It’s a question undecided applicants are always asking: what should I put down as my intended major on my college applications? The answer of course will depend on the exact colleges one is applying to and the potential majors one will consider; however, this year, 2017, as students get ready to apply during the 2017-2018 admissions cycle for Fall 2018 freshmen spots at America’s most selective colleges, there is one major that certainly deserves your attention more so than others. Drumroll please….
Among several enhancements announced by the Common Application for 2017-18, one that seems to respond directly to the need for reduced paperwork and reliance on extraneous document transmission systems is the new Courses & Grades feature. While still a pilot program with participation limited to 12 institutions, the new section follows an industry trend, adopted last year by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, toward greater use of self-reported transcript information and has the potential for eliminating dependence on third parties to send such documents either electronically or via the U.S. Postal Service.
For now or at least for purposes of the pilot, the Common App is still requiring that students arrange to have official transcripts sent in addition to completing the Courses & Grades section. Presumably, this is to allow for research on student accuracy, as this is an experiment for the Common App. But it’s not really that new to admissions. A number of institutions, including those in the University of California and Rutgers University systems as well as the University of Washington and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have been using the “honor system” with great success for years.
“A major advantage of collecting self-reported information through the application process is the match to the applicant’s file,” writes Nancy J. Walsh, UIUC’s director of undergraduate admissions operations, in an article for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). “[W]hile the applicants are being asked to do a little more work on the frontend by completing the self-reported academic record, they don’t have to worry about the prospect of a transcript being lost somewhere between the high school and the admissions office, which may make them miss an important deadline. There is certainly less demand on the mailrooms in admissions offices, but on the high school side as well during application season.”
And the data provided by students is usually very accurate. In the case of applicant information, a college can always require that an official transcript be submitted for verification once a student commits to attending. In fact, UIUC reports that only four students had their admission offers rescinded for transcript problems out of almost 7,600 freshmen who enrolled for fall 2015. Other schools requiring self-reported transcripts report similar results.
The Common App’s new Courses & Grades section will be found under the Common App tab of the application, along with Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Activities and Writing. A few qualifying questions will be asked and the student will be provided with an instructional “wizard” designed to walk them through how the section, which is formatted as a grid, should be completed.
In order for a student to use Courses & Grades, s/he must have access to their high school transcript. The transcript must use grades, and the high school must use semesters, trimesters, quarters or block scheduling. Students who fall outside these parameter—those students whose high schools use narratives instead of grades or those with transcripts in a foreign language for example—will not be required to complete Courses & Grades.
The 12 colleges requiring Courses & Grades from students who apply using the Common Application include:
Birmingham-Southern College, AL
Chapman University, CA
College of Idaho, ID
George Washington University, DC
New York School of Career & Applied Studies of Touro College & University System, NY
Ohio State University, OH
Purdue University, IN
Ripon College, WI
St. John’s University, NY
Underwood International College, Yonsei University, South Korea
University of Southern California, CA
West Virginia University, WV
Again, according to Common App instructions, “Counselors who have a student using Courses & Grades must still send an official transcript for that student (part of the School Report).” Questions about this requirement should be directed to the Applicant Solutions Center.
Courses & Grades will launch with the rest of the Common Application on August 1, after a brief break starting on July 24.
Yale University is experimenting with the role digital media can play in college admissions. Using technology advanced last year by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, Yale’s admissions readers in some cases became admissions viewers and experienced what will likely become a third dimension in college admissions—the creative use of media to present the case for admission to a highly selective institution.
Staying on the cutting edge of technology is challenging in any field, but changes in college admissions since the introduction of the electronic application are almost beyond description. Stacks of manila folders tucked into walls of file cabinets have been replaced by application “platforms” configured to align with enrollment management software, which oversees a process that is increasingly data-dependent and data-driven.
And the work has become less cyclical and more continuous as applicants have the luxury of starting applications earlier by entering information that “rolls over” from one year to the next. Marketing begins with the administration of the first PSAT, with even the earliest scores sold to colleges anxious to get their names before potential applicants. There’s hardly a moment to reflect on successes and failures before it’s time to gear up for the next group of recruits turned applicants.
