Recent Changes That Have Altered the Landscape of College Admissions

The 2017-year is well underway. Before we know it, we’ll be into the summer with college visits and after that, the fall with college applications. The 2016-17 school year brought changes that impact the upcoming application cycle, and it’s worthwhile to revisit those changes to the admissions process. Let’s take a look at what’s new and what savvy students and families can do to get ahead of the curve.

The current changes are the following:

1. The redesigned SAT made its debut and there is a noticeable gap in SAT and ACT percentiles.

The redesigned SAT has seen one full year of implementation, and colleges and universities recently concluded the first admissions cycle involving the redesigned SAT, retired SAT, and ACT. Most institutions, it seems, have weathered the transition well and are boasting the most competitive class ever. One data point that we’re keeping an eye on is a gap in the SAT and ACT percentiles that some schools are reporting. The trend indicates that SAT students don’t need as high of a percentile as ACT students to make the middle 50 percent, the College Board might need to revisit its percentile tables.

2. In the world of the FAFSA, students experienced frustration to learn that a convenient IRS Data Retrieval Tool went out of commission in March for the rest of the season.

Rising seniors should take note and prepare to complete their FAFSA applications when it is made available on October 1st, remembering to use the prior-prior tax year’s data from 2016. The sooner that students fill out the FAFSA, the more opportunity they have to get maximum financial aid.

3. Much news was made of the Coalition Application, but very few students actually submitted their applications using it.

Launched last summer, the Coalition Application promised to improve access for high-achieving, low-income students who may have felt that the Common Application did not present them in a competitive enough light. Around 49,000 students used the Coalition platform, deemed a success according to the Coalition’s executive director. Yale saw 317 of its 32,900 applicants submit through the Coalition Application. Emory, another Coalition member, reported fewer than 1,000 of its 23,694 applications coming from the Coalition site. The Common Application is responding to some Coalition Application features by adding the ability to upload from Google Drive, share their application with advisors, and self-report transcript information, enhancements which mimic much of the Coalition’s selling points.

Undoubtedly, applying to college has become harder and more complicated, in part because of the significant shifts in the testing and admissions process we’ve seen of late. With all these changes, how do students even begin to understand this somewhat overwhelming and sometimes daunting process? While colleges are grappling over and trying to make sense of these issues, college counselors are finding ways to help their students navigate this intimidating process.

Students and their families should start the college search and application process early, in order to establish a realistic timeline to meet deadlines both for college applications as well as applying for financial aid. It is recommended that students learn to utilize resources available to them. High school counselors as well as independent consultants are available to guide students to look at which college will be the right fit for them and then assist them in applying to the colleges and make that fit affordable.

While each family will have different choices to make when it comes to navigating the college admissions landscape of 2016 and beyond, here are just a few recommendations and insights on how to be prepared for all of the new things in the process.

  1. The redesigned SAT and revised ACT: when it comes to preparing for these standardized tests, it’s wise to start early – not necessarily with actual studying but with the preliminary process and planning that will make the actual studying a success.  Students can take mock tests before or early in their junior year to get a feel for the revised tests and determine which one is right for them.  Experiencing the tests first hand through mock testing is a fantastic way to break through the rumor mill about which one is harder to figure out which one works best for you and the way you problem-solve.  Students can also plan ahead, looking at their junior year course load and activities to incorporate the testing process during a semester or period of months where it won’t be impossible to fit it.
  2. The “prior prior” year rule for the FAFSA: The FAFSA primarily collects financial information, so families need to be prepared to answer questions about their financial situation. The change in the FAFSA will allow students to report tax information from a prior-prior tax year (PPY) allowing tax information from two years ago. This will also allow students and their families to fill out the FAFSA form earlier than ever before in hopes to have their financial aid packages before making college decisions. The FAFSA can take some time to prepare for and complete. Make sure you allow enough time in your schedule to complete the FAFSA by your financial aid deadlines.
  3. The new Coalition Application: As the application launches there are bound to be some hiccups. Due to this, some of the over 90 member colleges have elected to wait until next year to start using the coalition application. Students need to make sure their colleges are using the coalition application or the common application and in many instances both. Students can only apply using one application so when planning their application process they need to plan which application to use for which school and be aware of the essay requirements for the application as well as for the supplements each school may require.

The college application process, while daunting, can be an exciting time for students and their families. If students are proactive and take advantage of all that is available to them to help them through the process, it will be less overwhelming. Students need to remember that this is a process that will come to an end and should have some fun along the way.


Helese S. Sandler is the director of College Counseling for Savannah Educational Consultants and is a founding partner of the practice. Helese received her Bachelors of Art in Social Work degree from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she developed clinical experience as a social worker with children and adolescents. Upon relocating to Savannah, Helese became the Coordinator of the One-to-One Tutoring Program at Royce Learning Center, where she worked for 10 years. Helese has over 35 years of experience in working with children and their families, focusing on educational and emotional needs.

Helese is a Certified Educational Planner (CEP) and is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC), the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC), the Georgia College Counselor Association (GCCA), and the Clinical Social Workers Association of Savannah (CSWA-S). She is also a professional affiliate of the Highlands Ability Battery.

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