- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

For those fortunate young people planning to start college next fall, this is the season for applications. And a long season it can be for stressed-out students and parents alike.
Some of us remember the process applications about four pages long, sometimes an essay of about two paragraphs on a topic such as, "what job do you want when you graduate, and why." If you wanted or needed a scholarship to help defray the costs, it was probably available if your grades were good. You had your SAT scores sent in, the high school sent a transcript, and you waited. If you were lucky, you'd get a letter inviting you for an interview. After a short wait, the decision letter came. The thick ones were the good news, with information on things like choosing dorm rooms. As for the thin ones, it didn't pay to open them.
Two decades ago, a young person with a B average and SAT scores in the 1,200s would likely be accepted to all but a few colleges. Today, many of the better schools require a B+ or A average, and 1,250-1,300 SAT scores for applicants to be in the running. The much-publicized ranking of schools requires colleges to be more selective. Selectivity helps drive up their rankings and, they hope, alumni donations. With college tuition at more than $20,000 a year in many schools, parents and students as well as alumni bearing checkbooks demand higher rankings to justify their investments.
For most students, the financial-aid package has to be put together. For the wealthy, money is no object. For the poor, there is plenty of money available and counselors at high schools and colleges to help get it. For the middle class, the problem is much tougher. Need-based money is almost impossible to get. Merit-based money is there, but rarer, and only the very top students can get it. Scholarships can be hard to find, and harder to qualify for. As in much else in life, you don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
Whatever paper hoops must be jumped through, the prospects for high schoolers today are greater than ever. To those going through the process, parents and students alike, all we can say is, hang in there. Wading through the paperwork is hard, but the rewards can be well worth it.

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