Why Don’t More Students Apply to Private Colleges?

Research tells us that everyone rates themselves slightly above average. Research also tells us that everyone’s idea of ‘average’ differs. After a very frustrating conversation with a friend of mine, I’ve come to a realization: people limit themselves based on what they believe is possible.

I’m talking about college admission. Why is it that more students don’t apply to private colleges? I asked my friend this and she said: cost, admission requirements, they just don’t know the difference between private and public, and limited course offerings. Let’s take these one at a time:

1)      Cost. I’ve already outlined why a quality education costs (see College is Not a Yard Sale ). I also mentioned in that post that most highly priced schools have in-house aid (not just loans) that can bring the price tag drastically down and make out of pocket expenses comparable to public schools. Also, many top private colleges offer need-based aid (as opposed to merit) so you don’t need straight As to qualify.  And even if at the end of the day the private school costs more out of pocket thus requiring loans, is that not a price you are willing to pay? Is it worth it to ‘get a deal’ that may not situate you as well in the long run? (I am not saying public schools don’t graduate highly qualified individuals. I am saying that the amount of diverse opportunities for learning are often greater at a private school) Why are we so short sighted?

2)      Admission requirements. I agree here. You won’t get in if you have a 2.0 GPA. It’s a fact that top tier schools are ‘highly selective’; however, that does NOT mean you must have a perfect SAT score, straight As, and be Valedictorian. I certainly did not have a perfect SAT score. In fact, I barely broke 1000 (this was when it was out of 1600). I was barely in the top 10% of my class of 561 (if I recall, I was number 46 or 49). I got into Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, UNC Chapel Hill, and Brown not because of my academics. I got in because I challenged myself. I took IB classes even though it was clear I wasn’t in any way naturally brilliant. I didn’t have a particular area in which I excelled. But I tried. I had a job at McDonalds on the weekends for 3 years in high school. I participated in community service, was on the track team, cheerleading team, and step team. I was a part of student council junior and senior year. I did all of that, and managed to get As and Bs. That took dedication. It took effort. And THAT is the kind of student many private colleges want.

3)      Ignorance. I mean this in the true sense of the word. I think most high schoolers just don’t know what to look for in a college. If your parents did not attend college, they don’t have much guidance to offer. If you don’t have diverse educational experiences, you don’t know the difference between a quality education and a mediocre education. This is probably one of the biggest reasons why we see such little diversity in top tier schools. Knowledge begets knowledge.

4)      Limited course offerings. I get this. Most 18 year olds have no idea what they want to do with their lives. We ask our children to make a decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives when they haven’t had enough experiences to guide their decision. As a result, students choose schools that have a lot of options. I don’t know the data on this, but I would guess that the larger the school, the more course offerings. However, more isn’t always better. Many private colleges offer a liberal arts education where you are required to take at least one course in all discipline areas (e.g., social sciences, physical sciences, math, art, engineering) so that you are exposed to well-rounded curricula. Conversely, many public schools have general curriculum or vocational tracks within a field. They often do not force you to take diverse classes. Just because the school offers it, doesn’t mean students are benefitting from it.

We have got to stop limiting ourselves and our children. If you don’t try, how will you ever know of what you are capable? It is clear to me that people equate ‘perception’ and ‘reality’. Just because you perceive a private college to be inaccessible, does not make it so. Please, educate yourself and your children before you pass judgment. We are our biggest barrier to success.