Enrollment up, preparation down
The number of students enrolling at four-year universities in the United States has risen 18 percent over the past 10 years, and will continue to rise, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education?s 2005 almanac.
That?s bad news for current and future high school students who will face higher admissions standards as colleges are flooded with applications.
According to Michael Steidel, the director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon, ?most students are submitting seven to nine applications now, compared to the past four to six.?
This comes at a time when the ACT, formerly the American College Testing Program, stated in an August press release that ?too many students are not taking the right kind
of courses in high school that prepare them for college and work.? The group reports that of all the students who took the ACT in 2005, only 21 percent were adequately prepared to handle typical college demands.
The College Board, another educational testing organization, also reports that verbal scores on its well-known SAT exam have remained relatively stagnant since 1995, though the average math score has increased by about 10 points.
Part of the reason lies with school systems that are unable to offer advanced preparatory classes. As a result, as introductory physics professor Helmut Vogel puts it, there is a large population of students who ?are not well prepared for the demands being thrown at them.? Although he says that most of the students he teaches have the ability to comprehend material, they come from a ?very wide spectrum? of backgrounds, and sometimes lack in key areas.
When comparing students? applications, most universities try to sort out these variances as best as they can. Carnegie Mellon uses a multi-tiered approach that includes several academic elements such as school rigor, recommendations, and standardized tests, in addition to grades. These categories make up only half of the decision; the rest is based on extracurricular activities, community contributions, and essays.
This makes it possible for the university to accept students with lower SAT scores, while denying admission to those with perfect test scores but no outside activities, explains Steidel.
However, the challenge of acceptance is only one of the obstacles facing students. Once enrolled at a college, students must make many adjustments in the way they work and live.
Professor Vogel believes that one of the most important factors in such a transition is ?learn[ing] to structure? social, academic, and extracurricular obligations. Students are constantly bombarded with a variety of activities and demands; combined with being away from home for the first time, these can be too much for some students to handle. Most colleges, including CMU, offer time-management and organizational classes aimed to ease students into college life.
Steidel also insists that a ?good work ethic? is essential to performing well at any school. Students must be motivated and realize that college is a full-time job, whether they like it or not.
Likewise, students should realize that failure is just as valuable as success: An occasional low grade should not be the end of the world, but should instead serve as a hint of what to improve upon.
The challenges facing today?s students continue to rise, but one thing remains the same: Hard work still pays off.