The Challenge to Find the Best Fit

By Janine Robinson
By Janine Robinson

Laguna Beach High School rising seniors and other college-bound students face an even more competitive and confusing admissions quest this year.

The chore of getting into colleges and universities constantly evolves, but college admissions industry leaders say they have not seen so many changes in the admission process in over a decade or more.

So far this year, there were major revisions in standardized testing and financial aid, as well as the admissions process for many schools—including a new college application option and fresh essay prompts.

“What do I think about the changes?” said Nichole Rosa, a Laguna Beach High School counselor. “With the pressure for kids to make a choice out of over 2,000 four-year college options in the U.S., I think the positive is that kids are starting to really take their time to research colleges and find the best fit rather than subscribe to the notion that there are only a few ‘good’ colleges out there.”

Students at LBHS have an entire college and career guidance team to help them stay one step ahead of the application process. When it comes to college research, its goal is to help each student find “the best fit.”

“For them,” she said, “not their friend, or neighbor, relative, etc…but them.”

The team starts early, teaming with Thurston Middle School to help eighth graders start identifying their skills, likes and dislikes so they can learn to make informed decisions. Freshman year, students complete career profile assessments and a four-year plan, and sophomore year focus on assessments that match their personalities to potential majors and careers.

During junior year, the high school amps up college preparation efforts, including individual college and career planning conferences with students and their families, and a private college application workshop that details and explains the many steps required by college application systems.

They also host other college prep activities, ranging from a Mock Admissions Night and Junior Parent Night to a college fair and visits from college representatives.

One of the biggest changes to college admissions this year is a new application system that will rival the Common Application, which consolidates the undergraduate application process among more than 600 participating universities and colleges. (Another change for 2016 is that the Common Application included several new schools, including The University of Wisconsin).

The new application system is called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, and was started by a group of colleges as an alternative to the Common Application, which has had vexing technical glitches in past years. Of the 90 participating institutions, several universities are using it exclusively, so students applying to the University of Florida, University of Maryland or University of Washington will need to use it this year.

The additions to the Common Application and the introduction of the Coalition Application mean that students who apply to a number of public universities outside of California may have to complete fewer applications. (Many college admissions insiders, however, are discouraging students from using the Coalition Application this year, if possible, due to anticipated kinks in the new technology.)

The LBHS counseling team also works closely with the English department, which infuses college essay writing into the curriculum.

“They analyze the prompts, examine great past essays and hold a panel of current senior students who read aloud their exemplary essays,” said Rosa, adding they also provide a writing lab.

In recent years, an average of about eight to 10 percent of LBHS graduates entered the University of California, a number which Rosa believes has been slowly declining.

“They know that the admissions rates continue to decrease so their chances of being admitted to the UC of their choice is not high, therefore they look into other options that they would be equally happy attending,” she said.

The number of students applying to attend the University of California jumped for the 12th consecutive year with record-breaking numbers topping 200,000 for undergraduates in fall 2016.

“Many kids find the idea of being 1 of 300 students in a freshman lecture hall to be very daunting when they have been raised within a small school that offers so much individual attention. The out-of-state and private school options seem to be ‘upping their game’ in order to attract our students who would otherwise be attending UC schools and the kids are liking the offers.”

For the first time in well over a decade, the UCs also changed their essay prompts. Before, students were required to write two longer personal statement essays. Now they have eight new prompts to choose from to write four shorter essays. The essay prompts for the ApplyTexas application (used by all Texas universities and many private colleges) also have changed this year. The Common App prompts remain the same.


Janine Robinson is a former journalist, editor and credentialed high school English teacher who coaches students from all over the world on writing college application essays. She offers advice and tips on her popular Essay Hell blog, and will be holding college app essay writing workshops in Laguna Beach this summer. Learn more at:

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