Jul 31, 2017

7 Common App members will use new ‘Courses & Grades’ feature for 2017-18

Chapman University
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 7 (down from the original 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 In fact, UIUC reports that only four students had their admission offers rescinded for transcript problems out of almost 7,600 freshmen who enrolled for fall 2015.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 7 colleges requiring Courses & Grades from students who apply using the Common Application include:

Chapman University, CA
George Washington University, DC
New York School of Career & Applied Studies of Touro College & University System, NY
Ohio State University, OH
Purdue University, IN
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 finds creative use of technology opens new possibilities for admissions

Yale University
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.”

National Merit® ‘Commended Student’ cutoff up by 2 points

The National Merit® Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) has confirmed that the national cutoff score for the ‘Commended Student’ designation will be 211 for the class of 2018—or 2 points higher than the cutoff for the class of 2017. While the higher cut score isn’t particularly predictive of state-by-state ‘Semifinalist’ cutoffs (except possibly at the lowest levels), it does reinforce speculation that continued upward pressure on PSAT/NMSQT® scores may result in higher score requirements for students hoping to earn National Merit Scholarships in some states.

“A simple response to a 2-point increase in the Commended Student cutoff would be to assume a 2-point increase in state Semifinalist cutoffs. It turns out that things are far from simple,” writes Art Sawyer in the Compass Education Group blog. “Based on our research, we are predicting that the most common state cutoff changes will be +0, +1, and +2. We expect that a small number of cutoffs may drop a point or go up by 3 points.”

And between changes in test scoring eliminating the guessing penalty and changes in the scale (from 20-80 to 160-760), the use of data from years prior to 2016 make estimates for state-by-state cutoffs a little complicated.

In addition, the scoring changes together with a new computation for the PSAT/NMSQT “Selection Index” (math, writing/language and reading on a scale of 8 to 38 multiplied by two) also put into play the possibility that two students from the same state with identical Total PSAT/NMSQT scores from the October test could have very different outcomes—one commended (or semifinalist) and one not.

According to the NMSC website, of 1.6 million NMS entrants, roughly 50,000 with the highest Selection Index (SI) scores qualify for recognition in the scholarship program. Note that only students taking the PSAT/NMSQT in the 11th grade qualify.

About 34,000 or more than two-thirds of the high scoring juniors receive Letters of Commendation. These students are named on the basis of a “nationally applied” SI score which varies from year-to-year and is typically below the level required for participants to be named semifinalists in most states. For the class of 2017, the cutoff score was 209.  In 2016, the last year to use the “old” PSAT, the cutoff score was 202. In 2015, it was 201 and in 2014, it was 203.

The increase in this year’s cutoff for commended status is in line with generally inflated PSAT scores, which may have been encouraging to students initially hoping to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Unfortunately, life isn’t always so straightforward and the NMS competition is anything but straightforward. State-by-state semifinalist cutoffs are predictable within a range. But only after the NMSC applies a little politics to its formula and the announcement is made in September will there be any certainty as to who qualifies as a semifinalist. To earn the title of “finalist,” these students will have to jump through an additional series of largely bureaucratic administrative hoops.

To facilitate the conversation about the class of 2018, however, Compass Education Group has come up with a chart predicting “estimated ranges” (with 1330 comments) for the state-by-state semifinalist cutoff.  The ranges “reflect the variability of year-to-year changes within a state” and are based on research conducted by the test wizards at Compass Prep. While interesting, the ranges and “most likely” scores are by no means guaranteed.

At this point, it’s not worth spending a whole lot of time worrying about PSAT/NMSQT® results. They are predictive of very little beyond possible achievement on the SAT. Colleges will never see these scores, and how the NMSC determines state-by-state semifinalist cutoffs is entirely out of anyone’s control.

Goldwater Foundation awards 240 scholarships to STEM undergrads

Iowa State was awarded the maximum of 4 Goldwater Scholarships for 2017.

The Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation recently announced the awarding of 240 scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States. An additional 307 nominees were named as Honorable Mentions.

These scholarships represent the “gold standard” for undergraduate achievement in fields of science, mathematics and engineering. Not only are they the source of significant bragging rights for the various institutions represented among the winners, but they are quite frequently an important stepping stone toward significant financial support for postgraduate education.  PhD programs in STEM areas and important fellowship providers such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Hertz Foundation, consider Goldwater awards among the most prestigious of national undergraduate awards for young scientists.

The one- and two-year scholarships are set up to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.  They were originally designed to “alleviate a critical current and future shortage of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.”  In today’s terms, a more realistic statement of purpose would be to provide “a continuing source” of highly qualified individuals to those fields of study and research. While the money isn’t huge, the prestige is enormous and undergrads in STEM fields compete hard for nominations based on their research, internships, and work in relevant industries.

This year’s Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,286 students who were nominated by the institutional representatives from among 2000 colleges and universities nationwide.  Among these, 133 of the Scholars were men and 103 were women, and virtually all intend to obtain a PhD as their degree objective. Twenty-two Scholars were math majors, 153 were science and related majors, 51 were majoring in engineering and 14 were computer science majors.  And for the record, many have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.

Since its first award in 1989, the Goldwater Foundation has distributed 7,921scholarships totaling approximately 63 million dollars. And these award-winners go on to do great things. Recent Scholars have been awarded 89 Rhodes Scholarships, 127 Marshall Awards, and 145 Churchill Scholarships, 96 Hertz Fellowships, in addition to winning other distinguished national awards.

For many prospective Goldwater Scholars, the competition is most intense at the institutional level.  Colleges establish their own nomination criteria and procedures to determine the extent to which individual students have the commitment and potential to make significant contributions to their fields. Students who plan to study medicine are only eligible if they plan a research career rather than a career as a practicing physician.  Four-year institutions may nominate up to four current sophomores or juniors.

This year, the University of Maryland-College Park, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Richmond were the big winners among competing colleges and universities in the Washington metropolitan area, each with three Goldwaters. Two George Mason University students were awarded scholarships, while Georgetown University, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, each had one Goldwater Scholar.
The only universities receiving the maximum of four Goldwater awards were the University of Alabama, Iowa State University, Princeton University and Stanford University.

From any perspective, an institution’s track record for Goldwater Scholars is a reasonable barometer by which prospective students might measure dedication to undergraduate research in STEM-related fields. For more information and complete lists of scholars going back to 2006, visit the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education website.

One way to say ‘thank you’: Veteran-friendly colleges and universities

Amherst College War Memorial
One of the ways in which a grateful country says “thank you” to those who have served is by continuing to invest in educational benefits targeted to veterans and their families.

And with support from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the GI Bill Comparison Tool designed to make it easier for veterans, service members and their dependents to calculate these benefits and learn more about approved college, university and other post-secondary education training programs.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool draws on information from more than 17 online sources and the three cooperating federal agencies to provide key information about cost and quality of education.  Data delivered on a college-by-college basis includes the number of GI Bill students on campus, the availability of veterans support groups and a compilation of various outcomes such as retention, graduation, salaries and loan repayment rates.

According to the VA, the current version of the Comparison Tool not only reformats the federal data, but also has new functionality including a “more robust” GI Bill benefits calculator and additional information of interest to veterans. Specifically, the calculator provides a personalized estimate of Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee, housing allowance, and book stipend benefits that would potentially be paid to the student.

Anyone who has worked with with College Navigator, a wonderful free college search tool supported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), will be familiar with a series of dropdown charts covering programs for service members and vets.  This data forms part of the basis for the Comparison Tool plus a little more. For example, it includes valuable links to college-specific tuition policies for veterans as well as bar charts illustrating the number of students receiving benefits/assistance within a specific institution, the average amount of benefits awarded through the institution and retention rates for first time, degree/certificate education benefit users pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

Roughly 1.3 million men and women served in the military in 2016, and a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates there are over 21 million veterans of the armed forces currently living in every corner of the country and abroad.

