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Making sense of college admissions

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College admissions expert Sally Springer — showing off a previous edition of her book, "Admission Matters" — will speak from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Davis High School library, 315 W. 14th St. Enterprise file photo

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From page A1 | September 20, 2013 |

Check it out

What: “What Colleges May Not Tell You — And You Really Need to Know” featuring college admissions expert Sally Springer, author of “Admission Matters”

When: 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Davis High School library, 315 W. 14th St.

Info: Jennifer Creinen, mitchjen@comcast.net

Last spring brought headlines that struck fear in the hearts of many a high school student and parent: record numbers of applications to the nation’s most selective colleges and some of the lowest admission rates ever seen.

UCLA received nearly 100,000 applications and accepted 22 percent of those vying to get in, while Stanford University reported accepting fewer than 6 percent of all applicants. The list of colleges with acceptance rates below 20 percent, meanwhile, grew ever longer.

There were tales of students with perfect SAT scores and GPAs, valedictorians of their classes and accomplished musicians who were rejected by all of their dream schools.

The result: much angst and concern among students and families just heading into the admissions season.

Meanwhile, Davis resident Sally Springer was quietly working away on the third edition of “Admission Matters,” a book many refer to as the “bible” of all things admissions-related.

Along with co-authors Jon Reider and Joyce Vining Morgan, Springer wanted to expand on various issues discussed in the second edition of “Admission Matters” published back in 2009 — including providing more information for student-athletes and international applicants as well as more detailed advice on financial aid.

The new edition, published earlier this month, also includes the latest news on standardized testing — including the increasingly popular “test-optional” policies at some colleges — revisions to the Common Application and much more.

But unchanged from that first edition is a sentiment that permeates the book and contradicts the near-hysteria of last spring: “College admissions does not have to be, and should not be, an ordeal.”

Yes, Springer said, more students than ever are graduating from high school and applying to college, and more than ever are applying to those colleges ranked in the “top 25” by U.S. News and other ranking outfits. But there’s also this:

“With relatively few exceptions, four-year colleges in the United States still accept most of their applicants,” the book notes. “It turns out the real crunch in admissions — the crunch that drives the newspaper headlines and the anxiety that afflicts many families at college application time — applies to only about 100 colleges that attract applicants from all over the country and the rest of the world and that are the most selective in admissions.”

Those, of course, are the “dream” schools of many high school students and Springer encourages students to include a few on the list of colleges they apply to if they so desire. But by no means should they be the only schools to focus on.

“Sure, apply to those schools,” Springer said. “But be optimistic and realistic. Sometimes kids’ lists are very top-heavy and that’s not good. You have to build a list.”

Just how to go about building a list that includes those “long-shot” schools, as well as the “possible” and “good bet” schools — as Springer likes to call them — will be one of the topics she’ll address when she speaks at Davis High School next week.

Sponsored by the Davis High PTA, her presentation will take place Wednesday in the school library, 315 W. 14th St., beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Springer says that while so much focus is on the most selective colleges, the truth is there isn’t a whole lot students can do about their odds of admission when admission rates are 20 percent and below. Colleges can focus on their own institutional priorities when nearly every applicant is an excellent student with special talents on the side.

Students need a Plan B, Springer said.

“Plan B needs to be a good plan,” she said. “And when Plan B becomes the only plan, it’s important to keep in mind that what you get out is what you put in. Too many kids feel they’re settling for second-best. But there are a lot of terrific schools out there.”

In addition to helping students figure out how to make a list of the “right-fit” schools to apply to, Springer also will provide information on the pros and cons of early decision, testing, changes to the Common Application — the online form used now by more than 500 colleges — and more.

She’ll also discuss that other item making headlines of late: the rising cost of a college education, which is often the top concern for parents.

“It’s really important to understand the difference between need-based aid and merit-based aid and the policies of each college,” Springer said.

“The reality is that colleges give their most generous merit aid to the students they most want to attend,” she explained.

That makes it important for students in search of merit aid to apply to schools where their stats put them on the high end of applicants.

Springer, who is associate chancellor emerita at UC Davis, brings more than 30 years of experience in higher education to the college admissions table. She’s also been through the process twice with her own children. That, in fact, was the impetus for writing “Admission Matters” in the first place — because she wanted to create the book she would have liked to have had when she was going through the process.

There are no shortage of college admissions professionals who believe she has.

“I wish I had picked this book up before my daughter sent in her applications,” said Kirk Brennan, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Southern California, in a testimonial.

“ ‘Admission Matters’ should be required reading for every high school student about to embark on a college search,” said Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, in another.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at Wednesday’s event and, given the ever-changing landscape of college admissions, updated information is provided regularly on the website www.admissionmatters.com.

Springer, who speaks at Davis High every year, always draws a broad audience that ranges from seniors and their parents all the way down to junior high students and their parents. Regardless of where they are in the process, she said, attendees will leave with valuable information.

“My talk will feature key points about the college admissions process that students and parents need to know before they begin the college admissions journey, regardless of whether that journey is imminent or one or more years off into the future,” she said.

“I’ve decided to highlight points that I believe are very important but are probably not included in the information sessions put on by admissions officers for parents and students who visit their colleges. I’m hoping to share some of the college admissions ‘back story.’ ”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

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