But as almost anyone involved in college admissions would agree, something isn’t quite right with this picture—the entire college admissions process is due for a major overhaul. And a handful of deans and enrollment management experts are ready to try.
“Technology has transformed how we process applications and how we read applications, but not how we create content for these applications,” commented Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admission.
Like many others charged with overseeing admissions, Quinlan felt the time had come for Yale to experiment with application content that responded to the pervasiveness and availability of digital media. While the Common Application set the standard, others saw a market ripe for innovation.
“I really felt we needed to make a change. We were looking at more and more essays that felt like they had been written by 47-year olds and not 17-year olds,” said Quinlan. “We thought we needed more material—different material—in the review process.”
Enter the Coalition application. Born out of concern that reliance on a single electronic application was a risky proposition and developed with a view toward attracting a wider, underserved audience, the Coalition application as built by CollegeNet looked for ways to integrate creativity and give colleges the kind of basic flexibility they wanted in an application platform.
“After the fall of 2013, we needed to bring more options into the application space,” Quinlan explained. “We thought giving students a choice of applications would be better for colleges and better for applicants.”
One of over 90 colleges that originally joined the Coalition and 47 that actually launched applications for 2016-17, Yale viewed this as an opportunity to design a substantially different set of application specifications from those contained in the Common Application.
Students applying to Yale could choose to write two additional 200-word essays (beyond the personal statement and other short-answer questions) for the Common Application or they could choose to write one 250-word essay and provide an upload related to that essay on the Coalition application.
While many Coalition members chose to simply replicate requirements laid out on the Common Application, Quinlan decided to offer alternate but not totally different requirements on Yale’s Coalition application. He kept the prompts the same for both applications, but used the Coalition application’s functionality to support links to digital media.
“It was critical to our review process that we not give preference to one application type over another. Our results from the first year bear this out; the rate of admission for students who submitted the Common Application and for students who submitted the Coalition Application were nearly identical.”
Nevertheless, the results were exciting. While only about one percent or 300 of Yale’s applicants used the Coalition application, the advantage of providing students with a choice of how to present themselves was clear. In some cases, the online media helped “separate” a student or verified some element of the application that didn’t come through strongly enough in a recommendation or through a student’s writing.
“We found certain situations, for example, where a video component made a difference—showed examples of kinds of characteristics we’re looking for.”
To illustrate his point, Quinlan talks about an application Yale received from Justin Aubin, an Eagle Scout who lives and attends high school in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Justin’s recommendations were excellent, and he was an outstanding student. But Yale has lots of those applicants.
What made Justin stand apart was a video his older brother filmed to document the construction of Justin’s Eagle project. In this distinctly amateurish record of decisions made as the work progressed, the Yale admissions office could easily see how Justin managed and supervised younger scouts and how he exhibited compassionate leadership, which inspired respect from the group as a whole.
The additional essay Justin provided put the video in context. But most importantly, he presented information that highlighted and underscored character traits Yale values and wants to bring to campus in the classes they admit. Other information on the application suggested this was possibly the case, but the video nailed it.
Justin Aubin was eventually admitted and will be attending Yale in the fall as a member of the class of 2021. And Quinlan credits Justin’s creative use of digital media—submitting the video—as making the difference
In all fairness, Yale isn’t the first institution to allow videos and other digital media to be submitted as part of an application for admission. Goucher College in Maryland and George Mason University in Virginia and others have video options available through institutional applications.
And it’s not all that unusual for colleges to offer several different application formats with differing requirements. In fact, smaller colleges make clear that their institutional applications are often more popular than the standardized Common Application.
In addition, last year’s applicants could use ZeeMee, an online resume promoted in questions on the Common Application, or SlideRoom—a Common App partner—to provide more visual support for their talents and interests.
But the difference for colleges using the Coalition application was that they could design their own questions and media integration. They didn’t have to rely on a third-party website that might encourage more “freeform” or off-message responses.
Yale’s new application was no more difficult for staff to review than the two-essay Common App version and could be scripted to allow for comparable responses across applicants using either platform. Linking the digital media to an essay prompt was key to the success of the experiment.