And these veterans are returning to school in significant numbers. The American Council on Education reports that about four percent of all undergraduates are veterans.  The VA estimates that 73 percent to 80 percent of student veterans are male, and 21 percent to 27 percent are female. On average, at the start of their postsecondary education, vets are 25 years old.  Of these, 77 percent attend a college located less than 100 miles from home and 44 percent are in bachelor’s degree programs.  One in five veterans major in STEM fields, and 42 percent work full time (excluding work study).

In other words, vets make up a large, diverse, and growing market for colleges and universities across the U.S.

To help veterans make informed decisions about where to spend their education dollars, the Military Times annually evaluates four-year degree-granting institutions for its Best for Vets ranking of colleges and universities. To be considered, colleges had to complete a detailed 150-question survey. Rankings were then based on survey responses as well as on data collected via the Comparison Tool.

The top-20 ranking for 2017 is as follows:
  • University of South Florida, FL
  • Rutgers University, NJ
  • Syracuse University, NY
  • Armstrong State University, GA
  • D’Youville College, NY
  • Colorado State University, CO
  • Georgia State University, GA
  • South Dakota State University, SD
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha, NE
  • University of Kansas, KS
  • Florida State University, FL
  • Lipscomb University, TN
  • Western Illinois University, IL
  • Western Kentucky University, KY
  • University of Southern Mississippi, MS
  • Stockton University, NJ
  • Eastern Kentucky University, KY
  • California State University, San Bernardino, CA
  • Northwest Nazarene University, ID
  • University of Texas at Arlington, TX
As is usually the case, this ranking is  based on a weighting of select metrics and should be considered only in the context of other relevant sources of information. But the important take-away for veterans and their families is that there are many different affordable opportunities available for them to earn degrees and succeed at rates similar to the traditional college-going population. You just have to do a little research using readily available tools.

Cappex and Greenlight Scholars announce essay prompts for 2017-18

The University of Rochester accepts the Greenlight Scholars application.
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:

Cappex Application
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.

A conversation with Alex Stepien on the Cappex Application and College Greenlight

Swarthmore College accepts the Greenlight Scholars application.
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.

Jul 12, 2017

‘Senioritis’—coming to a high school near you

For high school counselors and teachers, the symptoms of “senioritis” are all too familiar—an 'I don’t care attitude' characterized by lack of motivation and general bad behavior.

It usually strikes some time shortly after seniors receive college acceptance letters. And for those with early results, symptoms may start appearing as soon as mid-December.

School administrators report that the onset of senioritis usually coincides with warm weather and only becomes epidemic once the last Advanced Placement test has been completed.  It tends to be very contagious among second semester seniors, who are “so over” high school, they put social before school.

The CDC doesn’t track senioritis.  But judging by the uptick in daytime activity at the mall—before, after, and during school hours—it seems that many high school seniors are succumbing to advanced stages of what can be a crippling disease.

Although easy to catch, senioritis is hard to cure. Symptoms include skipping class, neglected homework, dropping out of extracurricular activities, failed tests, and way too many lapses in judgment or integrity. You can chart outcomes on a graph: as absenteeism increases, grades decline.

And devoting class time to Snap Chat, Instagram and Twitter may signal senioritis is out of control.
For extreme cases, a strong dose of discipline is required as students mindlessly indulge in troublesome behaviors including but not limited to pranks, truancy, substance abuse, or totally inappropriate postings on the Internet.

And there are consequences. Colleges accept students on the condition that grades and behavior will remain acceptable.

Decision letters contain carefully worded statements that usually read, “Your admission is contingent on continued successful performance,” meaning the last official part of your application process will involve a review of your final transcript as well as a report from your school counselor. For an interesting reference, UC Santa Cruz spells out their terms and conditions in excruciating detail on their website.

