Each year it becomes increasingly disheartening for California high school seniors and their families as the UCs and Cal States become more and more selective. But this year was particularly frustrating. Students with nearly perfect SAT/ACT scores and GPAs well over 4.0 with many AP classes found themselves waitlisted and/or rejected at UCs and Cal States that in years past would have been safety or target schools.
Inside Higher Ed Magazine’s recent article “Wait-Listed, Rejected and Frustrated in California” articulates the predicament counselors find themselves in as they guide CA students.
I have been telling my students that UCLA, Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine are selective, meaning that no matter how strong the students' profile is, I can’t predict their chances. This is a sentiment I imagine most counselors share with their clients. Now I must add UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara to the list, and I can only imagine that UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside are not far behind. San Diego State, Long Beach State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Cal State Fullerton top the list of selective Cal State Universities, and if this trend continues, I expect to add more Cal States to that list in coming years.
NPR recently produced a podcast titled Thousands of College Hopefuls Could Leave California, and Never Come Back, which looks at the reason for this increased selectivity and the impact it will likely have on CA’s economy. Clearly this problem will only get worse unless CA builds more colleges to sustain its growing population--something I don't see happening anytime soon.
As an Independent Educational Consultant, my focus is to help students apply to colleges that best fit their personality, career goals, and financial resources. Many CA students I work with want to stay in their home state, and a challenge I often face is getting those students to recognize the uphill battle they may face in getting into their CA schools of choice. I work to convince them to consider schools outside the state, especially in places like the Midwest, South, and Rocky Mountains that often court strong CA students by offering them substantial merit money that can make the cost of attendance close to or even less than attending a UC.
Fortunately, my seniors this year applied to a balanced list of schools meaning they all had at least some safeties and targets on their list. Many applied to schools all across the US, and almost all were accepted into at least one of their top choices. While some of my students received acceptances from selective UCs, Cal States, and CA private schools, several were waitlisted and denied from these same schools. BUT IMPORTANT TO NOTE IS THAT ALL HAD OPTIONS BECAUSE THEY APPLIED STRATEGICALLY.
It's crucial to be pragmatic in this unpredictable college landscape. There is no single school that will determine a student's success. I always recommend my seniors and their families read NY Times columnist Frank Bruni's book during this process, a book whose title sums up this sentiment perfectly: Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be.
Students should only include selective schools on their apply list if they accept that these schools are reaches. In today's college landscape they cannot limit their choices to just UCs and Cal States. And perhaps most important is that they heed Bruni's words and believe it's not how they got there but where they end up that matters. This mindset will go a long way in determining their ultimate success.
Note: Click on the links above in BLUE to access Inside Higher Ed's Article, NPR's Podcast, and Frank Bruni's book.