Apr 30, 2015

6 really important reasons to tell a college you’re NOT attending

As the days tick down to May 1—national student response day or the deadline by which many
colleges expect a decision from students they admitted—a key part of the admissions process tends to be overlooked by excited applicants anxious to move forward with their lives.

More than simply showing gratitude and basic 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, associate director of college counseling at Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Connecticut.  “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 putting down a deposit, students often 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.

And why does it matter?  

  1. 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 recommended 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.

  2. Institutional memory.  Admissions representatives build relationships with schools and school counselors that allow them to take chances on candidates for whom the high school advocates.  These tend to be those applicants whose grades or scores might be below the usual admitted student profile.  You help future students when you reassure colleges of your gratitude and respond with respect.  Similar to many other organizations, colleges have long institutional memories and one bad experience can 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. 

  3. 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.

  4. 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 spaces 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!”

  5. 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 could possibly 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.

  6. 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 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—one way or the other.

Never miss an opportunity to make a good impression.  Let all your schools know what you’ve decided as soon as possible.  And then go out and celebrate!

Apr 29, 2015

Possible solutions for the Common App dilemma

In 2014-15, the University of Cincinnati asked students where else they applied.
During 2014-15, over 50 Common Application members asked, in one form or other, for an applicant’s college list as part of the admissions process.

It is a practice that is highly discouraged, if not completely banned in some circumstances, by terms set forth by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPCP) or the ethics code by which all NACAC members and all Common App members agree to abide.

And yet, highly prestigious institutions such as Davidson College, Bentley University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Macalester College, University of San Diego, and Kalamazoo College—to name a few—persist in including the question among those used to assess a candidate’s qualifications for admission.

While the Common App has refused to back away from an institution’s right to ask, at least one member of NACAC's Admission Practices Committee, is demanding that NACAC use its relationship with the Common Application to revisit and further evaluate the practice.

“The philosophy has always been that the college application process is stressful and complex enough, and we don’t need to add yet another layer to the tangled web by posing a question that puts the student in an awkward position,” said Todd Rinehart, associate chancellor for enrollment and director of admission at the University of Denver and chair of NACAC’s Admission Practices Committee.

The family quarrel between NACAC and the Common App has some members of both organizations scratching their heads.

“We never use that information for admissions decisions,” said an admissions representative from a Midwestern Catholic university at a recent meeting of independent educational consultants. “It’s entirely optional and isn’t intended for anything but counseling purposes.”

Another admissions rep from one of the Colleges That Change Lives agrees, “I sometimes use it after a student is admitted as background information to help the student make a decision about our college versus other colleges on their list.”

But even when well-intentioned, the question of which other colleges are on the applicant’s list raises a level of uneasiness about the college’s need to know and often results in gaming about how many and which colleges to tell them about.

“Students are left to draw any number of conclusions when asked this on an admission application, and they should be placed in this awkward position,” added Rinehart, in a statement for the NACAC Bulletin.  “Enrollment management has become too much of a game of ‘feeding the beast,’ and we need to be careful not to lose focus on the students….We can do better.”

And so, Rinehart opened the discussion to a wider forum and proposed possible steps NACAC could take to reinforce the intent of the SPGP by asking the Common App to address the question with its membership:
  1. Remove the question.  Rinehart suggests NACAC members should encourage Common App leadership to revisit this topic with the intent of asking that the question be removed from any part of the application—optional or required. As a membership organization, the Common App answers only to its membership and not to the much broader universe of NACAC members.  If enough Common App members agree, however, that the question should be removed, then the administration and the board would be forced to address the matter.  As long as the relationship between NACAC and the Common App remains the same, NACAC members would have to agree to change the language in the SPGP to prohibit members from asking the question before demanding that the Common App make changes in its current policy.

  2. Provide cross-application data.  Similar to what the College Board produces annually for its members, the Common App could consider providing cross-application information to its members at the end of each application cycle.  Schools don’t need to have access to names, but they could easily see where students applied in addition to their particular institution. The intent would be to eliminate the need to ask the question for enrollment management purposes.  If it’s true that the list is only used to “counsel” students, however, then this solution doesn’t particularly work.

