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March 15, 2011 2:07 PM The College Admissions Process, Good Enough?

By Daniel Luzer

CollegeBoard.jpg

Good news, says the College Board. Maybe college applications aren’t as hard as we thought.

A new report by the nonprofit (which, as the institution that administers the SAT and the Advanced Placement program, is maybe not really an unbiased observer) indicates that most American parents and students don’t think the process of applying to college is too hard.

But it still might be more complex than is appropriate.

According to the College Board:

The results showed that parents and students did not have difficulty navigating the initial application and submissions. The most confusing part of the process, as reported by students and parents, was understanding how admission decisions were made.
“As the report shows, neither students nor parents were really en masse sitting around waiting for us to tell them our colleges were a perfect fit,” said Arlene Cash, vice president for enrollment management at Spelman College in Georgia. “They weren’t even waiting for us to send applications. As bad as we think our websites are, they’re figuring out how to navigate our sites and get the information they need, and getting the application and getting it in.”

The study, Complexity in College Admission: Fact or Urban Myth, surveyed 1,000 parents and students.

The results are a little questionable, however. The fact that parents and students can navigate the colleges’ websites and eventually find what they need doesn’t mean that the navigation is easy. Just because people figure out the process doesn’t mean the process works.

Only 8 percent of those surveyed, for instance, indicated that “Application fees too high/Financially stressful/FAFSA stressful.” This is despite the fact that everyone involved with FAFSA, the form students fill out in order to receive federal financial aid (including the Department of Education, which creates it) thinks that it’s needlessly complex.

And that’s only one part of the application process.

It appears American families who send their children to college aren’t terribly frustrated by the complexity of applying to college. Well it’s not too difficult as in these people actually find a way to apply to college, but it’s certainly more difficult than it needs to be.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell once explained in the 1980s high school students in Ontario applied to college by simply listing the colleges in the province they wished to attend on a sheet of paper and then sending that list to Ontario’s department of education.

Some 59 percent of Canadian adults have a post-secondary certificate or university degree. Only 38 percent of American adults have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

So whose process works better? And what does “too complex” really mean?

Read the College Board report here. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer