8 Big Changes to College Admissions in 2010 and 2011

Colleges raise expectations for tougher classes, better essays.

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5. More emphasis on tougher high school courses. Responding to growing evidence that students who take more rigorous courses in high school are more likely to succeed in college, admissions officers are increasingly weeding out applicants who take it easy in high school by giving more weight to grades in tougher classes. The percentage of colleges giving considerable importance to a student's "strength of curriculum" has jumped from 62 percent to 71 percent since 2006. "Looking for easy A classes can be costly because colleges look for students who are better prepared and who will succeed at their institutions," says Suzanne McCray, dean of admissions at the University of Arkansas. "Trying to game the system can only make a student lose out," she adds. "We would much rather see a student challenge himself and get a B" than take an easy class to inflate a GPA, agrees Kent Rinehart, dean of admission at Marist College.

6. More emphasis on application essays. The percentage of colleges that give essays lots of weight rose from 14 percent in 1993 to 26 percent in 2009, NACAC's survey found. Essays are especially crucial to elite colleges, where they "can make or break your application," says Pitzer's Perez.

[Read 10 tips for writing an application essay.]

7. More attention to the applicant's senior year. In the past, many admissions officers focused on an applicant's sophomore and junior years, and didn't put much weight on senior year courses or grades, says the University of Washington's Ballinger. That's changing. "We think senior year is the most important, and we don't want to see any slacking off. We want to see acceleration of educational difficulty." UW last year withdrew 27 offers of admission of students who goofed off too much during senior year, he says.

8. More application auditing. Stanford, Harvard and a few other colleges have increased their factchecking of applications in the wake of the Adam Wheeler scandal. One tool that a growing number of colleges are using, says NACAC president Miller, is Turnitin, a plagiarism software program that looks for phrases in essays that match those in millions of websites, articles and books.

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Corrected on : Updated on 11/18/2010: An earlier version of this story referred to the National Association for College Admission Counseling by an incorrect name.

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