  3. Make the question clearly optional.  While not ideal, this option would ask the Common Application to ensure that members will not be allowed to require a response to the question.  Students would be allowed to leave the field blank and move on to the next question if they choose.  Since most institutions already mark the question as optional, this solution does little to advance the cause.  Adding the force of the SPGP behind the policy only provides marginal additional value.
To date, the only national organization representing the college counseling community taking a public position on this issue is the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS).  In 2013, the ACCIS went on record with a proposal to the Common Application Board that stated, “We advocate the elimination of any question on member schools’ supplements asking applicants to disclose other colleges or universities to which they have applied.”  

Other organizations have remained silent as the Common App and NACAC work with their individual memberships to reach consensus on a policy reflecting majority opinion, which hasn't proven to be so easy.

In a recent email to members, Paul Mott, interim CEO of the Common Application, suggested the matter is still open to discussion.  He proposed that this “individual issue” would be appropriate for consideration at the annual member conference to be held in Baltimore next week, along with the larger issue of “governance.”

“To me, this is an inappropriate question to put to college applicants, but I am here to serve my Members, and any personal opinion I may have is not especially relevant.”

Apr 27, 2015

The Common App tangles with NACAC over unpopular question

Last year, Davidson asked where else a student applied.

Last week, Paul Mott, interim CEO of the Common Application, responded to an issue brewing on a “Member-Tech” message board set aside for technical questions about the application and its content.  

Specifically, Mott reinforced what had been a long-time policy of the Common App allowing members to ask applicants to provide a list of other institutions to which they are applying, in spite of wording in the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) appearing to discourage such questions from being asked by member colleges and universities.

According to Mott, an inquiry was raised about an apparent “contradiction between practice and policy,” which allowed if not encouraged Common App members to pry into what should be a confidential piece of information—the applicant’s college list.

On page 15, of the SPGP, to which the Common App has bound itself, NACAC clearly states that “postsecondary institutions should refrain from asking applicants to list the universities to which they are applying.”

And Mott wanted to make the Common App’s position on the matter clear.

“…it is perfectly fair to ask why the Common App does not insist that all Members live true to the aspirational dimension of the issue,” said Mott in message to the Common App membership.  “There are more than a few folks in our office and many, I imagine, among our Membership that believe we should do just that.”

Mott goes on to justify the Common App position allowing the question by reminding members of their desire for wide discretion in the determination of what information best suits the individual needs of member colleges and universities.

“If there is one thing I have learned in my one year on the job, it is that Members want the Common App, as I put it in a November 3 communication to CAOs [Chief Administrative Officers], ‘to butt out of the business of determining what information you collect on your application and, for that matter, how you make your business decisions.’”

This is hardly a new issue.  But in view of the controversy recently inspired by a similar information request on the FAFSA, the question has suddenly come back to the forefront of matters for the Common App to consider at its upcoming conference in Baltimore.

And the issue isn’t being called into question by one of the Common App’s rivals or persistent critics.  It’s coming from relatively close to home, as Todd Rinehart, associate vice chancellor and director of admission at the University of Denver and chair of the NACAC Admissions Practices Committee, took the matter public last week using the NACAC Bulletin to air his concerns.

"This may seem like a harmless question, but NACAC members have long supported the notion that students should be able to apply to colleges without being probed on the other schools they are considering," writes Rinehart.  "The philosophy has always been that the college application process is stressful and complex enough, and we don’t need to add yet another layer to the tangled web by posing a question that puts the student in an awkward position. Does the student need to strategize a response to enhance their chance for admission, or should they flat-out lie?"

Over 50 Common Application members, or close to 10 percent of the current membership, ask for a list of other colleges to which the student is applying.  In other words, this is no small problem for the Common App, which is seeking to expand membership among colleges and universities traditionally reluctant to release control over application content.  

In view of the extremely close connection between NACAC and the Common App, involving office locations, financial contributions and the requirement that all Common App members be members of NACAC and uphold the SPGP, it’s going to be very difficult to completely ignore the insistent tone coming from NACAC’s Admissions Practices Committee.

