme Court case is going to change the way affirmative action is engaging or how admission officers and admission strategists go out and recruit the class. Can race be a factor in

recruiting tenets?” Harkness said. 


On the other side, students applying to colleges have little knowledge of the inner workings of the admissions process. The only thing many of them can control is the effort they put into their application and the classes and clubs they involve themself in. 


Evan Smith, a senior who will attend Wake Forest next year, talked about what he believes is the best thing to help those applying to college. 


“Time management was probably my biggest issue, along with other classes. I had to do other outside stuff, especially with sports and other extracurriculars, and the time management with writing the supplementals was probably the biggest issue,” Smith said. 


Managing your time seems to be the most important factor in a student’s application. Having good time management improves college essays, applications, and resumes which could be the deciding factor in admission for some students.  


“Can you set an earlier timeframe that works for you? Because if you don’t hit that mark, you’re going to be way behind on all your college [applications]?” Smith said