What Every Parent Needs to Know About College Admissions
How to Prepare Your Child to Succeed in College and Life─With a Step-by Step Planner
By Christie Barnes
“…the go-to guide for students to find the right path, at the right time, for the right tuition amount to lead to their best career outcome.”
―Anna Costaras and Gail Liss, authors of The College Bound Organizer
“As a Higher Education professional with six years of experience working in Admissions, Assessment, Advising, and, presently, as a Financial Aid Specialist, I have witnessed the considerable strain navigating the college process has on students and their parents. The internet is full of advice, but so much of it is outdated or incorrect. It is evident that Christie Barnes spent many years gathering research that will vastly improve the preparation and transition process from high school to college.”
―Natalie Eck, financial aid specialist at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida
Society’s guiding “truths” about higher education are now incorrect. In What Every Parent Needs to Know About College Admissions, Christie Barnes helps parents and students alike cut through the noise and find the best school, which might not always be the most prestigious or expensive one.
College planning re-examined. All economic levels are getting vastly incorrect information for college and career planning, leading to anxiety-ridden youth and crippling student debt. Less affluent students are being led to more expensive options and high achievers feel compelled to apply for college at the most prestigious institutions. But, whether it’s a state school, safety school, or public school―there are other options beside an overpriced private school. It could be, but it might not be.
A guidance counselor for parents. Learn that it’s not just about the “right” college, it’s about the “right fit” college. Using statistics, experts, and multi-factor analysis to clarify what should and should not be a worry in college planning, Barnes helps parents identify better, and often overlooked, options. In this guide, she dissects the top ten parental worries about how to get into college, including college applications, college admissions, college requirements, and college acceptance.
- The first comprehensive individualized career and academic planning guide available to parents and teens
- Details on new innovative programs endorsed by schools, colleges, and HR departments
- A bonus “Academic Planning Guide”
Paperback $22.95 eBook $9.99
Christie Barnes is best known for her acclaimed Paranoid Parents Guides, countering what parents perceive as worries and dangers with facts and statistics to focus their parenting efforts. Appearing in the New York Times, on ABC, and across the nation and even crashing the NPR website, she was honored to help worried parents.
Researching her new book What Every Parent Needs to Know about College Admissions, she was shocked to find that stellar students were not getting even adequate college and career outcomes. She felt that more than research and writing about the problem was needed, so she sought professional qualifications in college and career counseling. Adding to her BA from Mount Holyoke College, graduate study at Oxford, and an MA Hons City University of London, she became a certified High School and College Career ‘conversationalist’ and pursued post-master’s education and training.
This expertise took her to ‘Washington D.C.’ for the National Policy Symposium. Where she testified and advocated to senators and members of Congress about Career and Technical Education.
She has recently appeared in Forbes as an expert on college and the future of work and Reader’s Digest on Covid-19 disruption of college, with Dr Anthony Fauci.
Barnes had an earlier life in film and television, apprentice directing at the Royal Shakespeare Company, translating plays for the BBC, assistant directing award-winning TV for Channel Four. She married Oscar-nominated, Olivier award-winning playwright Peter Barnes. His sudden death when their triplets were one and daughter four, left Christie a single mother determined to be the best parent she could be–which led to her career as a respected and well-known parenting expert.
Why is college no longer the “Golden Ticket” to a high-paying job for life?
Any college degree used to be the entry to the career that would last a working lifetime. Now technological advancement ‘destroys’ careers at an exponentially increasing rate: software has been replacing college-educated personnel as much as automation has been replacing factory workers. Those in the workforce will not have one career for life but seven to twelve careers, most not invented yet. So, one expensive bachelor’s degree will not prepare the student for a dozen careers; and getting a new bachelor’s degree for every new career is ludicrous. A four-year education is valuable and amazing but can be out of line with career requirements. New careers require specialization and shorter-term education to remain competitive to keep at the forefront of innovation.
Why do college admissions officers describe the current admissions process as unfair?
With so many top students, admissions chances can have lottery-odds. But worse, so much is weighted against the average great student when it comes to selective college admissions.
