“Signs of the Times: Observations From a Meeting with College Access Professionals”

Over the last week, I had the good fortune of being able to convene a meeting for deans of admission and college access professionals from schools around the country. Conducted in a think-tank format, it is a fascinating opportunity to learn about trends and gain “insider” perspectives from the people who are in the “trenches” of the college-going process. I’d like to share the following observations from this meeting.

Athletic Recruitment Run Amok
Secondary school counselors expressed concern that student athletes are being pressed into making commitments in a manner that is counter-productive to their academic and personal development. While the NCAA explicitly prohibits coaches from initiating direct contact with students prior to the end of the Junior Year in high school, we hear of more and more students who are “committing” to colleges as early as 9th and 10th grade.

Such presumptive commitments can be problematic, however, as they assume the student will ultimately be admitted when, in fact, critical elements of his/her academic credential have yet to be completed. Deans of admission acknowledged that the pressure to win encourages coaches to leverage commitments from top talent earlier in the process.  Some, in fact, acknowledged they have provisions in place to preview candidates’ academic credentials to determine the “likelihood” of admission.

In an interesting exchange between a college advisor and an admission dean at a Division I university, we learned that the vetting process is not always followed as it should be. When the former asserted that one of her 10th graders had committed to the university, the latter responded that such a commitment wasn’t possible as he hadn’t reviewed any credentials. The college advisor then pulled up a recruitment webpage for the sport in question on which it was reported that the student, identified by name and high school, had indeed committed to the university. You can imagine the looks of astonishment!

The bottom line:
If you are a recruited athlete being pressured to make a commitment, be sure you understand the terms of that commitment. And it’s never a bad idea to seek confirmation of the commitment through the admission officer at the university in question.

“An ‘Unhooked’ Kid Is Not Competitive.”
This quote came from a dean of admission at an Ivy League institution. It references the reality of the competition at institutions where small fractions of the very good candidates are admitted and debunks the notion that great grades and scores will be the ticket to admission.

The bottom line: While grades and scores are needed to get you on the competitive playing fields at elite institutions, it is the “hook”—that part of the student’s credential that causes her/him to stand out among the rest—as valued by the institution that ultimately makes the difference in determining who will be admitted.

Gap Year Ethics
Admission deans reported that increasing numbers of admitted students are seeking enrollment deferrals to pursue “gap year” experiences—and that more of these students are now using the gap year to enhance their credentials with the hope of improving their chances of enrollment at more selective institutions a year hence. While colleges and universities see the value in the gap year for personal and educational reasons, they are increasingly wary of strategic motives on the part of the students. As they manage their enrollments, they need assurance that the deferred student will indeed be with them at the end of the gap year.

The bottom line: Expect to see a tightening of terms for the gap year on the part of the granting institutions. If this is something you want to do, be prepared to articulate your reasoning and make a commitment (in some cases financial) to enroll at the end of the gap year.

“Don’t Tell Me You Belong Here Just Because You Have the Grades To Get In.”
In referencing the sense of entitlement often encountered with talented, high achieving students, the author of this comment went on to say, “I don’t have to admit you just because you deserve to be here.” He went on to explain that, in a large pool of extremely well qualified candidates, he was most interested in finding the students who had researched his institution sufficiently to be able to demonstrate a clear understanding of the synergy that exists between the two.

The bottom line: Take seriously the opportunity to learn about and build relationships with the institutions about which you care the most. Go beyond demonstrating interest to demonstrate, by your words and deeds, that you belong.

Acronyms From the Business World
Did you know that many institutions now regard students as RPUs? And that the decision to admit a student—and, possibly, make an award of financial aid or scholarship—is often determined by an estimation of ROI? For the uninitiated, an RPU is a “revenue producing unit” and ROI stands for “return on investment.” At many institutions, these terms—and the related concepts—are instrumental in framing the decision-making involved in the admission and enrollment processes.

The bottom line: While it may be rather sobering to see these stark business references applied to young people in the college going process, they speak to institutional agendas that are undeniable.  As you look at colleges, then, the “best fits” for you will be the places that stand ready to invest in you—they value you for what you have to offer.





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