Oct 29, 2014

The sad truth about 'VIP' college applications

"S" has been heavily recruited this year by colleges.

This year, my cat “S” has been swamped with any number of 'VIP' college applications offering all kinds of special enticements for a simple submission.

They read something like this:  Your achievements in high school have impressed us, which is why I’d like to personally invite you to apply to XXX College with your exclusive Dean’s Select Application.

And the benefits are almost irresistible:

  • No application fee to pay
  • No long essay to write
  • Priority scholarship consideration
  • An expedited admission decision

Sound familiar?

Sometimes also disguised as "fast-track" or “priority” apps, these personalized invitations to apply are designed to lure seniors into submitting streamlined applications, often with waived requirements or promises of on-the-spot decisions. And the temptation is great for overworked and stressed-out high school seniors looking for an easy admit to college.

But be aware.  These applications can be a trap.

Just because you receive one of these special invitations doesn’t mean the college is particularly interested in you.  Colleges purchase names, by the thousands sometimes, and mindlessly mail them to anyone appearing on the list.   

They haven’t assessed your qualifications, they have no idea of your “fit” for their institution, and they don’t really care if you are remotely interested.

They just want your application.

“I feel like it sets up false hopes,” explains Nicole Gracie, an independent educational consultant, who primarily works with student athletes on the west coast.

And why are colleges so anxious to get your application?  Because “selectivity” has become such an important metric in rankings, and the more applications a college receives, the more selective it can appear simply by rejecting the overflow.

Yet there can be consequences for the applicant.

First, quickie applications don’t provide an adequate opportunity for you to showcase your special accomplishments and unique skills.  Sure, it looks nice to have your name preprinted on the form and the offer to skip the essay seems like an attractive bonus.   

But if you’re a borderline candidate or if your grades and scores don’t tell your full story, you may be doing yourself a disservice. 

“If I catch my students before they impulsively act on fast app offers, I recommend against them,” said Larry Blumenstyk, a New Jersey-based Certified Educational Planner (CEP).  “For the well qualified student, they are meaningless….For the marginal candidate, a fast app does not permit as full a picture as a complete application.”

And these applications should not be considered automatic offers of admission. 

“Unfortunately, most students feel flattered to receive them, thinking the college only sends to those students who are a sure thing,” adds Ginger Driver, an independent college consultant from Houston.  “I think it’s just another ‘fishing expedition’ on the part of colleges, and they don’t have the students’ best interests at heart.”

If you want to forego a more “holistic” review of your credentials, fine.  Just be aware you could find yourself on a never-ending wait list or you may be asked to submit additional information including that essay you thought you were avoiding.

And just because you complete the streamlined version of the college’s application doesn’t mean you can skip sending official score reports or forget about having your school counselor send a transcript.  All too often, students submitting these applications neglect to alert counselors and teachers.  Or they fail to arrange for standardized tests to be sent.  These oversights can cause awful snafus and also result in wait list or rejection if paperwork isn’t completed on time. 

The bottom line is do not apply to a college just because they appear to be recruiting to you.  Do your homework and understand what you’re getting into.  And if you still think it’s a good idea, make sure you follow-up with your counselor and meet all remaining requirements for admission.

“S” can’t imagine what all the fuss is about, but she knows enough to view these invitations with a little healthy skepticism. After all, she’s just a very average house cat.

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