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By: Tom Sullivan | 21/11/2009

Wanted: College Advisors

Section: News, Pg. 12a

Every year, swamped college admissions officers and sweaty high school seniors swear the college admissions game can’t get any more insane. And then it does.

The latest signs of craziness are the seniors currently stacked up on college waiting lists. Some colleges have lists of more than 1,000 names. That’s a result of more students applying to more colleges, which creates uncertainty for students and colleges alike.

Colleges dislike the blizzard of applications because they can’t predict how many students will accept offers. So they keep more waiting. It’s just as tough on the students who devote several frazzled months to filling out forms and writing essays.

How to stop the madness?

In the near term, not much can be done. But improving the collegeadvising that students receive in high school would be a good place to start. In the largest high schools, there’s one college adviser for every 654 students, according to a recent survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Compare that with the most elite private schools, where the ratio is 1-per-50.

The public-school numbers are even worse than they look. Those “college counselors” also administer tests, handle scheduling and provide other counseling. Two-thirds of high schools in the USA lack a full-time college counselor.

This means oodles of inadequate or bad advice, and it has spawned a parallel industry of private college counselors that only the most affluent families can afford.

High school juniors and seniors aren’t lacking information about colleges. Just the opposite. They are flooded by a torrent of information they can’t sort. With one harried college counselor for hundreds of students, confusion and misinformation abound.

If given better college advice, students would send out fewer but wiser applications. And they would learn there’s no reason to panic. While Harvard and Yale accept less than 10% of their applicants, only about 100 of the nation’s 1,400 colleges are truly selective. At the rest, acceptance rates of 85% are common.

Better advising would bring shorter wait lists and less stress. That’s an outcome everyone would accept.

(c) USA TODAY, 2006