Friday, March 11, 2011

Mark Your Calendar!

I used to get a kick out of fooling people on April 1st. But since I’ve been in the college advisory business, April 1st has taken on an entirely different meaning. For high school students (and their parents and counselors), April 1st tops many lists of anxiety-producing days because many colleges use it as the decision notification date. In honor of this special day, I reached out to clients to find out what April Fool’s myths were on their minds.

Truth or April Fool: The legacy factor is more important in early decision than it is in regular decision. Truth! Penn acknowledges that legacy status plays a smaller role in regular versus early decision. Rumor has it that Penn opens an office each year just to review the ED applications of legacies but closes it once the early decisions have been made. Interestingly, the Penn alumni website states that two-thirds of its legacy applicants are not admitted – period. A recent study by a Harvard doctoral candidate stated that the “legacy advantage varied enormously: one college was more than 15 times as likely to accept legacy applicants, while at another, the effect was insignificant.” By the way, this same study clarified that primary legacy (a child of an alum) was much more significant in terms of admission than a secondary connection (such as a parent going to grad school at the university or a grandparent having attended).

Truth or April Fool: Schools are need-blind when it comes to admissions. April Fool! According to a February 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal, some schools are more need-aware than they are need-blind. As a result, they may take more international students who can pay their own way. Financial status may also be a factor in taking students off wait lists or when accepting transfers. Among those schools cited in the Journal article were Williams, which increased its international pool, and Stanford, Yale and Dartmouth, which adjusted their formulas for determining aid.

Truth or April Fool: It is easier to get in early than to get in regular decision. Truth! Most research I found confirms that early decision is a good choice for students who know what they want. In his blog, college admissions reporter Jacques Steinberg shared information from “The State of College Admission,” published annually by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. According to the study, the acceptance rate was 15 percent higher for binding early decision than for regular decision applications. School officials “chalk it up” to higher quality in the early round. A consultant cited in a November 2009 Smart Money report agreed, explaining that students accepted early have “first crack at the money.” Incidentally, Harvard, Princeton and University of Virginia have opted to reinstate early options. Despite the argument that early decision is unfair to those who depend on aid, an official from Lafayette College points out that “although early decision is binding, no college will hold a student to a contract if a family determines that the financial aid package is inadequate.”

Truth or April Fool: A thin envelope means “no thanks.” April Fool! Don’t toss those thin envelopes! They could very well contain information about being put on the waiting list. To remain on waiting lists, for example, students may have to return a form or reply card. (If your student is placed on a waiting list, be sure to express in no uncertain terms his or her willingness to attend that school.)

Truth or April Fool: No one gets in off the wait list. April Fool! I know students who are happily enrolled at universities to which they had originally been wait listed. Some students receive phone calls from admissions representatives asking, “If we take you, will you go?” One may argue that this puts a student, particularly one which needs to compare aid packages, in a very difficult position, but these calls really do happen.

Truth or April Fool: Decisions really are rendered on April 1st. April Fool! Many schools will notify students in advance of that date. Students can usually find out the actual date through the Internet. Some schools, however, still use the U.S. Postal Service to send out decisions.

Keep sending those myths! And remember to show your sense of humor on April 1, 2011.

Works Cited and Suggested Reading:

Smart Money, Do Early Decision Students Get More Aid?

The New York Times, The Case for Early Decision

The Chronicle of Higher Education, At Elite Colleges, Legacy Status May Count More Than Was Previously Thought

The New York Times, Early Action Could Aid in Admission, Report Finds

The Wall Street Journal, What to Do As Colleges Cut Back on Financial Aid

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