PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 168 | The New Rules of College Admissions

Make sure you know the new rules that are governing college admissions. If you're using the playbook that worked three years ago, you're wrong.

Show Notes:

In this episode, I lay out the new rules governing college admissions. In case you didn't get the memo, college admissions aren't like they used to be just 3 years ago. Don't get caught playing by the wrong set of rules. Find out what matters today and decide whether you need to stay the course or make some adjustments.

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell podcast. In today's episode, I want to make you all aware of the new set of admissions criteria that colleges appear to be using compared to what they used just 3 to 5 years ago. Because in case you didn't get the memo, college admissions has changed dramatically. I'm not going to get into all the details and the reasons why this is happening right now. I'm sure you have a pretty good idea. What I would like to do, however, is to run through the criteria that used to be relevant compared to what actually matters today. And then armed with this new information, maybe you want to rethink how your child is preparing for college or what colleges they should even be considering these days. Okay, so what used to matter a lot just a few years ago, but no longer matters very much. Number one GPA used to be a big thing. Not anymore. It's not a big deal anymore. Because of rampant grade inflation, inconsistent grading policies across schools and the growth of new grading metrics. Some schools use a 4.0 scale. Some use a 5.0 scale. Some use a 10.0 scale. Some use ABCD f. Others use pluses and minuses. A plus A. Minus B. Plus b. B minus. Some use number grades 95.6. 89.2. 78.3. It's all over the map. So the importance of GPA is on its way to zero for all intents and purposes.

[00:02:09] Number two, class rank. Where you stacked up against your fellow classmates used to be a thing. Not anymore. Why? Because most schools no longer rank their students, or they rank them secretly, but are prohibited from publishing the results. Why is this the case? Because students who ranked at the bottom of the class felt bad. So school districts just eliminated the practice of class rank. Apparently, nobody is supposed to feel bad about their poor performance. Number three, no S.A.T. or A.C.T.. We've been over this 100 times. They initially dropped the requirement for an S.A.T. or an ACT score because during the middle of the COVID pandemic, for a few months, some students physically couldn't take the exams because schools and testing sites were physically closed and tests were canceled. It was unfair to require a test score if there was no test to take. Unfortunately, even though the tests are back and they're now accessible to everyone again for years, the test optional policy remains intact, apparently because some people believe that the tests are unfair to students who don't do well on them. So you continue not to have to take the test if you don't feel like it. Or if you don't think you'll do well on it. Number four SAT subject tests used to be a big thing. Not any more. I sat subject tests were one hour end of year exams that tested a students knowledge in about 20 different high school subjects. They were national in scope. They were graded with objective measures, and thus they allowed students to prove, number one, how much they had actually learned compared to their peers across the country, and to that their classroom grades, which were usually A's, were not artificially inflated. They wanted to show that they had actually learned the material.

[00:04:19] Nope. That gives some students an unfair advantage. So they got rid of those tests too. By the way, these tests are not even test optional. They just disappeared off the face of the earth. So even if you wanted to take them to show your academic strength in a particular subject, you're not allowed to. Number five, the TSA. There used to be an essay section on the SAT that would show what type of a writer you are without the help of a parent, of a teacher, of a writing consultant, of chat GPT. That section of the SAT was eliminated a few years ago. Why? Because apparently it was not fair to students who weren't strong writers. So they got rid of it. Number six, no AP exam scores. It used to be that everyone who took an AP class would take the accompanying AP exam at the end of the year, typically in mid-May, not so much anymore, since technically colleges don't require AP exam scores. Why bother taking the exam at all? So students started to think. So the strategy was to skip the exam and hope that the admissions officers would just assume that your A in the class meant that you really knew your stuff, even though you skipped the chance to prove so on an end of year exam. Of course, I advise all of my PrepWellers to not take this advice and to instead prepare for the end of your exam and do well on it like students have done for the last 40 or 50 years. Number seven college essays. Before chat GPT. College essays both the personal statements and the supplemental essays used to shed some light on what type of writer the applicant was and how familiar they were with the campus and the programs they were applying to.

[00:06:19] Was it a perfect science? No. Some students got more help than others. Some students spent more time than others did. But putting all this aside, essays used to tell the readers quite a bit about an applicant's command of the English language, how self-reflective they may be and what they truly valued. With the introduction of chat. However, I expect that in general the essay will progressively become less and less useful, less and less important to the point where they will ultimately drop the essay altogether and unless they get a handle on chat. I would say that the essay or the essays will be dropped probably within the next two or three years. And lastly, number eight letters of recommendation. Once again in the B.C. years. And by B.C., I mean before chat. Letters of recommendation from teachers often gave admissions officers a unique perspective on a particular candidate, which was often helpful. But now teachers are cranking out letters of recommendation with chat in a matter of seconds. They input a few highlights from a student's resume, their GPA and SAT score two or three extra curricular activities and chat. GPT three takes care of it from there. These letters will become so watered down and so generic and so fake sounding that they will soon not be worth the time to read, and they will also soon be dropped. Okay, so if colleges are de-emphasizing or eventually ignoring or potentially dropping GPA, class rank, S.A.T. and A.C.T. scores, AP exam scores, S.A.T. subject tests, writing skills and teacher feedback. How will they decide which students to admit and deny? So I would propose these five areas will be the driving forces in those decisions. Area number one demographics. Colleges and their ever changing institutional priorities are paying very close attention to race, sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, first generation students whose parents did not attend college.