Many factors make for an unfair playing field, and I am not just talking about Varsity Blues bribes and illegal cheats. Extra ‘admissions points’ go to top sports stars or those who excel at an activity that brings attention and funding to the college, like an orchestra, choral group, debate team, or winning gamers. Children of the rich and famous get advantage points even without the bribes or huge donations. Colleges like diversity to make a richer student body so more admission points go to those candidates. Some states have now banned ‘legacy’ identification—if a parent went to the school. Colleges know alums donate. But we don’t even stop to consider subtler advantages—the advantage of having kid-centered parents who buy their kids books, take them to museums, movies, the theatre, read to them, talk to them, will pay for test prep and tutors, or just expect their children to go on to higher education.
What is the Number One thing colleges look for in accepting a student? Grades? Scores? Extra-curricular? And why are kids with perfect ACT scores and 4.78 GPAs being turned down by state schools as well as Ivy League schools?
The Number One factor for admissions, according to some selective college admissions officers, is the ability to pay the full tuition room and board. The student whose parents will pay full tuition has an advantage. Universities and colleges need funding especially after huge Covid-disruption losses.
This even is happening at state universities. The in-state student could be a sports star with a perfect ACT score, a 5.0 GPA, from famous parents, and fit a diversity category and still be rejected from the top state school. Why? The administration says “Diversity.” In this case, ‘diversity’ means more out-of-state students—’those out-of-state students have such a diverse viewpoint’—those out-of-state students also happen pay double or triple what the in-state students will pay. The $12,000 student versus8 the $62,000 student—that is a big difference.
What is the ‘best college?’
There was a time when the elite school had better library, exclusive research, and better teachers—it was the better education. Now, the internet has been an equalizer of access to knowledge. A bachelor’s education is basic and colleges need to cover the same basics. Colleges use the same textbooks and tests. Now, even the same professor will teach the same course with the same textbook at the selective college, the state university, and the community college. At the undergraduate level, the student can learn whatever he or she needs at any college. Summer camp activities and country-club amenities are nice but learning (and socializing) can happen many places. Prestige has less meaning than learning at the undergrad level when it comes to getting hired. For higher degrees, the grad student should strive for the college specializing in his or her field, ‘best’ can matter for high-level research but those ‘best’ rankings are meaningless at the undergrad level. High rankings can raise the cost and make sure your undergrad is taught by a grad student not a professor. The Noble prize-winning professor sounds impressive but he or she will not be teaching your student, nor would you probably want him or her to.
Is the expensive college worth mortgaging the house, going into debt or using the retirement fund?
The $100,000 a year college is not worth more than the $10,000 a year college when it comes to learning or even networking, at the undergrad level. It won’t make the journalism major earn more than $28,000 (the median journalism salary after five years.) It may be an amazing experience if one can afford it, but it is not worth the debt. Networking will not get the job if they candidate doesn’t have the degree and proof of the ability to do the job like certification or internships (internships tend to be better at state colleges
What is the biggest regret of college grads?
Both bachelor’s degree holders and those with graduation degrees say their biggest regret with taking on ANY debt. With debt, you have to take the first job that comes along, to pay the debt, you can’t leave a job you hate to look around as you have debt to pay off, changing jobs is more difficult with debt to repay. Debt delays buying a house, starting a family. Elite college graduates have the highest lifelong career and personal life ‘unhappiness’ ratings, largely because of debt-related factors.
How can parents make sure their teen doesn’t enter ‘the Depression Olympics’?
Many students put in sixteen hours a day get perfect grades, do test prep, excel in a sports, volunteer to try for schools with ‘unfair’ admissions. Teens feel they must get into the best college they can. The drive to be an ideal candidate for a college means trying to become someone the teen is not. A high GPA and other test scores aren’t a guarantee of acceptance at top colleges. This is a recipe for depression. Don’t buy into old ideas of competition for a goal of little value to the student. Pressure for prestige is not worth it anymore.
How can parents help their student avoid running up huge college debt, so they will have better college and career outcomes than the majority of college students?
