With financial challenges, alternative career paths, and birth dearth leading to shrinking freshman classes, colleges must find new ways to increase student recruitment in order to remain solvent. One method that has begun to gain traction in the United States is direct admissions. In this admissions process, the roles of the college and the student are flipped—instead of students researching and then applying for admission to colleges, colleges look through student profiles (gathered either by state organizations or companies like Concourse), and “apply” for students by admitting them.
The benefits of direct admissions are numerous: the process helps with recruiting more diverse applicants, it brings more attention to your college, and in the long run, it may even be cheaper than the traditional admissions process. However, there are reasons it hasn’t caught on in a big way yet—direct admissions does not necessarily guarantee college enrollment, and the process may make it more challenging to recruit the students who best fit what your college has to offer.
There are Other Fish in the Sea
In an era when the advantages of a diverse student body have been made apparent, direct admissions presents a unique opportunity to increase diversity by eliminating some of the bias that exists within the college recruitment process. Underserved or underrepresented students face critical barriers to getting into college, such as acquiring quality letters of recommendation and biased standardized testing [[link to GTCF Standardized Tests blog]]. Offering direct admissions—which eliminates these and nearly all other elements of the application process—opens doors for underrepresented and underserved students.
There is already some evidence of success: When Concourse sent out acceptance emails to students who qualified for direct admission, students of color, first-generation students, and low-income students were three to four times as likely to apply to the admitting institution, and they sent out more applications overall, as well, making it one of the more effective strategies for increasing student enrollment. By admitting underrepresented and underserved students, colleges can reap the benefits of greater diversity in their student population.
More Visibility in Deep Waters
Not only will colleges see more diverse applicants as a result of direct admissions, but they may increase their overall visibility with all potential applicants. The number of postsecondary options in the United States can be overwhelming, and students often opt to apply to the colleges they find most familiar. Direct admissions can help smaller colleges access and compete for talented students by raising their profile and offering their school as a concrete and immediate option compared to the usual apply-and-hope model of college applications.
For instance, Augsburg College officials recently shifted all of their applications to direct admissions and saw a 70% increase in applications from a year ago. They admitted 487 of those students (up from 150 the previous year).
There are a few drawbacks to direct admissions. While it’s assumed that colleges will see more applicants through direct admissions, the new method hasn’t been fully assimilated across the higher education landscape. Right now, students need to know about and proactively enroll in databases like Concourse and SAGE—a hurdle due to the fact that these college recruitment strategies are so new and therefore less likely to be promoted by high school counselors.
Then, assuming that direct admissions becomes commonplace and attracts more students to a given college, how can the institution know it’s reeling in the right ones? Direct admission decisions are based off of more limited information like a student’s GPA, class rank, and transcript; no essays, no letters of recommendation, and no standardized test scores are provided. As a result, admissions officers may have to employ more guesswork to identify the students that are the right fit for their college, at least until more data are collected.
Finally, although direct admissions can get the word out about your college, admission does not guarantee enrollment. While offering direct admission to students gives them a stronger push toward enrolling, there are other, oftentimes bigger factors at play. For instance, students still need to consider the cost of college and what financial package can be made available for them.
One of the arguments that is still up for debate is whether direct admissions will prove cheaper for colleges. Direct admissions has been shown to be exceptionally low-cost; for example, in Idaho, participating institutions require only a student’s school records (which are provided by the state), plus paper and postage for acceptance letters (which could also be sent electronically).
However, for institutions in non-participatory states—which right now is most states—and who want to draw students from across state boundaries, they must engage with direct admissions services, some of which are cheaper than others. For instance, Sage Scholars, which intends to launch a direct admissions service this year, will be free to colleges, whereas Concourse charges colleges through a commercial agreement. Furthermore, most colleges won’t use direct admissions in lieu of traditional admissions, meaning they will need to support both traditional and direct admissions.
Eyes on the Horizon
While direct admissions has had a slow start in the United States, it is picking up momentum. The state of Minnesota, for example, is now offering every high school in the state the chance to participate and has over 50 colleges and universities opting in. Meanwhile, Concourse is facing new market competitors like Sage Scholars, which will increase the reach and popularity of direct admissions.
Even if your school is currently unprepared to adopt this admissions process, it’s a space to watch—because eventually, it may no longer be a matter of “if” you adopt direct admissions, but “when.”