And here is an example from the University of Michigan of how the warning works
As an admitted freshman, the University of Michigan expects all aspects of your academic performance and conduct in your senior year to be consistent with the record you presented upon admission. Any significant decline in your academic performance, such as three or more C's, any D's, E's or F's, may be cause for revoking admission. Declining grades or a significant change in curriculum may also be cause for revoking admission. Although senior year grades are reported directly to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions (OUA) and reviewed, it is your responsibility to advise OUA of any serious decline in grades or changes in course selections previously entered on your application.”
 Failure to live up to expectations can have painful consequences such as
  • a rescinded offer of admission,
  • placement on academic probation before you even begin college,
  • delayed or second semester start,
  • remedial coursework,
  • a mandatory gap year to grow up,
  • loss of Advanced Placement credits or
  • reduced financial aid.
No kidding, these things happen.  Seniors who earn D’s during second semester may find they have no college to attend in the fall or suffer a serious loss of scholarship dollars. And those who blow off Advanced Placement exams stand to lose course credits worth a significant amount of money or a fast pass to early college graduation.

Statistics related to revoked admissions are notoriously difficult to obtain—no one really likes to talk about it. A few years ago, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported that 1 in 5 or about 22 percent of colleges surveyed revoked offers. And the average number of offers revoked more than doubled from 10 to 23 per school in one year.

In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the Office of Admissions usually sends warning letters to admitted students if they detect a “pattern of lower grades” or a failure.  Students are asked to provide an explanation, after which a decision is made on an appropriate course of action.

And it can be really costly*:
Your case has been reviewed by the Dean of Emory College and myself. I am sorry to inform you that our decision is to revoke your admission to the Emory College Class of 20--. I realize this turn of events is of great disappointment to you. On behalf of the Admission Committee, I want to extend our sincere appreciation for your interest in Emory. Should your interest in Emory persist, you may apply again to Emory College as a transfer student next year. Please note that we require one full year of college work and have a postmarked deadline of June 1st for transfer. Lastly, I offer you my best wishes for a productive, and above all, rewarding college career. Sincerely, Dean of Admission for Emory University.”
One local family was put to the test tracking down an errant son who took off for a mission trip to a remote part of South America immediately after graduation.  On receipt of a final grade report containing two “C’s,” the boy’s prestigious university sent an email demanding an immediate explanation with a clear threat that revocation of his admission was possible.

The young man was eventually located and provided access to internet services which he used to email a detailed explanation and apology to the college. He entered his freshman year on academic probation.

Note that colleges have more incentive than ever to take back offers. With record-breaking applicant pools, unexpectedly high yields, and huge wait lists, schools have many enthusiastic applicants happy to take the places of previously-admitted students who dropped key academic classes, let grades slip, or otherwise got in trouble.

In March, the University of Virginia invited several thousand students to be on their wait list, and not all have been released yet. You can bet a bunch of those kids would jump at the opportunity to grab a spot regardless of how it becomes available.

Most seniors will finish the year knowing they’ve completed a job well-done. This warning is not for you.

For those who haven’t quite managed to turn in your last three English assignments, please come home from the beach now…

*From a collection assembled by Kevin J. Kuczynski, Warren Consolidated Schools

The single best guide to all things that ‘matter’ in admissions

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 Mattersthe 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 and in bookstores everywhere.

NACAC reports over 500 ‘options for qualified students’ for fall 2017

Ohio Wesleyan University
According to NACAC’s (National Association for College Admission Counseling) College Openings Update (formerly  the Space Availability Survey) over 500 colleges and universities still have amazing opportunities  for qualified freshman and/or transfer students for fall 2017. And many of these schools also have financial aid and housing to offer.

Now in its 30th year, the Update is a wonderful search tool for counselors, parents and teachers as they work with students who have not yet completed the college application and admission process.  The listing applies equally for students who may have gotten a late start on their applications as well as for those who weren’t totally satisfied with admissions results received by the May 1 response deadline observed by many colleges.