“Staff enjoyed doing something else. It was a way to experiment with new ways of interpreting new kinds of application content.”
Quinlan has a great deal of respect for the Common Application and has no interest in changing that relationship, which has worked very well for Yale. But he does want to offer students a choice of application platforms.
“We want the two applications to be different so students can be thoughtful about which they use and what they decide to present to us.”
While he expects to “tweak” the essay prompts offered in the Yale supplement, Quinlan will continue to provide the digital media option in the Coalition application. “We will maintain the two applications for next year with the same set-up.”
And students will be free to choose the application platform that best presents their credentials and makes their case for admission to Yale University.
For the record, the Coalition application will make available new functionality on June 15. And for the coming year, the roster of institutional members will grow to 135. After July 1, colleges can open individual applications according to their own timelines.
What’s the best order of operations for rising seniors to complete strong and differentiated college applications over the summer before their senior year in high school? In the first of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, we have the answers that will ensure that you don’t waste time or need to back track while giving you the the longest time possible to finalize your college list. If you haven’t yet put together an extracurricular resume for your college applications, start one now using our online course, which will give you the perfect format to start organizing your extracurricular and eventual professional resume.
Last fall, Cappex entered the college application market by launching two new products—the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications. Both were designed to build on existing relationships college-bound students have with the Cappex and College Greenlight websites by allowing them to apply directly to participating colleges from the websites.
Both applications launched on September 1 of last year and both attracted participation from colleges already part of the Cappex and/or College Greenlight networks.
“We signed on with the Cappex Application because it’s one more way students can connect with Northland at the applicant stage,” explained Teege Mettille, executive director of admissions at Northland College.
While Greenlight serves first generation, low-income students, both the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications were created to streamline the process of applying to college by doing away with application fees and the kinds of extraneous essay requirements students describe as barriers for application completion.
Similar in many ways, the two applications have different approaches for showcasing credentials. The Greenlight Scholars application uses the Cappex Application Platform but is designed to help identify non-cognitive predictors of academic success such as a student’s drive, commitment and interests. And Greenlight is specifically promoted through a network of 1,200 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) which is already using the website’s suite of tools and resources in support of their student communities.
Both applications are looking forward to expanding their rosters of participating institutions for 2017-18, and both will launch on August 1, 2017, with the following essay prompts:
Prompt 1 (required): Tell us a story about yourself that is key to understanding who you are. This could be a moment you changed, grew, or made a difference. (500 words or less)
Prompt 2 (optional): The goals of this application are to reflect your unique interests, experiences, capabilities and pursuits. To this end, is there anything else you would like us to know? (300 words or less)
Greenlight Scholars Application
Prompt 1 (required): Please select one question to answer in maximum 500 words.
Defining moment: Tell us a story about yourself that is key to understanding who you are today and reveals aspects of who you want to become in college and life. This could be a moment when you changed, grew or made a difference or an everyday moment that reveals something people count on you for.
Community: A college is a community of diverse individuals. What is your ideal of community? What communities do you come from? How have those communities shaped and supported you and how have you shaped and supported those communities? What do you uniquely bring to your college community
Learning: People learn many different things in many different ways. Describe a project or opportunity–in school or out–that challenged you, revealed something new or where you experienced failure. Reflect on what you learned, how you learned and how that learning influences your plans for college and the future.
Overcoming adversity: Describe a significant obstacle that you have overcome. How were you able to overcome this challenge? How has this shaped who you are today and who you will be in the future?”
Prompt 2 (optional): Please describe your ideal college campus/academic environment. How will you gain from it? How will you contribute to it? (300 words or less)
Prompt 3 (optional): The goals of this application are to reflect your unique interests, experiences, capabilities and pursuits. To this end, is there anything else you would like us to know? (300 words or less)
This is the second of a two-part series. Part I may be found here.
Alex Stepien literally worked his way to the top at Cappex—an all-purpose college and scholarship search website that includes College Greenlight among many tools and services provided to college-bound high school students. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Stepien joined the company in 2008 as its first Account Executive and now oversees the entire operation as CEO responsible for maintaining relationships with 600 colleges and universities across seven countries as well as for launching both the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications.
