Jan 15, 2010

Innovative Early Admissions Campaigns May Result in More time to Decide

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports (subscription may be required) that colleges are experimenting with ways of evaluating applicants sooner and giving them early, nonbinding admissions offers. These strategies include encouraging rising high school seniors to apply during the summer, creating multiple early deadlines, and sending fast-track applications with basic information already filled in on the form.

In the old days, students were given two basic early admissions options. The student could apply Early Action (EA) and receive a nonbinding offer of admission some time before January of senior year. Or, the student could apply Early Decision (ED) and receive a binding offer of admission also before the New Year. Variations on the theme evolved, but the dividing line was essentially between binding and nonbinding.

While largely remaining in the nonbinding camp, the new early admissions campaigns are having an impact on the traditional admissions calendar. Conventional wisdom among college counselors suggests that these innovations may not always be such a good idea as they can produce additional pressure on already anxious high school seniors. Others argue that “[s]uch policies allow colleges and families alike to hedge their bets” by providing lots of time to weigh various college offers. And this is clearly what many students and families want.

Locally, Christopher Newport University sent out thousands of “VIP” applications to area high school seniors. The applications came with basic information filled in, an assurance of immediate review, a suggestion of admissions advantage, and a waiver of application fees. In a similar recruitment campaign, Roanoke College sent applications over the summer and encouraged students to apply by July 15th under their nonbinding EA program.

Prior to January 1st this year, students with whom I worked had nonbinding acceptances and scholarship offers from colleges in virtually every corner of the country. They benefitted from rolling admissions, VIP applications, and a variety of innovative admissions offers. While the colleges would prefer to seal the deal as soon as possible, in reality these early offers give colleges and interested students more time to communicate and get to know one another before final decisions are made.

Because no college can force a student to make an enrollment decision before May 1st of their senior year, students have lots of time to visit, meet with current students, or otherwise learn about the schools to which they will commit the next four or five years and many thousands of dollars. And all of this for the price of getting organized and submitting paperwork early.

While these early admissions programs don’t benefit every student and care must be taken to ensure that decisions are not pressured, there are advantages to knowing college options exist early in senior year. If the extra time is used wisely, more informed enrollment decisions may follow.

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