Typically, colleges continue to join the Update after the public release date until the page closes on June 30. The Update isn’t really a survey, but more of a voluntary “bulletin board style” listing for NACAC member institutions or about 1,300 U.S. four-year colleges (leaving out about 1000 U.S. four-year colleges).  This year, about 64 percent of colleges on the Fall 2017 Update are private and 36 percent are public. NACAC member two-year institutions were also invited to participate, and a small number appear on the list.

Note that if an institution—of any description—does not appear on the list, it does not necessarily mean there are no openings there.  Not every college chooses to participate.

Nevertheless, the NACAC list contains some amazing opportunities in every corner of the country.
For example, Arizona State University, Belmont University (TN), the College of Charleston (SC), Drew University (NJ), Hofstra University (NY), High Point University (NC), Oregon State University (OR), Pennsylvania State UniversityOhio Wesleyan University, St. Joseph’s University (PA), Union College (NY), the University of Arizona, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (NC), the University of Oregon, the Wentworth Institute of Technology, and West Virginia University are posting space available for the fall.

And Appalachian State University (NC), Baylor University (TX), Elon University (NC), Marquette University (WI), Providence College (RI), Skidmore College (NY), Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ), the University of Delaware, the University of Denver (CO), the University of Florida, and the University of San Diego (CA) have spaces for transfers.

In Maryland, Coppin State University, Frostburg State University, Goucher College, Hood College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Stevenson University, Loyola Maryland University, St. John’s College, UMBC, the University of Maryland and Washington College indicate they will consider qualified freshman and transfer students.

To the south in Virginia, Emory and Henry College, Hollins University, Longwood University, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin University, Radford University, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College, Shenandoah University, the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Sweet Briar College also show space and resources left for students still looking for fall 2017 placement.

Note that this list is highly fluid.  "Admission is an ongoing process for many institutions,” NACAC CEO Joyce E. Smith has noted in the past.

Over the next several weeks, colleges will finish reviewing their incoming classes for vacancies and if they want to publicize openings, they will add their names to the Update.  Already, the list has risen from about 350 colleges when survey data was first published to 520 colleges and universities, as of this publication.  So keep checking back!

In addition to the NACAC survey, colleges still accepting applications may be found by searching the College Board, Common Application and Universal College Application (UCA) websites (specific instructions are found here). As of May 9, 2017 the Common App shows 327 members still open to new applicants, including Eckerd College (FL), the Florida Institute of Technology, Lynn University (FL), Marymount University (VA), North Carolina State University (NC), the University of New Haven (CT), Widener University (PA) and Xavier University (OH). The UCA lists 30 colleges and universities still accepting first-year students for fall 2016, including Bryant University (RI), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY), the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), the University of Tampa (FL) and the University of Wyoming.

The bottom line is that you need to move quickly.  Colleges will only entertain applications as long as they have space available.

For the most up-to-date information on specific colleges, contact the admissions offices of the schools directly.  You may be surprised how glad they are to hear from you!

James Madison University goes ‘test-optional’ for 2017-2018

James Madison University
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.”

As the university works to update their website to reflect the change in policy, information on the application process for the coming year has been communicated during on-campus information sessions, including one for counselors last month.  In a nutshell, JMU will only require that applicants submit an application for admission (one choice will be the Coalition Application), a high school transcript, and a senior schedule of classes. An applicant can also submit, if they choose, a personal statement, a letter of recommendation and/or standardized test results to be used in the review of their application. Because this is a substantial change from how things were done in the past, JMU is developing a method for applicants to request the university delete test results that may already be on file in the admissions office.

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.”

Register NOW: Test sites are in short supply for August SAT

When the College Board first announced the addition of an August test date for the SAT beginning this summer, cheers went up among those who had lobbied for adjusting the test schedule to accommodate the reality of earlier application deadlines. ACT added a September test several years ago, which turned out to be enormously popular among students with time to prep over the summer who wanted one last try before going the early admissions route. And the College Board finally saw the wisdom of doing the same.

But enthusiasm for the August test date wasn’t universally shared, particularly among test site administrators in school districts starting late in August or after Labor Day. They could easily see how difficult it would be to open buildings and find staff willing to end summer vacations early to proctor one more test.

