The College Conversation: Particularly tough times for admissions

The effect of the state's fiscal crisis in higher education tore through cyberspace this week, landing painfully into the e-mail inboxes of many hopeful high school seniors. The University of California and California State University decisions were brutal.

Think it's tough to get into UCLA? Cal State Long Beach was even tougher.

It's true. We know of a student who was accepted to UCLA but denied admission at Long Beach.

You will certainly hear more stories like these in the hallways next week and at dinner parties this weekend. Many top students were denied admission, and not just to the premier University of California institutions like Berkeley and Los Angeles, but across the entire California public university system.

Many selective private universities also sent a clear message to applicants. Thousands of students were placed on waiting lists.

And next week, when the Ivy League schools and other top-tier universities send out their offers of admission, we expect far more students will have to wait it out in a state of limbo. Students will be forced to reflect on what they really want, sending in their intent to register at one institution, while waiting to hear from their top choice where they were waitlisted.

These lists are implemented when colleges feel they cannot accurately predict the number of students who will actually accept their admissions invitations. Universities need to provide enough resources to accommodate the new freshman class and be careful not to over-enroll.

So, here is how I am reacting and explaining this new reality to families.

I surprised myself when I told a high school junior that her 4.2 grade point average, full load of IB classes, strong extracurricular involvement and high test scores might not be enough for admission to UC San Diego. It's the truth.

I went even further explaining that now, more than ever, it will be crucial for this student to apply broadly, find many colleges and universities that are the right fit, and keep an open mind by exploring institutions she's never considered or even heard of before. We will be encouraging all of our clients to consider and apply to both public and private out-of-state colleges.

We blasted this quote yesterday in our monthly e-newsletter taken from the UCLA Admissions and Relations with Schools FAQ section for applicants:

"The average admitted applicant to UCLA for Fall 2011 had a weighted GPA (a GPA that includes all extra grade points for honors or AP coursework) of 4.36, and an un-weighted GPA (no extra points) of 3.87."

Those admitted completed 21 semesters of honors/AP course work between 10th and 12th grades, and 53 semesters of college prep coursework overall (that's 6.6 courses each semester). Those are some tired kids who most likely had to take a zero period and wake up at the crack of dawn to accommodate a full load of classes and their extracurricular involvement.

If you are thinking, "How am I supposed to keep my kid motivated with this difficult news?"

Well, definitely don't talk up UCLA.

Explore other options and get to the root of what the student is really looking for in a college. I'd like to think our state's public university system has a spot for every student. But now we know it cannot accommodate all those students who want spots, only those the state budget can pay for — and there is huge uncertainty in that.

Start the conversation now about the importance of broadening the college search. There are thousands of colleges and universities that will welcome your child with open arms.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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