College applicants in 2010 will get a lesson in the real-world version of the golden rule: the one in which the person with the gold gets to rule.
Admissions officers and counselors say that hundreds of colleges are so desperate for cash this year that they will be reserving more spots for students who can afford to pay full tuition and don't need financial aid.
B students who don't need aid and apply to lots of colleges will likely have more fat acceptance envelopes than ever before. "Full-pay students are getting a break in terms of admission," says Judy Zodda, a private admissions counselor in Framingham, Mass. "If they are borderline admits and full pay, they are getting in this year. That was not true three years ago."
Top students, no matter how meager their college savings, will still be heavily recruited, counselors said. But less-than-stellar students who don't have much money will have a tougher time getting into many types of colleges this year, including some flagship public universities and some private colleges. Thus, there is a danger that the economic downturn could reduce college opportunities for low-income students while giving even more advantages to the wealthy.
The college news isn't all bad, however. Some of the six big trends for 2010 outlined below could give more students new opportunities and could force colleges to do better jobs of teaching and helping students.
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1. SATs won't count as much. Students who get good grades but score poorly on tests will have a better shot of getting into their dream schools. More than 815 colleges have stopped requiring most applicants to provide standardized test scores, says Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest. Several more are expected to drop the requirement soon, he says. College officials say more students are taking ACTs. And some college admissions officers say that high Advance Placement test scores wow them more than any other score.
2. Students will likely choose better colleges. The Department of Education will notify students of the freshman retention and graduation rates of each college to which they apply for financial aid. "This will put pressure on colleges to be transparent, and some will need to articulate why these statistics may not be positive," says Sandra Bartholomew, dean of enrollment management at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt.
3. The "public Ivies" will become more competitive. Highly ranked, affordable public universities have become the hottest schools for this year's high school seniors. "In the past, Ivy League/near Ivy schools set the tone for the admissions cycle," says David J. Hamilton, director of college advising at St. Mary's Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Md. "This year, I think state schools may hold the key." Examples of affordable public universities that U.S. News ranks highly are the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
4. Wealthy, good students will be heavily recruited by out-of-state public colleges that are hoping to make up for state budget cuts and endowment declines by getting more students to pay higher tuition. In some—but not all—cases, the out-of-staters will take seats away from less wealthy in-staters. Many California public universities, for example, have announced plans to reduce the size of their freshmen classes while raising cash by increasing the number of students who pay full out-of-state tuition.
5. Rich international students, especially students from China, will be heavily recruited. In some cases, they will fill seats that would otherwise have gone to less wealthy Americans. Kevin Spensley, director of international marketing, enrollment, and recruitment at St. Michael's College near Burlington, Vt., says that his school is one of hundreds that is scouring the globe in an effort to raise the number of affluent, qualified students paying something close to full tuition. "We don't take people we wouldn't otherwise admit," he says. But he says colleges believe that they have to cast a wider net because the number of American 18-year-olds is declining. And the recession has reduced the number of families who can afford to pay the full cost of a degree at a private institution or a public college.