And it appears they were right. A quick comparison of test site availability for the August 26 SAT as compared with the October 7 SAT shows that so far the College Board has come up a little short in finding seats for the test.

For example, the College Board ordinarily offers up to about 40 sites that are considered a reasonable distance (under 40 miles) from my Virginia zip code. For August, there are only 12 locations, and they do not include the high schools closest to my home which have been popular sites in the past. Instead of traveling 3.6 miles to take the test, my nearest site is about double the distance away--admittedly not too much of a hardship as long as seats remain open. But I certainly would not want to have to travel to some of the further locations suggested by the College Board, which would take me 35 miles from home and across the Washington Beltway!

Using information provided by the College Board, it appears that about 1,970 sites in the U.S. (including D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) will be administering the SAT and SAT Subject tests on August 26. On October 7, however, almost 3,440 sites will be giving the test.

In Virginia, there will be 134 test locations for October and 84 in August. Pennsylvania will open 231 sites in October, but only 87 in August. In New York, it’s 263 locations for October, and 53 in August. Massachusetts has 140 test sites in October and 37 in August. And in New Jersey, students will have 203 locations from which to choose in October, but only 69 in August.

Note that the number of available test sites offered doesn’t necessarily correlate with or predict the number of seats available. In this area, it appears that the larger sites will be open for business in August, while some of the smaller sites have opted out.

The August date is also replacing the relatively unpopular January test, which will no longer be given. And it’s possible that sites simply don’t want to add another working Saturday to their calendars.

But given the convenience of the new August test relative to making decisions about application strategies—binding Early Decision vs. nonbinding Early Action vs. Regular Decision--and ensuring timely delivery of scores, it seems entirely possible that the new date could be very popular--possibly more popular than October.

"We're seeing a great degree of interest for the August test in all of our markets, coast to coast. Students have so many academic demands as juniors. APs wrap in May, then final exams, and then the early application deadlines hit in Mid-October to November.  August stands out as an excellent time to take an SAT, fully prepared, with minimal academic distractions," explained Jed Applerouth, founder and CEO of Applerouth Tutoring. "I'm personally a huge fan of summer testing.  Ideally students will be able to take these college assessments entirely on their own schedule.  The summer, not surprisingly, is one of the most spacious times for many students, affording them the time to focus, prepare, and go in with the greatest chance of success."

In other words, if I lived in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania or Virginia, I would be registering NOW and not later!

ACT is countering with a summer test of their own. In 2018, the ACT will be adding a July test date to the standardized test calendar.

Top colleges for Fulbright student awards in 2016-17

Brown University
The U.S. Department of State together with The Chronicle of Higher Education recently announced lists of colleges and universities producing the most Fulbright students for 2016-2017.

And a spot on any one of these lists is one more bragging right for schools hoping to promote academic achievement to prospective students.  In fact, it’s way up there on the top of prestigious postgraduate opportunities including the Marshall, Rhodes, and Gates Scholarships.

Considerably larger in scope than the much older Rhodes Scholarship Program, the Fulbright Scholarship is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Since 1946, more than 370,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated, coming and going to more than 160 countries worldwide.

And it’s often a ticket to personal success.  To date, 57 Fulbright alumni from 14 countries have been awarded Nobel Prizes, and more Nobel laureates are former Fulbright recipients than any other award program.  In addition, 82 have received 88 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 are MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and 37 have served as head of state or government.

For prospective undergrads, the degree to which a college or university supports students interested in applying for honors such as the Fulbright can be an important consideration. And among those colleges that actively support global initiatives, the annual tally of grants offered may be a measure of institutional success.

