Successfully working in college admissions requires living with contradictions. For instance, the job’s two main responsibilities:
Get prospective students as excited as possible so they apply to your institution.
Tell a bunch of them “no.”
As a result, admissions officers spend a lot of energy and time thinking about how to let applicants know about college admissions decisions.
The old model is to let all applicants know at once, usually around April 1st. That allows admissions officers to go through every application and pull out the ones they want most and deny (or waitlist) everyone else.
At some point, a group of admissions officers realized:
- They already knew which students were CLEARLY going to be admitted or denied without going through the entire applicant pool, and
- The sooner they told applicants they were admitted, the better the chances of recruiting them.
Enter Rolling Admissions
This led to a weird competition to see who could get admission letters out first. Many schools have gone to rolling admissions, making decisions as applications are received. Some of the schools doing this are very competitive institutions, and in those cases, rolling means they make the clear decisions. Meanwhile, they ask a bunch of other applicants for more information, like full first-semester or third-quarter grades, to give the schools more time to decide what to do.
In some states and regions, rolling-admissions schools are considered less competitive. This is utter nonsense -- when and how a college releases decisions has nothing to do with who gets in. Many schools vehemently deny they have rolling admissions and outline specific times when they will release admission decisions. But then, in a wee quiet voice, they may on occasion go ahead and admit the best applicants as they are received. So they work the same as rolling admissions institutions, just without calling it that.
Of course, a handful of schools stick strictly to the traditional notification dates, but even these can get kind of sketchy. A few years ago, we started seeing a lot of “pre-admission” letters from some of the country’s best known and most competitive schools. These letters go out long before April notification dates and say things like, “You are SO the kind of student we want and we are SO going to admit you, but we can’t tell anyone yet so we’re just saying…you know…we like you and you should be really happy about what you will get from us and, like, you are SO awesome and will look great in our school colors. So I’m NOT telling you that you’re admitted but you SO are going to get a nice letter from us in April.” The wording may be a wee bit more official, but you get the idea.
My award for the best excuse EVER by a highly competitive institution to let applicants know about their decision early goes to: MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology released its decisions early this year -- on March 14th. Their reason? It was Pi day (Pi=3.141592653)! So on 3/14 at 1:59 p.m., MIT launched its decisions about two weeks before most of its competitors. Brilliant! Of course, that will make so much more sense in the year 2653.
College Admission Letters Over Snail Mail or Email?
The big controversy circulating now is whether to mail admissions decisions at all. Hundreds of institutions have gone to electronic decision notification. A recent survey surprised me: Most high school students said they would rather get their admission decisions online if they were admitted. However, they would rather get denial decisions on paper. My theory is that if you get an electronic decision, you’ll probably be able to access it during the day with all your friends around (and not your family). That’s great if you get a positive response, but miserable for a negative one. Most of the guidance counselors I’ve spoken to really want admissions officers to keep the decisions at home. But what do you think?
By the way, the whole thick versus thin envelope thing is now pretty much a myth that just causes stress. Since so many decisions are online, there may be no envelope, and when there is an envelope it may be just a letter directing you to all your other information online. No telling until you open it.
Regardless of when you find out, most schools should give you until May 1st to commit. I hope you all get in everywhere you apply and you get every scholarship you want.
Be seeing you!