And Paul Mott has already put the issue front and center for the Common App’s annual conference next week.

Wednesday:  Possible solutions to the Common App’s dilemma?

Apr 24, 2015

Other ways to look at student migration patterns

Virginia Tech is the most popular in-state option for students in Virginia

A year ago, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management at DePaul University, devised a clever way to visualize where students go when they decide to attend college out of state. 

A self-described “tableau dabbler,” with detailed knowledge of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the ability to make it yield incredibly interesting results, Boeckenstedt “took a stab” at documenting freshman travels based on the most recent IPEDS data available.

In his first set of charts, Boeckenstedt confirmed what most college advisors sense or see among their student populations:  freshmen don’t tend to go too far from home. Whether to save money or avoid potential homesickness, freshmen generally keep to the familiar and stay within their immediate regions. 

This is supported by data gathered by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.  In fact, the 2014 CIRP freshman survey—UCLA’s annual survey of the nation’s entering class at four year-colleges and universities—determined that just over 55 percent of last year’s freshmen stayed within 100 miles of home.

An earlier study by ACT found high school students attended college a median distance of 51 miles from home, with only 22 percent traveling out-of-state. 

But even more interesting, the ACT also found that students who cross state lines (or who travel farther to college) are generally wealthier and have parents who are college-educated.

According to Boeckenstedt, these facts alone make these students “attractive targets” for enrollment managers and he decided to develop more charts to determine which states enroll students from out of state and which states send students away.

The resulting “tableaus,” which he generously posted on his blog, provide an easy-to-follow trail of the relationships between states when it comes to attracting and/or enrolling out-of-state students.

And you don’t have to be particularly computer-savvy to see what enrollment managers see about the relative dependency of their states on students from other states.  Using the first (orange and gray) chart, it’s easy to see that 48.54% of non-resident college students in Arizona come from California. 

The second chart (purple and gray) focuses on freshmen and shows colleges in Arizona enrolled 17% of the freshman class from California in 2012—a very substantial chunk.

In a further refinement of this data, Boeckenstedt reconfigured the college destination information and came up with additional charts illustrating specific colleges where students enrolled from each of the states.

For Virginians, the most popular destinations overall are not surprisingly in Virginia:

  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Virginia Commonwealth University
  3. James Madison University
  4. UVa
  5. George Mason University
  6. Radford University
  7. Old Dominion University 
  8. Christopher Newport University
  9. Liberty University
  10. Longwood University

It isn’t until you get to number 14, West Virginia University that the out-of-state alternatives begin to show up on the list.  And in 2012, no Virginians enrolled in Barry University, Butler University, Kean University, Palm Beach Atlantic University and a handful of others—some more familiar than others.

But if you want to look at the most popular colleges in specific states you can do that by clicking on the state in the top chart.  For example, in North Carolina, Virginians enrolled in:

  1. East Carolina University
  2. Chowan University
  3. Carolina A &T State University
  4. Elon University
  5. High Point University
  6. Johnson and Wales University-Charlotte
  7. Duke University
  8. Wake Forest University
  9. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  10. Appalachian State University

In Pennsylvania, Virginians went to:

  1. Penn State-Main Campus
  2. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  3. Drexel University
  4. Carnegie Mellon University
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. University of Pittsburgh
  7. Dickinson College
  8. Villanova University
  9. Temple University
  10. Bucknell University

On one level, these charts show which colleges actively recruit from or are attractive to students from particular states.  They can also suggest a possible level of competitiveness.

But for students looking to buck trends, do a little trailblazing, or factor in a little “geographic diversity” to their college lists, all of these tools could provide some valuable information. 

In fact, they might give more adventurous applicants an idea of which colleges could be more inclined to take a second look simply because they get so few students from a particular state.  Or they might suggest where states or colleges could be willing to offer a little extra scholarship money to achieve geographic diversity.

Nothing is predictive here, but if you’re interested in which out-of-state colleges and universities students from your state attend (or don’t attend), you might try cruising the interactive charts posted on Jon Boeckenstedt’s blog.