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Timothy Myers Sr.: The great college admission scam revealed - part I

Posted: August 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.

With the graduation of our youngest child from Valencia High School and his upcoming matriculation at San Diego State University, I can finally conclude one of my many "careers" over the last decade: that of unwilling expert in the area of college admissions.

With five children I found it necessary to train myself concerning the ins and outs of college admissions and costs. Our oldest son and third child, who holds a degree in economics from the University of California San Diego, puts it in terms of comparative advantage:

Why should each child educate himself or herself on these matters when each possesses access to a free "expert" with experience several times over?

And little did I realize the "value" of this expertise. Many of my professional peers now hire college planning "experts" for $2,000 to $5,000 for counseling, which results in the earnest student receiving admission and scholarships he or she would receive anyway, calling into question that "value."

Now with high school starting soon, parents of juniors and seniors will find themselves inundated with solicitations for paid and unpaid advice in the run up to the fall college application period, so in the next two columns I will share a few tidbits of information FOR FREE so families can save that consulting fee to cover the cost of necessary technology for the departing college student.

Everybody gets admitted to (most) of these universities. Economics deals in scarcity, and college planning experts like to create a false shortage to make their services more valuable. Therefore, one can hear constantly about the "difficulty" of obtaining admission to college.

The facts: Outside of the top 100 national universities, the remaining 2,500 to 3,000 four-year institutions admit about 80 percent or more of their applicants. (Californians possess a skewed view of scarcity since nearly every campus in the UC system finds itself in the top 100.)

Take the case of Arizona State University, which needs 15,000 new entries per year to keep its 60,000-plus campus in Tempe going.

Their policy? Send them your ACT/SAT scores and high school transcripts through your junior year, and within two weeks they will provide an admission decision if a student meets their standards, which effectively entail about a 3.0 high school GPA and test scores around the 53rd percentile.

Other out-of-state schools, including many in the Big 10 and Mountain West, also adopt the same policy, so if one paid a consultant for "help" on one of these applications it was not money well spent.

No one pays out-of-state tuition. For the large Pac 12, Big 10 and Mountain West institutions out of state, parents find themselves frightened by the headline rates for out-of-state tuition that nearly always amount to triple in-state tuition numbers.

Not to worry, because people seldom pay these headline amounts in real life. When out-of-state students apply to these universities for admission, they will contemporaneously apply for various "scholarships" for out-of-state students. (The University of Nebraska calls their scholarship the Ruth Leverton Scholarship.)

The reveal: Every out-of-state student who meets the general requirements for admission will also receive these scholarships, which act to discount the out-of-state tuition to approximately 150 percent of in-state tuition, a 50 percent premium but much smaller than the 200 percent premium advertised in glossy publications.

The University of Arizona, in fact, conducts an auction process. For those interested in attending that institution (and many Californians do), do NOT take up admission based on the first scholarship offer.

Wait a month. The next scholarship offer will increase by 50 percent. I know from personal experience. Extra-curricular activities don’t matter. They do matter, but only in the sense they produce a well-rounded and well-adjusted person who can interact effectively with other humans and enjoy successful and fulfilling relationships.

They DON’T matter a whit for college admission.

In the case of the large out-of-state Pac 12, Big 10 and Mountain West institutions, they do not even bother to collect the extra-curricular activity information, basing their admission solely on testing and GPA standards.

And in the case of the University of California and California State University systems, whose electronic applications actually limit the number of activities that one can submit, those systems admittedly do not verify the accuracy of those assertions, leading to the distinct possibility that, at least according to the applications, every high school enjoys at least 10 serving ASB presidents at any given time.

See the curtain pulled back farther in Part II.

Timothy Myers Sr. is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.


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