Success comes from figuring out and building on the ‘genius’ of your student. Don’t try to turn them into ideal admissions candidate. Some colleges want ‘ideal’ students to raise their own ratings—of no benefit to the student. Instead of the falsely-perceived ‘prestige’ of the school, interests, strengths, learning styles, learning environment, and budget all need to be factored in for the best college and career outcomes. “Harry, Ron and Hermione” would not have become great wizards by becoming the ideal candidate for an elite college. They would have gotten a great education, probably, but not the right education for who they are and what they wanted to do. The U.S. has the worst college and career outcomes in the developed world. Individualized planning changes those outcomes.
Will the importance of college admissions tests come back after Covid disruptions led to ‘test optional’ or ‘tests not considered?
College admissions tests are being phased out. Test knowledge and course knowledge have grown far apart. Test excellence used to be an indicator of course knowledge. But multiple choice or short essay tests increasingly evaluate information more than knowledge. Because of test simplification,8 those with the higher test scores are having the poorer college and career outcomes. The discipline of test-taking and test excellence doesn’t translate into high-level thinking needed to excel at college and beyond.
You point out that higher education in the Technology Age requires education for a lifetime that includes seven to eleven completely different careers. How can students prepare for those different careers?
Everyone who wants a high paying job will need college and college/higher education re-tooling and upskilling throughout their working life to keep up with technological changes. In other countries, universities are including continuing education to those who get the first degree. They can return to upskill or add learning to move to new growth careers.
We need to change our mindset away from ‘get one degree to be set for life.’ We must also change the mindset that certification or shorter-term higher education is to be shunned as ‘low class.’
Certificates and two-year degrees are for the working class—FALSE
Career and technical education jobs used to be seen as ‘sweat intensive,’ now they are ‘knowledge intensive.’ They were ‘greasy overall’ jobs, now suits and lab coat high-paying careers. CTE, Career and Technical Education, covers all fields like finance, medicine, computer science, engineering, entrepreneurship, construction, etc. At one aircraft manufacturing company, the college grad aerospace engineer with a $280,000 elite college degree, is earning the same as the high school aerospace engineering certificate holder (and the company is paying for additional college). They do the same engineering job for the same salary with the same prospects. They work with the high school aerospace engineer apprentice on staff at $35K while still in high school who will have his or her college paid for while advancing in the company. It is a new world.
High-paying careers in growth fields are going unfilled because certification and short degrees are looked down upon so not seen as an option. Meanwhile college grads may be ‘educated’ but don’t have the specialization to be hired for those jobs. Certification and continuing education are the answer to keeping up with advancements and the specialization that is needed to innovate.
From the Preface
Every school district in the US, and education systems across the world, are moving in new directions driven by poor college outcomes and a need to fill great, high-paying jobs in newly invented growth fields. Asian and European countries now make career pathways a policy to get every single person entering the workforce into an upper-middle-class salaried job in a high-growth business or industry. The information, the tools, and the opportunities are available in America too. No one will say college-for-all isn’t a success because everyone needs higher education/college! College is excellent, but it has to be the right path to college with the right courses—not an elite college as a one-size-fits-all guarantee to a top career. So, uninformed as to the complicated nuances of “the best college,” many parents approach college as if it were 1999, or even 1969
This book has become more than just another “how to get into an elite college” book. My book is a news story, a history of change, a discussion of the future of work. But primarily it is a guide, full of solutions to problems that some do not realize exist. About 80 percent of parents are missing crucial information their students need. This is the Technology Age, and old rules don’t apply. Parents and their teens at each economic level are using the wrong information.
College (higher education) is necessary, but with today’s worker having seven to eleven entirely different careers, college is no longer “one four-year degree” to prepare for one job for life, because technology destroys and creates jobs at exponentially increasing speed. And we can’t exactly do seven to eleven bachelor’s degrees for the seven to eleven careers. We need to plan college differently.
