College Admissions for Freshmen Go Past May 2nd
This week Monday was “D-Day” aka “Decision Day” or “Deposit Day” for college-bound high school students, their parents and college admissions counselors. However, that does not mean that the college admissions cycle for freshmen is totally closed.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has released its College Openings Update, which will be periodically updated until July 1st. In addition, college admissions offices are still considering applications from prospective transfer students.
The College Openings Update is quite useful. It will tell you not only if a school has vacancies, but also if financial aid and housing will be available. There is a downside to applying later: financial aid awards might not be as large as applicants might like and the housing might not be an applicant’s first choice. Then again, those who committed to a college on time should receive first crack at both.
More than 300 schools are listed on the College Openings Update as of today. Some will come off the list through July 1st. Others will be added. College admissions offices at many schools face “summer melt.” Students who deposited on or before May 2nd might be offered space off a wait list at another school. Other students may decide to take time off. Still others might decide that college is truly not for them. Few college admissions officers can confidently state that their freshman class is filled for the fall, even if their school does not appear on the College Openings Update.
Aside from summer melt, why might schools be on this list?
- They were not the first choice school for enough of their applicants. I have visited schools that receive commitments from less than 20 percent of those who were offered admission. This shows that the school was not high in the hearts and minds of most applicants. It might have been a “safety school” for most of them. Sometimes a public commuter school is a safety school as well, so the applicant has at least one option to go to college, in case the other options are exhausted.
- The college admissions office did not receive enough applications from students who they believed to be likely to succeed at their school. Such an office might continue the college admissions cycle into the summer or devote more attention towards attracting transfer students. It can be better to slightly under-enroll than to admit less qualified students and risk a poorer freshman retention rate.
- There are some college admissions practices that might not appeal to accepted students. For example, the University of Florida (which appears on this list) offers January admissions to prospective freshmen whom the admissions office believed to be less qualified to enroll in the fall. The students who are offered January admission are not offered on-campus housing for the fall, though they can take classes online or commute. However, these students will also graduate a semester later, outside of the recruiting cycle for employers seeking seniors who are about to graduate.
- The college could not compete on either price or financial aid. College admissions offices can only discount to the levels permitted by the leadership of their schools. But other schools that overlap with their school on applications might charge less or have the latitude to discount more. In addition, private colleges can rarely discount their charges below the charges of the public colleges and universities in their home states or below the charges of similar schools in the neighboring states. A $20,000 per year merit award from a private college, quite generous in this environment, can bring the charges for a $60,000 school down to $40,000. If that school is in New York, for example, there is no way that school will undercut the state schools. However, it is matching non-resident charges for the public schools in New Jersey.
- A campus controversy could impact admissions. The University of Missouri, as one example, appears on this list. The campus was in turmoil over racial inequity during the past academic year. If a campus is perceived to have a hostile setting, prospects do look elsewhere, at least for a year.
- The college simply failed to sell itself. I read enough college brochures to see that too many schools try to say the same things. They try hard to tell you about their faculty and about success at finding internships and jobs. They try to use the appearance of the campus and the location as a selling point to say that their community is “fun.” I wish that more colleges would admit where they are different and where they are strongest up front. It would help them get the students that they really want. Liberal arts schools have a unique problem: too many in the media are questioning the “value” of the education. Academic platitudes from a college president or faculty members will not help their cause.
College admissions is a fascinating business, a blend of the best and some of the worst practices in marketing and human resource management. It is a major challenge to know what’s on the minds of teenagers while also trying to sell the merits a school to their parents. Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said that a great advertising executive is “a killer and a poet.” The same can be true of the best college admissions directors and enrollment managers. Their work is as much an art as it is a science.