The following are lists of top producers of Fulbright students by type of institution for 2016-2017:

Research Institutions
Brown University: 30
Georgetown University: 27
University of Notre Dame: 27
Harvard University: 26
University of Chicago: 26
Princeton University: 22
Columbia University 21
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: 21
University of Pennsylvania: 21
University of Washington: 21
University of Wisconsin at Madison: 21
Yale University: 20
Stanford University: 19
Johns Hopkins University: 18
New York University: 17

Masters Institutions
Villanova University: 11
Loyola Marymount University: 8
Western Kentucky University: 8
Saint Edward’s University: 6
University of Portland: 6
City University of New York Hunter College: 5
Seattle University: 5
University of Scranton: 5
College of Charleston: 4
Elon University: 4
New Jersey City University: 4
Santa Clara University: 4
Trinity University: 4
University of Mary Washington: 4

Bachelor’s Institutions
Smith College: 17
Pitzer College: 15
Pomona College: 15
Oberlin College: 14
Bates College: 13
Bowdoin College: 11
St. Olaf College: 11
Amherst College: 10
Lewis and Clark College: 10
Carleton College: 9
Occidental College: 9
Depauw University: 8
Wellesley College: 8
College of the Holy Cross: 7
Grinnell College: 7
Hamilton College: 7
Middlebury College: 7
Wesleyan University: 7

Complete lists of Fulbright recipients are available on The Chronicle of Higher Education website.

6 reasons to tell a college you will NOT be attending

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?
  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 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.
  2. 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.
  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 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!”
  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 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.
  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 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!

Questions colleges don’t always like to answer

The recent announcement of plans to drop four varsity sports from the University at Buffalo’s (UB)  roster of Division 1 offerings pretty much puts a face on what counselors and other admissions professionals have been warning about the impact of funding cuts on both public and private institutions.

UB recently revealed that men’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, baseball and women’s rowing will no longer be sponsored. This decision affects 120 students currently on team rosters (30 other students on those rosters will graduate this year). Although UB’s athletes have been offered the opportunity to stay in school with scholarships intact, the reality is they won’t get to compete at the D1 level. And competition for athletes who have spent a lifetime honing skills is pretty fundamental.

For these athletes or department heads facing academic program cuts, it’s no secret that college administrators and boards are increasingly being asked to make hard choices as they struggle with demographic and economic realities in a battle for long-term survival and institutional health.

And a divide is opening between financially healthy colleges versus those that are not, making it imperative for students and their parents to understand how financial constraints affect colleges, application processes, and admissions decisions.

