It’s hard to keep up with college admission because every time you turn around there is a new angle on what has largely become a game of marksmanship during which everyone (schools and students alike) tries to be strategic and up their odds of coming out of the process on top.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal New Front in College Admissions: Nudging Students to Decide Early tells us about a “new twist” on the admissions process. Some colleges (Tulane University, Colorado College and Lehigh University among others) “reach out to students who have submitted an application but have not yet received a decision, asking them to commit to their school early,” if their application is successful.
This allows students to raise their odds of getting into the school in question and it enables the schools to bind good students to their school. Schools prize their yield rates (the percent of students who accept offers to their school) because those rates are a factor in college rankings, so it’s easy to see how this system would benefit a school. It’s slightly more difficult to understand how it might benefit students.
This year Tulane told its students, ‘“If Tulane is your first-choice school, you may want to consider switching to Early Decision II,” according to an email sent to an applicant and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “If you are admitted, your college search is over.”’ The flip to early decision in no way guarantees acceptance but telling an applicant that their college search, their tortuous college search can be over is like catnip to a cat, unbearably tempting to some young applicants.
The schools who take the “flip to early decision approach” say that they are merely letting prospective students know that there are several options. But do these emails force a young person’s hand and nudge them into committing to a school before they are ready to do so?
In response to complaints that early decision keeps students from being able to compare different financial aid packages, Satyajit Dattagupta, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tulane admitted that he had heard some of these complaints on online forums but says, “We all want to serve the students, but at the end of the day I’m the dean of admissions and I have a responsibility to my institution.” In Tulane’s case, the email strategy was introduced last year and yielded an additional 625 early decision applications for the school.
My friend’s son received such an email last year. A high school senior, he had applied early action to Tulane University, which meant that it was high on his list of preferred schools. Under early action if he was to be accepted to Tulane, he would not be bound to the school, but the school would be bound to him. He initially applied early action because like many other 17-year olds he found it difficult to think about fully committing to any school so early in the process.
In my friend’s son’s case, the email came before his early action decision was rendered and it was slightly stress inducing, thrusting him into full analytic mode. Would flipping to early decision up his odds of getting in? Would he get in if he decided not to flip? Was the school trying to tell him something? Would they think he wasn’t committed to them if he decided not to flip to early decision? What should he do? He waffled, but in the end decided that he was not prepared to turn his early action application to an early decision application.
Fortunately, a week later he got in early action and is happily enjoying his freshman year at Tulane University. As his mother said, “It added yet another layer of decision making and definitely stirred the pot during an already stressful time.”
But no matter how parents or students feel, there seems to be no end in sight to innovative strategies that will allow schools to boost the number of students who accept their offers.