Changes in College Admissions You Should Know
College admissions officers belong to a volunteer membership association, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The organization sets professional and ethical standards for the college admissions process and the admissions community. Beginning last year NACAC was the focus of an investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) over professional standards that:
- Prohibit colleges from offering Early Decision applicants exclusive incentives not available to students applying under other admission plans;
- Limit colleges’ ability to recruit students beyond the May 1 National Candidates Reply Date, including limits on the recruitment of students who already have committed to attending a college; and,
- Limit the recruitment of transfer students.
The DOJ has asked NACAC to remove these standards from their standards for professional practices. Given that NACAC is not a regulatory body for professionals in the same manner as the American Bar Association is for attorneys, which can censure and remove unethical professionals from a field, and the costs that the organization would likely incur to fight a federal agency in the courts, its board has asked its members to vote to comply. If a majority agree, there may be impacts on the upcoming college admissions cycle.
As an independent college admissions advisor who also has a background in marketing and public policy. I will try to explain some things that could happen, good and bad.
Let’s tackle each of these one at a time.
Incentives to Apply Early Decision
Early Decision means what it says: Apply early, the college admissions office decides early. But it is binding. Accepted students must send an enrollment deposit quickly.
Early Decision is an unfair practice when it comes admissions to expensive private colleges as well as state universities that impose similar charges on non residents. Families who are confident that they can afford a school will apply. But families of lesser means are scared away. These schools cannot make assurances that your full financial need will be filled. The most selective schools do not need to offer incentives to encourage students to apply Early Decision. Admission alone is incentive enough. This is unlikely to change.
But what happens when a school is not exceptionally selective, but wants to fill its class earlier?
If I was an enrollment manager at a college, I might have no problem recruiting students in the high demand majors such as business, engineering or the health professions. But suppose my school also has an education major that’s losing enrollment. I might want to do a targeted package of incentives to recruit students who will commit early to that major, with the help of the faculty and my financial aid office. That won’t have a huge impact on my class, but it does show that I’m spending money to do good. Colleges always try to do that.
At the same time, a school might openly publish discounts. Apply Early Decision, and if you get in, you’ll pay much less than you would if you wait. But schools risk losing considerable revenues if they get too many to take the offer. That may force cuts in academic programs or student services. Discounting would worsen rather than improve the quality of the education.
Open recruitment of students who have deposited at a college
If NACAC were to remove rules that prevented open recruitment, high school seniors could receive communications from schools that:
- Accepted them, and still have openings for the fall
- Never contacted them before, but still have openings for the fall
Most colleges ascribe to a May 1st deposit date. The more selective schools as well as many flagship state universities tend to fill their class and suffer few losses during the summer. But there are still schools that take applications through the summer, sometimes close to the first day of classes in the fall.
In some cases this could be a good thing. If the local campus of your public university has an attractive and affordable offer versus a private college that you might struggle to cover costs, you would want to know that the opportunity was available. The same is true if your public community college had some agreements with schools that could help you earn a degree in your desired major.
But you might also receive solicitations that could turn into a “bait and switch,” where you’re lured into a school that offers lower costs for the first year but sets so many conditions that make it difficult for your to keep those costs down in later years.
Open solicitation of prospective transfer students
I have not run into colleges that have asked students if they would like to leave their current school, a four-year college, after a semester or a year. But I have also noticed that some colleges do a better job of retaining their freshman and sophomore classes than others.
A college that loses more than a fifth of a freshman class might want to solicit prospects from the students who previously applied, especially if the school is private and tuition-dependent. Transfer students are college students who have likely earned college credits. When they apply for admission their college courses and grades are considered along with their high school record.
Colleges with more liberal transfer rules—transfers with less than one year’s credits would be welcomed—but also poor retention would be marketing prospects more aggressively. I can see this happening at private colleges where admission to popular majors at the state university is quite difficult.
An opt-out process is the most achievable solution
I believe that there should be a national database that allows any admissions officer to see if or where a college applicant has deposited. Once the student has chosen a school, only the student and their parents should be able to contact other colleges if they have second thoughts, risking the deposit if they choose to go elsewhere.
Ideally such a database would offer students an opt-out from any further communications with colleges. Most students contact only the college where they intend to enroll, but do not inform the other colleges that offered admission. A national database with an opt-out would let the each college know who said yes and who said no as well as those who might be open to a more attractive offer.
Whenever you register with any web site that provides you with information, products or services you have the right to opt-out from unwanted solicitations. The same should be true for college admissions. I hope that the ACT, the College Board or the college application platforms used by multiple schools will add an opt-out for the upcoming cycle. As much as the Department of Justice has a desire to expose students to aggressive marketing, it should also support a student’s right to refuse to be solicited.