The Disconnect between Colleges and Applicants: What Families Should Know

Too often there is a disconnect between what families and colleges understand to be important in college admissions. I want to inform families about the college’s point of view and its impact in the review of applications and determination of admission decisions. In the absence of that kind of information, families can find themselves reacting to all the noise and unknowns out there rather than acting to identify and pursue what is in their own best interest.

Various aspects of the current college admissions landscape are contributing to the stress and confusion that families, who are simply trying to make sense of how to proceed, are understandably experiencing. There are many different stake holders in the college admission process. While they should work in concert, their agendas often conflict. There is also a market place dynamic at play. Partly in the name of chasing after rankings and in what has been referred to as an “arms race,” colleges are using enrollment management strategies to recruit a broad range of applicants. Confusion for students and families trying to understand and consider the opportunities for an education, the student’s needs and interests, and the differences between colleges too often ensues.

Students and parents often think that admissions decisions are based primarily on assessment of the qualifications of the applicant. Families are unaware of the institutional imperatives and objectives that must be realized and that may supersede the review of individual applications. Little do they understand how hard colleges work to enroll a full class and how deeply they worry about yield.

Families don’t know about the impact of ability to pay, what “need sensitive” means, and that early decision plans are advantageous to institutions since they enable them to increase their yield and control enrollment and are a critical part of their enrollment management strategies. Families don’t always know the importance of “demonstrated interest” and that visiting a campus can be interpreted by the college as a proxy for “likely to enroll” if admitted.

Families mistakenly conclude that the marketing materials that may fill their email and mail boxes are signs of colleges’ targeted and informed interest in the student. And students and their parents worry incessantly about whether another 50 points on a standardized test or a different phrase on a college essay will render a completely different admissions decision.

Families are also unaware of the counseling role that good college admissions representatives play and often do not understand how available college representatives are to serve as resources. Students often don’t know that they can enter into a dialog, pose questions and expect to receive informed and enlightening responses.

I encourage colleges to more fully consider the perspective of students and families who are trying to make sense of the myriad opportunities for an education and the differences between colleges. That would do a lot to relieve some of the stress they experience and that too often defines and clouds the college search and application process. And I encourage students and parents to become well informed, recognize what they have control over, and focus on educational values, the student’s needs and finding the best college for the student.

The CEP is the Certified Educational Planner which Jane holds, and is the mark of distinction for independent educational consultants and high school counselors.

Jane Hoffman is a Certified Educational Planner (CEP). The CEP is the mark of distinction for independent educational consultants and high school counselors. It reflects the highest level of professional achievement and signifies extensive knowledge and commitment to the profession and to providing the highest quality of service to students and families. It is conferred only after demonstration of expanded institutional and professional knowledge.

CEPIECANACACJane Hoffman is an active member of a number of professional associations in college admissions and counseling, including the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (AICEP), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Jane is a graduate of IECA’s Practices and Principles Training Institute and adheres to IECA’s Principles of Good Practice. Since it is important to remain current, Jane frequently attends national conferences and participate in professional exchanges that provide the latest information on admission policies, practices, trends and developments. Jane regularly visit colleges and meets with admissions officers to learn about each school’s culture, educational programs, institutional priorities and admissions practices. Ongoing professional development activities also include taking courses online, completing webinars and consulting with colleagues.