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University Acceptances: The Games Played

Last month I attended the Texas Association for College Admission Counselor conference here in San Antonio. Although I don’t help students apply to colleges, or even suggest ones, it’s critical I understand the college landscape. I will tell you the money I spent to attend this conference was worth every penny and continues to validate universities ARE businesses.

I attended an early half day session called “Hotspots, Hooks and Hidden Agendas” by Peter Van Buskirk of Best College Fit. This presentation was worth the entire conference fee because he highlighted the craziness that is college advising and admissions. So, what has driven the paradigm shift in higher education?

The first is “College Rankings.” When I speak to groups I talk about this all the time. How many students apply to a university, relating to how many a college accepts, equals high rankings. And how they get their students relates to “Early Decision”, “Early Acceptance”, “Regular Acceptance”, “Wait List” and “Other”. Universities are an “unregulated industry” and students are being put in the middle.

The second shift is students applying to ridiculous numbers of colleges, without stepping foot on them. I witnessed students being advised to apply to AT least 8 to 16 colleges, to increase their likelihood of getting scholarships to a university that matches their dream. But what is happening on the flip side is students are not visiting these campuses so how in the world do you know if it’s right for you? I advise my clients to not step foot onto a college campus until they know what their major is going to possibly be. I continue to preach (yes, I truly mean preach) you are not going to a university because it’s pretty or your parents attend…you are going for a major, hence career. Period!

The third challenge is determining who is truly interested in attending if accepted. In the session, the discussion turned to how universities are determining if students are TRULY interested. Obviously, they need to know because people are telling them to apply to 100 universities (sarcasm but you get my point) so they obviously want kids who want them. In a statement from a university admissions personnel, she said “We send out emails to kids to see if they open them such as ‘What’s your favorite animal?’” IF…they don’t “open” emails they aren’t considered, and this doesn’t include parents engagement. I could not believe my ears! I said, “So you are baiting young adults to test them?” And with a sternness of shear insult, she looked me dead in the eye and said “ABSOLUTELY!” To which, other university admissions professional chimed in saying, “We’ve got to find a way to decide student’s interest!”

So, what has happened is we’ve lost all perspective on the college admission processes. Kids are playing the game by applying to 10+ colleges and colleges are playing the game of did they respond to me, visit the campus, call us, request information, tweet us, Pin us, etc. How bad do you want US? And how bad do you want to GO?

I left the session sick and honestly, mad. We have put students in the middle of this financial aid, admission acceptance bucket of where you fall depending on if you are wanted. And all kids are wanting is to find a college they will be happy at but may never get it if they haven’t “played their game of interest” through CRM software tools.

This is exactly why I believe firmly that when you find the careers you are going to love, understand whether you need a small or large university, how you process information, what kind of people are YOUR people and what motivates you, you can then find your university. University administrators are smart people…I used to be one of them. And as parents, we know crazy when we witness it. So why isn’t someone staying STOP THE MADNESS? We are all causing work for each other. Students applying AND paying fees to ridiculous amounts of universities. Colleges are reviewing 50K+ applications, knowing they are only going to accept 7K. And out of those numbers, only 15K student even intended to accept the admission anyway. See where I’m going with this? I even asked, “Isn’t this highly inefficient?” to which the answer was “Oh no! With the software, we’ve never been MORE efficient.” I think we have different definitions of efficiency.

You should visit the campus you feel you want to attend twice. Once to feel it out and twice to confirm. But it’s not the campus you are selecting, it’s the department, the opportunity for research, the ability for internships because that is where you are going to get your jobs ideally and you want to know their placement rates after graduation. You want to know what kind of extracurricular activities they have that match your interests. “Where you go is NOT who you’re going to be” so trust your instincts and focus on schools that can help you grow as a new professional.

And like I’ve said a million times…never forget colleges are businesses and unfortunately it doesn’t look like the game is going to stop anytime soon!

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