[00:08:49] Underrepresented minority groups and geographic diversity. So depending on where you fall among these different identity groups and demographic groups, your chances of getting in will likely go up and down. Area number two, hooks. These are particular categories that colleges will flag when it comes to admissions. And by flag, I mean that they will put these applications into smaller piles, which will get reviewed oftentimes in a more favorable light. Hooks include recruited athletes, children of faculty members, development cases. These are applicants whose parents have donated tens of millions of dollars to the school. For example, legacy students, ROTC students, children of celebrities or other heads of state, and many more on a per school basis. Area Number three, extracurricular activities. Students who have gone super deep and successfully into a particular extracurricular activity that seems well aligned with their future goals. It could be a student who's been pursuing for years a love of molecular biology or medieval archeology or environmental justice students who make it abundantly clear what they care about and how they intend to further their passions in college and beyond. I refer to this as students who do a good job, quote unquote, connecting the dots. Area number four intended major. Colleges need to make sure that they have enough students interested in all of the majors that they offer. For example, if you're the 18,000 student who wants to be a computer science major or business major, you may have a harder time getting in. If you're one of seven applicants in the entire applicant pool. Interested in the religious studies major. And they need at least two students per year in that major to keep it alive. Your chances will likely go up. And lastly, area number five, the ability to pay.

[00:11:03] Some schools need to make sure that they have enough students who are able or willing to pay the full cost of college. This isn't the case for every school. There are a group of need blind colleges that claim that they don't take financial aid into account during the admissions process, but they are the exception. The majority of schools don't have that luxury. They don't have billion dollar endowments. They have to make sure that their institution remains financially solvent. So if one applicant is a full freight payer and the other is a full financial aid applicant, they may opt to accept the student who will pay the bills. So if these trends and priorities are even remotely as I've laid them out or even moving in that general direction, where does that leave us? Well, hopefully it leaves us thinking about the college admissions process in a new light. Gone are the days that a strong GPA, decent SAT scores and a few dozen community service hours will get your child into a mainstream or a brand name college. It's just not happening anymore. And forget about the highly selective colleges which now have admissions rates of 4%, 5%, 6%. Your child has to be on a whole nother level for these schools because remember, because of the test optional policies and the drastic re shifting of quote unquote institutional priorities, the number of applications that colleges receive is skyrocketing. Basically, every student is applying everywhere because every student now thinks that they have a shot at getting into any school they apply to. Now that they don't have to submit an SAT score, for example, which obviously makes competition a lot tougher just by the law of big numbers, you now have ten or 20 times more applicants for the same size class.

[00:13:03] That's not good math. So what do we do? Well, number one, honestly, assess where your child stands when it comes to the new admissions criteria. Do they have a demographic advantage? Do they have a hook? Are they focused on a specific extracurricular activity that differentiates them from the crowd? Are they interested in a common major or a unique major? And do they Or you have the ability and willingness to pay full freight for college. If you have good answers to some or all of these questions, then your child may have a valuable chance to get into some of their schools of choice. If you have bad answers to most, if not all of these questions, in other words, your child is on the wrong side of all these priorities, then you really want to think long and hard about how you're approaching the college admissions process, how you're framing the idea of college to your teenager, and what advice you're giving them along the way. And when I say along the way, I mean starting in seventh, eighth, ninth grade. And the truth is, no matter which way your child breaks, low performer, median performer, high performer, doing well in high school on many dimensions has to almost be a given. Good grades, decent extracurricular activities, serviceable SAT scores, productive summers. These are all must haves if your child wants to compete in any way. In the new college admissions process. Where exactly they will end up. That will unfold over the course of a few years. But they need to start paying attention early in their high school career. And that's why I start Prep Academy in ninth grade. Because in today's environment, there's not a lot of time to fool around. You can't take the first two years of high school off and then make a miraculous recovery in the middle of junior year and assume that you'll be competitive with everybody else.

[00:15:17] Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is not the issue. That's just the new reality. My guess is that if you're listening to this podcast that you believe that your child has a good chance to break good or even great, and if that's the case, then keep doing what you're doing. Stay informed. Keep up on all these changes. Assess your child's prospects honestly. And give them the resources to help them maximize their potential. That seems to be the best we can do as parents these days. And of course, I believe that PrepWell Academy should be a part of your family's journey, whether it's through the online program or working with me one on one, or even as a private mentoring student. Stay the course, keep your head on a swivel and don't give up. I wish you the best of luck out there. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schooler enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade and with their specific goals in mind.

[00:17:12] Go to and enroll today. If you know a parent with a middle schooler or high schooler that might find this episode helpful, please share it with them and give us a rating too. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email. Demi on Instagram, Check out our blog Facebook page. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Until next week, Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by PrepWell Academy. PrepWell Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about, to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

Learn More About PrepWell:

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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