It’s a big job, and Stepien is an extraordinarily open and engaging executive with lots of plans for enlarging the Cappex role in college admissions, not the least of which involves targeting a nationwide audience including low-income and under-resourced students and families served by College Greenlight.
Last fall, Cappex entered the college application market with a product designed to capitalize on relationships with students developed through its basic college-and scholarship-matching services.
“In our surveys and conversations with students, we’ve heard that essay supplements and application fees represent huge barriers for application completion,” explained Stepien. “Our application simplifies the process by doing away with fees, getting rid of repetitive and burdensome supplements and reducing duplication of effort in the process.”
And while the Common Application and the Coalition squared-off in a more visible competition for market share, Cappex quietly worked behind the scenes to develop products they thought would streamline the process of applying to college and appeal to students looking for less complicated and more straightforward tools for conveying credentials to a variety of institutions.
So far, the strategy appears to be working. Colleges already accepting the Cappex Application include the College of Wooster, Whittier College, University of Tampa, Northland College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Cornell College, and Queens University of Charlotte. And among the colleges accepting the Greenlight Scholars Application are Swarthmore College, the University of Dayton, and the University of Rochester. And for the record, both the Cappex Application and College Greenlight will be adding to their rosters of participating colleges and universities for 2017-18.
To help families and college counselors—both school-based and independent—become familiar with the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications, Stepien agreed last week to answer a series of questions.
Question: Now that you have basically completed one application cycle, how would you characterize your first year of operations?
Our pilot year was a successful start for the Cappex Application. We saw a strong response from our college and university partners with 70 institutions participating. Students voiced excitement about the ability to apply directly to the schools they were connecting with on Cappex.com.
Question: Would you have done anything differently? What were some of your biggest problems? Biggest successes?
Given that it was our pilot year, we wanted to make sure we got it right and had a strong foundation before we actively promoted the application, only really building awareness to the student community after our soft launch on September 1. We heard from a lot of our students, “I wish I knew about this earlier!” So this year, we’re launching on August 1, and have begun building awareness of the Cappex Application much earlier.
Question: Do you anticipate any major changes in the platform for the coming year?
We’re making significant improvements and technology investments this year, focused on streamlining the student experience and making the path to adoption easier for our college partners. Among the many enhancements, students will be able to import their existing Cappex profile information into the application; benefit from Cappex’s responsive user-interface that works great on smartphones, tablets and desktops; and utilize our Application Manager feature to organize applications in process and stay on top of deadlines.
For our college partners, we’ve focused on getting them the data they need in the easiest fashion possible, to allow for a streamlined import for reading. Improvements in the onboarding experience for colleges are contributing to an increase in adoption. This represents a huge win for students as it increases the number of colleges they can apply to via the Cappex Application.
Question: How are you reaching out to students and counselors to make them aware of the Cappex Application for the 2017-2018 cycle?
We have a robust marketing plan scheduled for the months leading up to and through the Cappex Application launch, highlighted by unique content and training materials, email notifications, webinars, and exhibiting at NACAC. We hope to see you there!
Question: Do you expect to welcome new members for 2017-18?
Absolutely! We’ll be sharing a full list of participating colleges in the near future, but we anticipate the roster will be well over 100 institutions this year.
Question: Why would a student choose to use the Cappex Application over the Common App, the Coalition App, or the Universal College Application? Who is your target audience?
Every year, over 1 million high school seniors create accounts on Cappex to use the platform’s tools through the college discovery and search process. They trust our best-in-class tools to help them research and choose the right college, so it’s only natural to be able to immediately act upon that information within the platform they trust and apply directly to those schools with the Cappex Application.
The simplicity and ease of use of the Cappex Application make it the right solution for every Cappex user, as well as every student across the country who will apply to participating colleges.
Question: Could you explain the relationship between the Cappex Application and College Greenlight?
The Greenlight Scholars Application uses the Cappex Application Platform, but is designed to showcase the strengths and talents of first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students. The Greenlight Scholars Application includes questions that help identify non-cognitive predictors of academic success, such as the student’s drive, commitment and interests.