Given the current economic climate, here are some questions colleges don’t always like to answer:
  1. How has the admissions office been affected by budget cuts?
    Even in the face of increased numbers of applications to process, admissions budgets aren’t growing. As a result, admissions offices are making do with less. Glossy view books and travel allowances are becoming scarce, as colleges seek additional ways to trim budgets while continuing to respond to front office demands for more applicants. With tight budgets to manage, colleges are increasingly relying on enrollment management programs to guide and support the admission process, effectively allowing technology to take over recruitment and some elements of application review. As a result, students need to understand that their privacy is constantly under attack by colleges attempting to probe both qualifications and interest. Toward this end, seemingly benign third-party organizations seek to obtain and resell key pieces of information, ranging from standardized test scores to family income, to colleges hungry for data that can be fed into algorithms designed to assess credentials and guess at likelihood of enrollment. In other words, through skillful use of technology, admissions offices are not only saving money but also manipulating metrics important to ranking and outside perceptions of “quality”—both vital to long-term institutional health.
  2. Has the application process been affected?
    To gain better control over the process and factors affecting selectivity and “yield” (the percent of students accepting an offer of admission), colleges are experimenting with different early action and binding early decision plans. Rather than setting up a process that encourages a single windfall of applications late in the season, admissions offices are looking for a more even distribution of work from September to May. And the appeal of early decision candidates committed to attending at the front end of the process is undeniable for both management and yield. Some colleges find it more efficient to force hard decisions earlier by denying larger percentages of early applicants—it takes time and money to read and re-read applications. Others prefer keep all options on the table by rolling large numbers of applicants into the regular pool. And given uncertainties inherent in a process that indiscriminately recruits and makes it relatively easy to submit applications, colleges look for ways to cover all bets by enlarging and employing wait lists—secret weapons in the battle to improve yield and control investment in financial aid. Seeking an early understanding of policies and being aware of the institutional incentives behind these policies may help guide application strategies. But given the number of uncertainties affecting budgets, staffing and priorities, don’t be surprised if what you thought you knew is no longer true. It’s not unusual for colleges to make substantial changes in application procedures—sometimes late into the year. So feel free to ask the question.
  3. Are priorities changing in financial aid?
    While the new timeline imposed by an October 1 FAFSA start date and the use of “prior-prior year” income information for determining awards suggests a more sensible and timely approach to financial aid, the jury is still out as to how successful the new plan will be for both students and institutions. At the same time they are dealing with various logistical issues, colleges formerly boasting of “need-blind” admissions or “no loan” packaging are reassessing their policies to ensure adequate financial aid resources remain available to the greatest number of students. Most but not all colleges offer merit scholarships that are important recruitment tools in the process. But variations in the balance between grants and loans in financial aid packages make some colleges appear more generous than they really are. It’s not unusual for colleges to engage in “gapping” (not covering full need) when offering financial aid, but the gaps appear to be getting larger. And be aware that not all guarantee merit scholarships for four full years. To save money without harming published freshmen retention rates, colleges may not continue scholarships after two years—even if all academic requirements have been met. Although it really pays to be a savvy shopper before applying and committing to a school, keep in mind that financial aid offices ultimately hold all the cards and their incentive is to keep costs low while at the same time recruiting top prospects. Understanding the institution’s approach to financial aid from the very beginning could save disappointment later.
  4. Are budget cuts affecting programs?
    Ask Buffalo’s baseball players or Temple’s rowers or the swimmers at the University of Maryland why this may be important. While some cuts cannot be anticipated, others may be planned and colleges have a responsibility to make them public. Be aware that the question isn’t limited to sports. Responding to increased pressure to emphasize more marketable majors, colleges are re-configuring programs—cutting some and adding new opportunities. At a more basic level, colleges may be quietly increasing class size, making it more difficult to get some majors, relying more heavily on teaching assistants (TA's), or offering specific classes less often—even eliminating them altogether. Short of finding that a program or major has been done away with, students may experience difficulty finishing in four years if classes are overloaded or simply unavailable, especially in areas where coursework is highly sequenced. And if the prospect of transferring sometime in your undergraduate career doesn’t appeal, make sure the programs (including athletic) in which you are interested are on firm footing with the institution.
  5. Will there be changes in requirements for graduation?
    Sometimes this can work in your favor. Loyola University of Chicago reduced the number of credit hours required for graduation from 128 to 120. But because AP/IB or other outside college credits earned during high school can mean significant money both to you and the institution, take the time to see how these credits may be applied (toward graduation or specific majors) and ask if the college anticipates changes in these kinds of arrangements. For example, Dartmouth no longer grants credit for AP or IB examinations. Placement and some exemptions may be offered instead. In other words, Dartmouth can now count on four years of tuition payments from undergrads. And the questions can be even more complex involving credit for internships, co-ops or research. If the goal is to graduate in four years or less, it’s worth investigating if there are plans under consideration that might affect your ability to graduate on time.
  6. What is the impact on student services?
    Applicants don’t always take into account the real value of the student services component when considering colleges. As schools discover they can make money from room and board packages, students may find themselves limited by restrictive housing policies and meal plans. For lots of different reasons—including financial—colleges are limiting students to on-campus housing for more years. The more captive the audience, the less risk involved in building glamorous new facilities. But beyond day-to-day living, services also include everything from library or gym facilities and hours, to tech support, career advising, health/mental health services or academic support for writing centers and math labs. These should be “growing” operations, and if they aren’t, budget cuts in these areas might be concerning.
Because colleges won’t always volunteer the information, it’s important that you do some in-depth research and ask the questions necessary to understand potential game changers.

Make it your mission to test whether the college “experience” promised today will be there four years from now, and make sure the process by which you get there is clear.