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State Colleges are Getting More Competitive — Here’s How to Stay Ahead of the Curve

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As the benefits of a college education become more prevalent, more students have been applying to university. This has created an increasingly competitive college admissions environment, with almost 80% of ranked schools accepting 50% or less of their applicants according to a U.S. News article. With colleges increasing their selectivity, families sometimes look to public colleges as an inexpensive fail-safe option for attending college.


Public colleges and universities, including state colleges, operate under the supervision of state governments and are funded largely by taxes and subsidies from the government. A private college, on the other hand, is privately funded and sets its own policies and goals. For a more detailed explanation of the different types of colleges, see our blog post on public vs. private universities.


With the recent increase in competitiveness across all colleges, students may need to reevaluate how they view their chances of being admitted to in-state colleges. In this post, we will recognize and dispel some of the common assumptions about state colleges, explain why they have gotten more competitive, and offer some tips to keep up with the changing landscape of the state college admissions process.


Why Things Are Changing in State College Admissions

In general, college admissions are becoming increasingly competitive. This is in large part because college graduates in recent years have seen substantially higher average incomes and better job prospects than their counterparts who did not attend college. In fact, according to a recent TIME article, the average starting salary for a college graduate in 2017 was around $50,000, a 3% increase from the previous year.


As the benefits of a college education increase, more students are seeking a college education, and the applicant pools at each college are getting larger. Meanwhile, most colleges have not increased the number of students they accept to account for the increase in applicants. In short, there are more and more students competing for the same number of spots at each college.


State colleges are no exception to this increasing competitiveness. In addition, many state governments have decreased their budget subsidies to state colleges and universities by an average of 17%, creating budget issues for affected institutions.


In order to compensate for the lack of funds, state colleges have chosen to both increase tuition and accept more out-of-state students to their college, as they pay higher tuition than in-state students. This decreases the number of spots available for in-state students, putting in-state applicants at a potential disadvantage in the college admissions process at their state colleges. See this 2016 New York Times article for more information about the changing trends in state college admissions.


Common Assumptions About State Colleges (And Why They May Not be Accurate Today)

College applicants sometimes assume that getting accepted to a state college in their home state is easy and cheap. Indeed, many states have college admissions policies that can seem appealing. For example, most state schools in Texas follow an automatic admissions system, where Texas students with the top class ranks in their high school can gain automatic admission into any state school in Texas that they apply to. Other states have different policies regarding in-state admissions into state schools, but they generally include impressive benefits to high-achieving, in-state students.


Students tend to take these policies to mean that their admission to in-state colleges is guaranteed, when that is not always the case. Given the aforementioned budget cuts and competitiveness, in-state students sometimes face harsher competition for fewer and fewer enrollment spots in colleges in their home state. This means that even if you’re an in-state student with good grades and a decent extracurricular profile, you may not get admitted to the state school in your home state.


This wasn’t always the case, however. You may hear from older community members, parents, and even guidance counselors that it is easier to gain admittance to a state college because that was the case when they were applying to college. However, in recent years, state colleges have gotten considerably harder to get into than parents, community members, or even guidance counselors may expect.

What You Can Do To Keep Up With Changes in State College Admission Requirements

The state college admissions process is rapidly changing. Here are a few things you can do to stay ahead of the curve:


  • Don’t Trust “Common Knowledge” When It Comes to State College Admissions: Your older relatives, teachers, and counselors may give you advice that indicates that admissions to your state colleges is basically guaranteed because that was their experience when they were in college. However, times have changed and so has the admissions process at state colleges. Their perspectives may not be as relevant anymore.
  • Stay Informed: Each state and college has different policies regarding their admissions process. Make sure that you find out what the standards and requirements for admission are for your state schools of choice before you start forming your college list and filling out applications.
  • Make Sure You Qualify for In-State Perks: If you’re depending on a guaranteed admission program based on your high school performance to get you into a state school, be sure to check that you meet all of the eligibility requirements to be guaranteed admission. Sometimes, your grades and test scores have to be within a certain range or you have to complete some separate requirements to be eligible.
  • Take Into Account the Differences Between Various Schools In a Single State College System: Even though all the colleges in the state university system are public and get about the same amount of funding, they are not always equal in prestige and competitiveness. For example, the University of California schools have different standards for acceptance, even though they are part of the same university system and all use the same application platform.
  • Apply to a Variety of Schools: Rather than relying on guaranteed admission to an in-state school, you should form a college list with a wide variety of reach, target, and safety schools, potentially in different states. While some families may avoid applying to out-of-state schools because of the costs of attending, out-of-state students sometimes qualify for more financial aid and scholarships than in-state students — so attending an out-of-state college may not be that out-of-reach. If you apply to a variety of schools, you’ll have multiple options and backup plans if your college admissions don’t pan out the way you thought they would. For more tips on forming your college list, see our 10 Considerations For Making Your College List.


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!