College Greenlight works with a network of 1,200 CBOs to help them help their students. College Greenlight students can engage with colleges that are actively trying to recruit low-income, first generation and minority students, in addition to all of the college opportunities that are available on Cappex.com.
Question: How have you structured The Cappex platform to make it user-friendly for counselors? Why would a counselor recommend the Cappex Application to students?
The Cappex Application is easy for students and easy for counselors. We’ve built our counselor facing tools with ease-of-use in mind, so there’s no need to create, remember or manage unnecessary credentials just to submit letters of recommendation or transcripts. Cappex offers a free counselor portal and resources accessible to any school counselor across the country. More than 30,000 counselors across the country are already recommending Cappex to their students as the place to research and discover colleges.
This is the first part of a two-part series on the Cappex and Greenlight Scholar applications.
At its annual “Member Summit” last week in northern Virginia, the Common Application announced the release of a new transfer application specifically designed to accommodate students taking alternate pathways to college.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “traditional” students or those enrolling immediately after high school and attending college full time, represent only about 15 percent of the current undergraduate population. The remaining 85 percent, or about 15 million undergrads, includes students who begin their post-secondary careers at two-year colleges or are military and veteran students, adults returning to higher education to complete degrees or certificates, and adults beginning post-secondary education for the first time
Recognizing that these nontraditional students are very different from the teenagers ordinarily associated with the college application process, the Common App for Transfers will provide a “modern interface, an intuitive flow, and a user-friendly portal” for applying to multiple programs with one set of application materials.
“Providing a dynamic and robust application for this important, but under-recognized group of learners will promote inclusiveness and expand educational opportunity for more individuals who are seeking post-secondary education,” said Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of The Common Application.
The new application will be released in collaboration with Liaison International, a leading admissions management and enrollment marketing group with particular experience in graduate admissions management.
“We are excited to be working with Liaison on these initiatives, which will support access both by expanding the student population we serve and by providing our member colleges and universities with the data insights they need to better understand overall enrollment patterns and achieve their goals,” adds Rickard.
According to the Common App, the new transfer application will better serve returning adult students (over the age of 25 and representing 38 percent of undergraduates) and students applying from two-year programs (43 percent of all undergrads), by presenting a more streamlined and simplified application experience, as admission requirements are often different for these applicants.
The new transfer application will be available in early 2018 for an “early adopter” group of 10 to 12 colleges and universities, with a full release set for August 2018. New data analytics tools, which will provide insights about both first-year and transfer applicants, will be available this fall. To support this initiative, the Common App will be convening a Transfer Advisory Committee in early June 2017.
Along with the new Liaison partnership, the Common App recently announced the addition of nearly 40 new members as well as several innovations to the current platform including Google Drive integration, a self-reported transcript, advising and recommender enhancements, and additional Spanish language resources.
“Throughout its history, The Common Application has continuously leveraged technology to evolve from a paper-and-pencil application to an online resource and innovative application center used by more than 3 million prospective students, applicants, and recommenders annually,” said Rickard.
And the new transfer application addresses an important and growing population of students seeking ways to discover and link-up with “best fit” four-year programs.
In the months immediately following publication of the third edition of Admission Matters, Sally Springer, lead author, was quite certain there would be no fourth edition. As Springer freely admits, “Updating a book like Admission Matters takes a great deal of time and effort and it essentially takes over your life for many months.”
Springer is right of course. But lucky for us, she and her co-authors, Jon Reider and Joyce Vining Morgan, had a change of heart and recently got back together to produce the fourth edition of Admission Matters—the single, most useful college guide currently on the market.
“Admission Matters is not just comprehensive, it’s a paper version of a great college counselor,” commented Maria Furtado, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives.
Jennifer Delahunty, former dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, agrees, “Filled with both common sense and sage advice, the fourth edition of Admission Matters is the only guide any high school student—and his or her parent—will ever need.”
Since publication of the last edition in 2013, there have been remarkable changes in financial aid, standardized testing and application platforms. Application numbers have exploded, pushing selectivity to the limits of comprehension at a number of elite colleges. And the skyrocketing costs associated with a college education continue to far outpace annual increases in the cost of living.