College admissions guides, usually sponsored by the selective college industry, are still saying that there are two choices: one four-year college education, 16 What Every Parent Needs to Know About College Admissions meaning higher salaries, and a high school education, meaning lower salaries. And usually those guides focus on ages twenty-five to sixty-five, or thirty-five to sixty-five, and not twenty to thirty-five—Technology Age workers. A sixty-fiveyear- old probably did have one degree and one job, the forty-five-year-old, one or two careers. Now we are in the Technology Age—a gig economy, accelerated technological change, six-month agile planning as careers can change that fast. College is vital but requires different planning.
In fairness to our high school’s post grad expert—who is one of the nation’s top college admissions experts—he spoke the truth, but we parents heard what we wanted to hear. He oversaw sessions at the high school about new real opportunities, new curriculum, “best” colleges. These got an audience of fifteen or twenty in a school of nearly four thousand. He held “highly selective college” information sessions, and these got audiences of over five hundred parents of juniors. And, though both he and the principal told these hundreds of parents that entrance to “elite” colleges carried worse odds than winning the lottery—“Apply, but don’t plan on admission”—their teens applied. On decision day, many turned up in the principal’s office crying—virtually all of these highly-qualified kids were rejected. This high school turns out academically “perfect” students. But they hadn’t listened when told that, for example, 40,000 academically perfect students apply for 1,000 places (at an elite college), or 135,000 apply for 5,900 places (at a selective state university).
This has gotten crazy. Kids with perfect ACT scores and 4.78 GPAs have been turned down by colleges from state schools to Ivies for bizarre reasons we will look at in the book. The parents, devastated by rejections, act as though their teen is now a failure, forever unemployable, destined to live in a tent down by some river flowing with toxic waste. We’ve seen parents pay six million dollars for a place at the “best school” and others go to jail for trying. How do you plan for “unfair”? A fact-check book is long overdue.
And, with the COVID-19 disruption, planning the best pathway to a high-paying career in a growth field is even more important, for those starting college and also for any adult working, rethinking career advancement or contemplating a new career entirely.
Part One – College Success Statistics
Teens have been running their best race for admissions to a great college, backed by their dedicated, supportive parents, willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a college experience. College for all, because college was the Golden Ticket to a high-earning, secure job guaranteeing upward class mobility, is now the guiding belief of almost all Americans. So, each year, a staggering 70 percent of high school graduates head to college; that is over three million well-educated high school graduates. And the remaining young people think they should be in college even if they aren’t.8
So, looking at pre-pandemic success rates, hopeful freshmen were excited moving into their dorms at the beginning of their college years. They had made it. Has college fulfilled all the promises of success?
- Less than 27 percent of those who start college will graduate.
- Over half will drop out during or just after freshman year.
- Those who do graduate will not finish in four years, with five to eight years being the norm and five-and-a-half years being the median.
- Over half will change colleges.
- Only 36 percent who start at elite colleges or flagship universities graduate in four years.
- Only 19 percent who start at a state university will finish in four years.
- Only 5 percent of students in two-year community college programs finish in two years.
- Over half of college graduates will end up in permanent jobs that only required a certificate. They could have gotten certificates in high school, or with a two-year associate degree. And that associate degree is sometimes attainable in high school. This, rather than the pure academic or “college prep” track, makes the “college-bound” student more attractive to colleges by merging preparation with concrete accomplishments.
- 75 percent of graduates don’t have careers in their field of study.
- High school grads with certificates make more than 60 percent of what college grads make.
- Contrary to beliefs, graduates of highly selective colleges have the lowest life and job fulfillment rankings, equal only to students attending fraudulent for-profit universities.
The US has the highest college drop-out rate of any industrialized country in the world.9
To me, those figures reveal a little-publicized catastrophe. Even the elite and “selective” college students do not escape these poor outcomes.
Parents are so proud when moving their college freshman into their first dorm room and saying goodbye. Maybe don’t cry when you move your teen into that first dorm room. Don’t turn their room into a study or guest room too fast—you might be seeing them soon.
They’ll be back—either within a year, or when they don’t get a job after college, or even when they get a job (over 50 percent of those eighteen to thirty-four live “at home,” 34 percent pre-COVID-19). Just an important note: financial considerations are rarely the reason for the move back home at any stage.