12/31/2012 10:59 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2013

Applying to College: 2012 Is a Year to Forget


Seniors who are spending the December break dotting I's and crossing T's on college applications may not feel like the year is over, but we soon get to say goodbye to a calendar year some are convinced was 18 months long. A look at the year in college admissions leaves ample room for improvement in 2013. To support that claim, I offer the following proof, along with what students and parents can do to make next year a better year for students applying to college:

Colleges That Can't Count We didn't even get out of January before the first of several colleges admitted they somehow couldn't keep track of key college data. Claremont-McKenna admitted it had falsified its average SAT scores to improve its ranking in US News and World Report; similar oversights would later be reported by Emory and George Washington.

What You Can do About It Rankings are important to college presidents, investment firms, and parents that don't know better -- but not by college counselors, who understand the only list of colleges that matters is the one built on the individual goals and abilities of each student. US News doesn't publish a magazine any more -- rankings are where the money is, so rankings are all they do. If you stop using them, they'll stop making them; keep your dough, and just say no.

Record Application Numbers -- Twice! It came as no surprise that applications were way up at many selective colleges this spring; since none of those colleges increased in size, the application increase led to an admissions percentage decrease, with more students being told no than ever before. This same increase occurred in many colleges this fall, when seniors in the Class of 2013 sent early applications in at a record pace for many colleges, wanting to know if they were going to be admitted before the end of the world on December 21st.

What You Can do About It We don't have the Mayan calendar to kick around anymore, so it's clearly time for high school seniors and juniors to build deep college lists. Applying to 20 colleges with a 6 percent admissions rate doesn't mean you have a 120 percent chance of getting admitted by at least one of them; make sure your list has some colleges where your grades and scores give you an excellent chance of being admitted, and know that if Highly Selective U doesn't have room for you, that's all about them, not you.

College Can't Be Worth It -- It Costs Too Much Counselors report an increase in the number of students and parents looking for help paying for college. At the same time, counselors also report an increase in the number of articles they see that question the value of college; from low completion rates to the increase in tuition in the last ten years, these articles lead readers to wonder if college is just one big academic money pit.

What You Can do About It With more students applying for the same pot of college money, everyone's share goes down -- especially when states are giving less aid each year to both students and colleges. The newly revamped Financial Aid Page of the U.S. Government can help you build a better plan to pay for college, which is still the best investment for a tight job market. College isn't for everyone, but that choice should be about you, not your wallet; talk to your counselor, who can help build a student-centered plan for 2013 and beyond.