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What I Learned About College Admission Testing & Enrollment at the IECA Conference

Last month I attended the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference in Houston. Now, why would I go if I’m not an Educational Consultant? Because I wanted to hear from both the individuals who are passionate about getting their clients into their dream schools and the admission directors from some of the most sought-after universities. What I learned is I have great respect for both parties and am so thankful my passion is helping young adults find their careers and not their colleges.

The day and a half event focused on helping both parties to understand how young adults can be serviced in the best possible way. The “game” has become so complicated, which is why I wanted to attend. Here are the 4 things I learned.

1. The new “Coalition Application

We have the Common App, the Apply Texas (referred to as “old and retired” at the conference), some universities have their own application and now the Coalition App which applies to 130+ member schools. There was confusion on which university accepted which application and how can educational consultants guide the young adult. I had a funny interaction when I was leaving the conference and waiting for my car. One of the admission representatives who served on the panel said, “It’s always fascinating when I come to these because the questions educational consultants ask are completely different from school counselors. School counselors never ask about the Coalition Application.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her the reason is because families are paying good money for services and the educational consultants need to understand which one gives their client the best possible chance for admission. Not that school counselors aren’t engaged and up-to-date, they are, but educational consultants are paid for their knowledge and need to know the ins and outs of anything new. Bottom line, each university accepts different applications so you must check with them to determine which one to fill out. The consensus was the coalition application is primarily used for out-of-state and under-served students.

2. ZeeMee…Zee You

I couldn’t help myself, however, students have another option which is a video application, giving the student a free platform to tell their story in videos. It’s being used in 142 countries, at 200+ colleges and by $17K+ high school students. I personally love this concept because it gives a face and personality to the application process. It also gives the universities a way to make better-informed decisions about the attributes applicants have to offer. However, all I could think about was it’s another stress to the application process. Universities are trying to determine ways to see the human behind the paper application. I know students want a way to really shine, but I worry we continue to add stress. Here is a sample of a similar ZeeMee Video that was shared at the conference.

3. The Almighty PSAT/ACT/SAT

Another resource I wanted to share is from Compass Education Group. They presented on statistics surrounding the ACT and SAT scores. You could tell they were very respected by the entire group as I’ve been to two different conferences where they presented. They provide The Compass Guide to College Admission Testing booklet for free which I highly recommend you check out and download. What I learned is a 4.0 is now THE most common GPA across the US compared to in 1991 when a 3.0 was the average. "Thank God, I went to school when I did!" I hear that from most of my parents. This is an essential resource for students, parents, and counselors. More than 90 pages of valuable information on the ACT, SAT, PSAT, Subject Tests, APs, and more. The print edition has reached over 100,000 families and is used by counseling offices at many of the top schools in the U.S.

4. Over Enrollment…heck, Enrollment in General

I could write a book on this topic and is one topic I’m professionally very frustrated with. Because students are being encouraged by many different individuals to apply to 10-15 universities to increase their odds of getting in, universities are having a record number of applications with a limited number of slots. Universities are a business! Let’s be very clear. So many schools are admitting more students than they have space for. One educational consultant talked about schools housing kids in “closets” because they didn’t have space for them. I can speak to it because my oldest daughter was notified her university over-enrolled so she would need to triple up in her room. Did I mention this is a private and extremely expensive University with a discount that wasn’t even close to making up for the decision they made to enroll more students than they had space for? The topic is a hot one.

Universities are in a bind because they know many students who apply have absolutely zero intent in attending. But the fear has set in and parents are putting housing deposits down at universities they know have limited housing to ensure IF they get accepted, they have a room. I continue to think in many situations we are putting the cart before the horse. But then I realized, parents are very savvy individuals and know how to game the system. As a result, universities are increasing their application fee to deter students from applying if they aren’t seriously interested. However, the conversation included the families with the means, are the ones who will do whatever it takes to “play the game” which leaves the others in a bind.

I’ve written a piece before about “Universities Want to Know YOU Want Them!” Peter Van Buskirk from Best College Fit posted a great piece, Making Sense of Early Decision and Early Acceptance, talking about the differences between all of the acceptances. Check it out.

Finally, after listening to both sides of the discussion during a panel interview, I spoke up. I said, “I think we’ve lost perspective on the whole college acceptance process. We have individuals telling students/families to apply to 10+ universities (side note: most they’ve never stepped foot on which is a whole other blog piece), universities are over enrolling because they need the numbers for #1 college rankings and #2 sustainability. I heard at a previous conference when I said, ‘Isn’t this highly inefficient and wasting EVERYONE’S time?’ a university person tells me this is actually a ‘highly efficient process’.” I respectfully disagree. I think our definition of “efficient” is not the same.

An admission representative from a very well-respected university in a neighboring state spoke up and said, “Look, we are beyond this conversation. This is the way it is and we all need to function within this framework.” I’m paraphrasing because I was absolutely shocked by his response. What I’m not paraphrasing is “Look, we are beyond this conversation.” I think when we get lost in the chaos and think this flawed admission process is “normal” we are in trouble. My final statement was “I think it’s very unfortunate because the individuals who are being affected by this are our stressed out students.”

When something isn’t working, we need to think differently and not continue on because “it’s the way it is.” Our young adults deserve better. We are asking them to be “critical thinkers” because that’s what companies want. Well, the critical thinking needs to happen in higher education.

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