To the High School Class of 2024…… My Apologies

Admission to an institution of higher education in the US was fraught with change and uncertainty this year.  It’s made a difficult year for high school seniors being initially exposed, creating and even more making it a stressful and confusing process. Not a great way to begin your college experience. 

Why?  Here is what the Class of ‘24 has dealt with:

  • The year began with the Supreme Court’s decision to remove race as a factor in the admissions process. Should students include race information or not on their applications? Should they write about it in their personal essay? It left many in a quandary.
  • FAFSA blunder.  Need I say more?  Families have not received financial aid award letters from colleges because of the FAFSA debacle. The application opened on December 31st of 2023 so institutions had a shorter amount of time to review the FAFSA results and create financial aid packages for accepted students.  On top of that, more delays ensued, errors in the formula result in colleges attempting to quickly put together financial aid packages for their accepted students. How do you choose which school to attend if you don’t know how much it will cost you and your family?  Forget about comparing packages to find the best price/value for your hard-earned dollars.

As a result, many fewer FAFSA applications were completed, a reported 30% decline from last year.

  • National Decision Day of May 1 has passed.  Many schools have extended that deadline because of the FAFSA mess. This month I listened to a webinar with Jeff Selingo, journalist and higher education author, who met with several college presidents. They reported only 30 to 40% of the freshman class committed for the fall semester so far. Now decision day has been extended giving a until mid-May to June 1 deadline.  All this, in turn, delays on campus housing contracts being completed, rooms/roommates assigned and delaying orientation programs for new students.  It may be a scramble to begin the fall semester for many campuses.
  • And how about the decision process itself?  Transparency is not the term that comes to mind. How about mystifying? For this year, the more highly selective (I like to use the term rejective) schools continued to make standardized test scores optional (soon to change for the 2025 year) creating a continued increase in applications, thus lowering acceptance rates. It’s all about the schools looking good on those national rankings and having an ample pool of applications with which to work. Should students send scores or not?  Let’s not forget the legacy issue, whether the school factors into the review process if your parents/grandparents were alumni.  And what institutional priorities does the school have that you’re clueless about?  Maybe it’s searching for first generation students, creating a new female lacrosse team, more economic diversity among its class or increasing female aerospace engineers. Also keep in mind that for many public colleges and universities in the US, a limited percentage of out-of-state students can be admitted.  Oh, and don’t forget the selective programs like nursing, engineering, computer science, business that have limited enrollments. All of these factors can affect whether a student is admitted and you, the applicant, may never know some of them.
  • How to apply?  Should I apply for Early Decision(ED), Early Action(EA), or Regular admission? Students who apply ED increase their chance of being admitted, but lose out on being able to compare financial aid packages from other schools.
  • Deferrals, wait lists and rejections ensue.  After all the forms, supplemental essays, and completed applications (I usually suggest 10-12 colleges apps per student) the schools’ decisions arrive. College waitlists bestow additional frustration and heartache. Should the student put their application on the waitlist, continuing with the wait and see game?  43% of US schools use wait lists with just 7% of students being admitted off of the list each year.  If the student wants to be placed on the list, they need to write yet another letter explaining, once again, why the school is a good fit for them. Further, they need to provide additional updated information like grades, awards received, additional activities –all for just prolonging the torture.  I find the acceptances off the WL are spotty and inconsistent.  For example, Brown University in the last 3 years accepted the following number of students- 73,15 and 28 off of its wait list although these were not consecutive years. Boston College accepted 13, 273 and 16 from the last three years (Disclaimer; I couldn’t find 2020 figures probably due to Covid.)
  • Skyrocketing costs. The College Board reports that in 2023-24, the average sticker price of tuition and fees for a private four-year college nationally was $41,540, and the average total cost, with room, board, and books was $60,420.  And in the New England region The Boston Globe recently reported that this next year’s direct costs at Boston University, Tufts, Wellesley, and Yale will exceed $90,000.  Is it still worth it?  Emerson’s College Polling just surveyed 6,000 adults, including adults of any age and education status, and opinions are split nearly down the middle.  While 46% of people polled agree the cost is worth it, 44% disagree and 10% remain neutral.  The percentage who agree higher education is worth it is down nearly 25% from 10 years ago.
  • Protests on campus.  Access to campuses for one last look this spring isn’t possible because of student protests.  Schools have stopped access to campuses unless they are members of the community.  One last look this season may not be an option in many cases.

So class of 2024, my apologies for an application process year that has been teeming with delays and changes and unknowns. College is still a fabulous experience, despite all of these challenges. It is a time in your life where you can delve deeply into new thinking, explore old and new interests, make lifelong friendships, develop leadership skills, and focus on your career and future. Think about the places you go, the people you meet, the exposure to new ideas and cultures. In my most humble opinion, there’s nothing better.

Joanne Clary Apesos is the owner of College Pursuits, a college counseling business. She has advised high school students and their families in planning their college experience for many years and has presented HEF workshops for students and parents about the college selection process. Prior to assisting high school students she worked in higher education for 20+ years as an admissions counselor, adjunct faculty and director of student activities at both public and private colleges and universities in the Northeast. She holds a master’s degree in Higher Education from Columbia University and completed UCLA’s College Counseling Certificate Program. She is also a recipient of the State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor’s Award and selected Holliston’s Citizen of the Year in 2011. She can be reached at

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