From the outside looking in, the entire process of selecting and applying to colleges appears totally out of control—characterized by neither predictability nor humanity. And instead of looking forward to their next chapter, high school students and their families have come to dread even starting the conversation.
But along comes Admission Matters with a reassuring message—“College admissions does not have to be, and should not be, an ordeal.”
To back this up, the Admission Matters team worked hard to update information and incorporate changes in an easy-to-understand narrative designed to give readers confidence in themselves and their ability to master the process and not have the process master them.
While the fourth edition of Admission Matters will look familiar to those who have read and relied on the third edition, there is a good deal of new material “sprinkled throughout” in addition to thorough updates—some even made at the page proof stage, when they were important enough.
As someone who annually reads and reviews a considerable number of college guidebooks, I’m very choosy about which ones I recommend. In fact, the list is very short.
Since I discovered Sally Springer and her book at a NACAC conference several years ago, Admission Matters has been and remains at the top of that list. This is because I want to recommend a guide that is up-to-date, accurate and offers the kind of advice I offer to families, in user-friendly terms.
Following its predecessors, the fourth edition of Admission Matters is thorough, crystal clear, and very direct about what college applicants need to do and how to do it.
The authors are seasoned professionals with more than 100 years of experience in secondary and higher education in the roles of high school teacher and college counselor, college admissions officer, college professor and administrator, and independent educational consultant. They are parents themselves who have undertaken the college admissions journey with their own kids.
Admission Matters covers all the nuts and bolts of college admission—from developing a balanced college list to applying for financial aid. Tucked into appendices, there are worksheets, an application timeline and an annotated list of additional resources. And to keep Admission Matters as current as possible, the authors are maintaining a website with free updates and additional materials.
I highly recommend Admission Matters to anyone with a college-bound student going through the process this fall or anyone wanting to be a little bit better prepared for the future.
And this recommendation goes for admissions professionals in colleges, schools, or working independently.
You won’t find a better, more comprehensive admissions guide on the market today.
Admission Matters is available online (on Amazon via the image below) and in bookstores everywhere.
Joining a growing number of colleges and universities, James Madison University (JMU) will be rolling out a test-optional admissions policy for 2017-18. Students seeking admission will no longer be required to submit tests results from either the SAT or the ACT as part of the JMU application process.
Unlike other Commonwealth universities, which have also decided to downgrade reliance on standardized tests in admissions, JMU will not be adding any “strings” to their new policy. There will be no minimum GPAs, similar to test-optional policies in use by Christopher Newport University, George Mason University or Virginia Commonwealth University. Applicants will be entirely free to decide whether they want to include test scores along with their applications.
“We’re providing applicants to Madison the opportunity to build their best application which could include test results, recommendation, or personal statement,” explained Joe Manning, JMU’s Associate Dean of Admission. “We’ve determined that our students’ high school curriculum is a more consistent indicator of their academic success.”
The new policy didn’t come as a huge surprise to counselors who have worked with Madison over the years. It’s been evident by their decisions that application readers placed significant importance on information conveyed via the transcript—grades and consistent rigor of coursework throughout high school. Test results, while considered, appeared to be of secondary importance in Madison’s admissions decisions.
And JMU is joining an impressive group of colleges and universities that have made the decision to reduce the role of scores in admissions. According to the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), the list of test-optional schools has grown to more than 950 accredited institutions awarding bachelor’s degrees, with more than 275 highly “ranked” in their “tiers” by U.S. News, including such familiar names as Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, Pitzer, Smith, Trinity College, Wesleyan, Wake Forest, Providence and College of the Holy Cross.
In addition to James Madison, the most recent schools to announce test-optional policies are Emerson College in Boston, University of the Ozarks and Wofford College in South Carolina. In the DC/Maryland/Virginia region, American, Catholic, Christopher Newport, GMU, George Washington, Goucher, Hampton, Hood, Loyola Maryland, Marymount, Old Dominion, Radford, Roanoke, Salisbury, St. John’s College, Trinity Washington University, Mary Washington, VCU and Washington College have either test-flexible or test-optional policies in place.
