By Vincent M. Stumpo, Ph.D, Head of School, Forsyth Country Day School

When I was in high school, the idea that a smart kid would get into one of his or her chosen colleges and do fairly well there was pretty much a given. All that really mattered were good grades, reasonably strong test scores (if they were required), and a few shiny extra-curriculars to show that you were fairly well-rounded.

Times have changed, and for students planning to go to college in the near future and their families, they have not changed for the better. In the last five years, colleges have become increasingly selective, to the point that it is not unusual for the average college to accept only 2,000 students from a pool of 25,000 applicants.

Acceptance rates at every school in the prestigious Ivy League but Dartmouth decreased in 2013, with Harvard University accepting a mere 5.8 percent of its applicants and Yale University accepting just 6.8. Closer to home, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill saw admission rates drop precipitously from 31.4 percent in 2011 to 25.7 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.

Some attribute the admittance rate drop to the Common Application, which makes it easier for students to apply to more schools. Sheer numbers play a part as well. This year, there were 3.2 million students in the Class of 2013 vying for college admission. In an increasingly global economy, applications from international students have skyrocketed, driving up the competition even further.

I recently attended an institute for independent school leaders at Harvard University, home of the 5.8 percent acceptance rate, and I had the chance to speak to a young employee in admissions. A Harvard alumna herself, she confessed that she didn’t believe she would be admitted to her own alma mater were she to apply in the present admissions climate.

That’s a pretty telling statement, and I don’t say it to scare parents. I say it to prepare you, and to encourage you to begin to think carefully about what it will take to prepare your children for college, whether they are in junior pre-K or junior year. This matter is very close to my heart: I have a 4-year-old daughter. I used to believe that parents who started thinking about college when their children were as young as mine were a bit crazy. Now that I’m thinking of my own daughter and the kind of competition she will face when she starts to think about college, I’m not so sure.

Getting into college isn’t the only issue. Even students who are admitted to college are having trouble performing once they are admitted. This college-performance issue has delayed graduation for many and made the four-year bachelor’s degree increasingly rare. According to the U.S. Department of Education, fewer than 40 percent of students complete college in four years. The average is nearly six. For parents, that means two more years of tuition, room, board, books, and other fees they probably didn’t plan to spend.

Years ago, a student might have been able to attend a well-regarded local public school and have a decent shot in the college admissions process, and in college itself. Today, that’s a riskier proposition.

In today’s climate, good simply isn’t good enough. With colleges and universities across the country accepting fewer students than ever before, an academic program that is merely good won’t help our children accomplish their goals and live their dreams.

We only have one chance to educate our children, and we don’t have to settle for good enough. I chose to become the head of Forsyth Country Day School for many reasons, but one of the most compelling is because this is the school I wanted my daughter to attend. FCDS has the best academic metrics of any school in the area, meaning that our students perform better than students at local and regional public and private schools by a significant margin. Our teachers are dedicated and dynamic, and our students are motivated to succeed, which builds a supportive yet challenging climate that lifts everyone higher.

The sense of community at Forsyth is palpable and positive, and our teachers’ and families’ dedication to the school is indicative of its strengths. Despite our record of excellent academic performance and truly successful college preparation, we are not content to rest on our laurels and maintain a status quo. Our goal is lofty: to be nothing less than the best independent college-preparatory school in the nation, and I have both a professional and personal investment in achieving this goal. With the challenges students now face as they seek to enter college, finish their degrees, and prepare for the incredible lives we want for them, we can settle for nothing less for our children.

Sponsored by Forsyth Country Day School