The New Four-Year College Application and Admissions Process

Now, more than ever, students (and parents) must recognize the importance of the four-year story.

Big changes are afoot in the world of college admissions. Check out this blockbuster announcement of the soon-to-be new approach to elite college admissions.

In a nutshell, students will begin their college applications in the ninth grade and develop them over the course of their four years in high school. Today’s model requires students to make their best case for admissions in a single moment during their senior year.

How will it actually work? Whom will it truly benefit? Colleges? Students? Neither? Both? It remains to be seen. Now, more than ever, students (and parents) must recognize the importance of the four-year story.

As always, we hope that any change in the admissions process will elevate the importance admissions officers place on experiences and skill sets that are not always captured by standardized tests, GPAs, and other traditional measures of student potential. Additional traits that cut through class and opportunity include an individual’s ambition, follow-through, passion, and intellectual acuity. While a student can sometimes capture these dimensions in a one-time application (today’s model), this new approach will enable students to tell their stories more slowly and effectively over four years.

This new approach may encourage students to commit themselves to pursuits (both in and out of school) that may end in failure, but simultaneously give clues about future potential to the institutions they are interested in attending. Today’s application makes less room – by comparison – for students who have the capability of excelling in ways that are different from the traditional conception of an elite school applicant.

Our hope is that all students are liberated to make mistakes and explore true passions more vigorously, knowing that these peaks and valleys will sum to a more complete portrait than the more results-oriented version encouraged by the current application. In other words, the “four-year application” model may allow for a different expression of greatness, simply by expanding the timeline and platform to tell one’s story.

Here are a few key questions parents should be asking:

Question #1 – What should we do with this new development?

  1. Building a smart student profile from ninth grade has been essential and will continue to be a necessity, because institutions are interested in making long-term calculations about student potential. This new contextualization will affect virtually everything associated with each year of high school: finding a smart balance between a challenging course-load and other activities; deciding which classes to take (realizing that those choices make a statement that can be tracked in real-time); determining which extracurricular activities to explore, and how to engage with them; and how to evolve your story year to year so that a clear, compelling narrative emerges about you as an individual.
  2. Make choices and pursue paths that make you look less like others. This new model encourages personal growth measured against your own potential as opposed to the potential of your fellow applicants. While comparative measures will continue to play a role (SAT, GPA, etc.), the inclusion of a closed-circuit dialogue between a student and his target college beginning in the ninth grade should motivate students to take more risks and to widen the range of schools they apply to, in order to maximize the probability that an admissions officer will find a strong connection with his overall story.

Question #2 – What should we not do with this new development?

  1. This is not an excuse for parents to load more pressure onto their children. Families ultimately will decide how to implement this new model and adding additional pressure will create counterproductive student stress. If anything, this new model should lessen the make-or-break nature of junior year, and spread that importance more evenly over a much longer, more meaningful timeframe.
  2. The change in application process should not mitigate a student’s appetite for risk or potential failure. Trial and failure are well understood traits of life’s most successful individuals and the lack of an appetite for risk may expose a student as being uninspired, out to please, and driven by external – not internal – motivators. The student who shies away from danger and succeeds by traditional measures may end up less attractive in the final analysis.

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