In April, talk turns to college

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This being April, the word on this year's trends in college applicants is rolling in. And as in years past, the buzz is about the record numbers of students applying to the higher echelons of higher education. And that's not all: that roster includes a record number of very strong candidates. Translation: A lot of valedictorians, perfect SAT-scorers, captains of lacrosse teams, and academic decathlon winners are being rejected by their top choice.

It can make students, parents, and plenty of others feel that getting into college is becoming the equivalent of finding last-minute tickets to an 'N Sync concert.

The upside of all this is that barriers clearly are dropping. More financial aid, the ease of looking beyond your home state via the Internet for a good school (and applying electronically), and more savvy about preparing well in high school mean that a much broader swath of kids is being given the tools to aim high.

Recommended: Five shifts among college freshmen: For one, they're more studious

But there's a down side, something that's being played out all over the US: applications overflowing to "top" preschools; enrichment courses in grade school; and kids overburdened by lessons in everything from Web-page design to jazz tuba.

It used to be easier to predict the definite shoo-ins to certain schools. Admissions counselors say that in addition to good grades and so forth, they want to see a love of learning, a show of perseverance. But overall, the judgment criteria for admission remain something of a mystery.

But maybe, in our overbearingly ambitious, credential-conscious age, that's a good thing. Maybe the obvious importance of a student's je ne sais quoi could temper all the families in hyperdrive to give their kid what they've defined as the perfect education that will result in the perfect college admission.

And it can remind people that there are a lot of good schools out there. Hot colleges trend in and out, as you can see in our story on page 15 about how kids cope with that closely watched day when the letters of acceptance, wait list, or rejection arrive from colleges.

It's not that kids shouldn't be encouraged to build a college rsum that shines. It's a positive trend, after all, that more adults are focusing on the need to give more students access to college guidance as well as the tools to shape a good high school career.

But that effort should come with counseling on finding a genuinely good fit - as well as the importance of perspective. Because in the end - with exceptions, of course - kids will blaze their own path. And that's the best learning experience.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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