In April, the power shifts in college admissions

If you’re in the homestretch of the college process, you know that the majority of colleges around the country release their admissions decisions by March 31 and most schools expect final decisions and tuition deposits by May 1. You may not realize that April signals a power shift in the admissions process. Suddenly, students holding offers of admission from two or more schools find themselves in the driver’s seat. No longer waiting for admissions decisions, they’re the decision makers now — as the colleges wait to hear who will enroll.
Would it surprise you to learn that the colleges may be as nervous in April as the students were in the previous months? Even the most prestigious universities don’t secure deposits from 100% of the students they admit. According to the annual US News & World Report survey, Ivy League yield rates for 2013 ranged from a high of 81% (Harvard) to a low of 47.8% (Dartmouth).
At this time of year, admissions offices often begin a full court press to meet their enrollment goals. Colleges invite students and parents to admitted student days where they practically roll out the red carpet hoping to sell students on why they should choose their school. Students who attend often receive free T-shirts or other college “swag.” Admissions offices send out bundles of postcards, emails, and personal letters from current students and alumni encouraging admitted students to enroll. Prospective parents even receive phone calls from parents of current students in an effort to establish a personal connection with the school.
Imagine what it would be like in April if we could turn the tables on the admissions process so that colleges needed to complete “uncommon” applications which admitted students could use to evaluate whether to accept their offers of admission. These applications could provide an overview of the college and include a list of 10 activities that might interest the student (clubs, sports, community service opportunities, etc.) along with an estimate of how many hours per week represent meaningful participation. Admissions officers could write a 250- to 600-word letter to each admitted student explaining why the college would be a good fit for him/her, specifically addressing the student’s declared field of interest and detailing potential research opportunities. Supplemental essays from recent alumni could discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the school’s career planning services. College administrators could include an optional supplement explaining any recent bad press or significant on-campus issues. Sound familiar?
Admittedly, the college process will never look like this. But students choosing between multiple offers can enjoy the fact that in April — finally — they will hold the position of power in the college admissions process. After years of hard work and months of nail-biting, accepted students will be in the driver’s seat-making decisions about where they want to go. And it’s about time!
Debbie Schwartz and Stephanie Klein Wassink, both former admissions officers, are college consultants with Fairfield County-based Winning Applications. Information: 203-938-3878 or