There appear to be a number of reasons for the recent “surge” in test-optional colleges. According to Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, “Admissions offices increasingly recognize that they do not need ACT or SAT scores to make good decisions. They know that an applicant’s high school record—grades and course rigor—predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam.”
As the days tick down to May 1—College Decision Day or the deadline by which many colleges expect responses from admitted students—a key part of the admissions process tends to be overlooked by excited applicants anxious to move forward with their lives.
Beyond simply showing gratitude and good manners, students really need to reach out to those colleges they will NOT be attending in the fall to let them know the final decision.
“Say ‘Thank you’ as well as ‘No, thank you’,” said Tara Anne Dowling, director of college counseling at the Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. “Thank you for taking time with my credentials, thank you for answering my questions, thank you for offering me a scholarship—all of it!”
In the afterglow of finally making a decision and sending in a deposit, students tend to forget about the other schools that showed enough confidence in their credentials to make an offer. Sadly, they fail to see how much of an investment colleges have in the students they invite and lose an opportunity to reciprocate the goodwill.
It’s normal to feel a little awkward about communicating to a college that you are basically “rejecting” their offer. Humans are wired to avoid confrontation and communicating bad news seems to fall in this category. But don’t let this stop you from doing the right thing.
And why does it matter so much?
- They care. According to Ms. Dowling, admissions officers very often become “invested in the students they are recruiting.” They’ve read your file, recommended you to the admissions committee, and sometimes fought on your behalf for your admission. These same folks may have also nominated you for a scholarship or otherwise extended themselves professionally to advocate for you. It’s disappointing when someone who believes in you doesn’t receive the courtesy of a response.
- Institutional memory. Admissions representatives build relationships with high schools and counselors that allow them to take chances on candidates for whom the school advocates. These tend to be those applicants whose grades or scores might be below the usual admitted student profile. You help future applicants when you reassure colleges of your gratitude and respond with respect. Similar to many other organizations, colleges can have long institutional memories and one bad experience may take a long time to forget. And by the way, these institutional memories can extend to a younger sibling or a friend who may apply to the same college in the future.
- Continued investment. All that mail and all the phone calls you may be receiving represent a continued investment in you. They cost both time and money. While you might find some of the recruitment tactics annoying, they should be a signal that at least one step in the process remains undone. If for no other reason, eliminate the daily barrage of emails and uncomfortable phone conversations by letting someone know you’ve made a decision.
- Wait lists. The sooner you let a college know you’ll not be attending, the sooner the admissions office can make arrangements to free up space on the wait list, if that looks like a possibility. “Think of kids on wait lists who are dying to find out if they can have that place that is currently being held by you,” suggests Ms. Dowling. “You can help colleges clean up their records and make room for other candidates!”
- Constructive feedback. Once a college knows your decision, it’s likely they will want to know which offer you selected and why. This is your opportunity to provide a little constructive feedback which might help them formulate future policies in areas such as scholarship or financial aid. You could also help them improve recruitment or change admissions policies to be more applicant-friendly in the future.
- Transfer. If none of the other above-listed reasons to let a college know you’re not attending fails to move you, consider the possibility that you may be circling back to this same admissions office and asking for reconsideration in the form of a transfer application. It’s entirely possible that what attracted you in the first place may come to be more important after a year at another college. Don’t lose the opportunity to maintain good relations with an admissions office that may have a second opportunity to admit or deny you.
It’s not hard to let a college know you won’t be coming. You can use the assigned online portal to accept or decline the offer or you can email or text anyone in the admissions office with whom you’ve been working. OR, remember that big packet you got in the mail? There may be a postcard asking for you to respond—thumbs up or down.
And by the way, don’t forget about all the others who helped you along the journey—counselors, teachers, school administrators, transcript clerks and outside recommenders. They’ve cared enough to support your applications, and they deserve to know your options as well as your final decision.
Never miss an opportunity to make a good impression. Let everyone who has believed in you know what you’ve decided as soon as possible. And then go out and celebrate!