Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marketing colleges: Two paths to more applications, the common app, and fast-track

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed sheds some light on two different ways that colleges try to market themselves to a larger pool of applicants. One is the Common Application (which allows applicants to fill out one application online and then send it to many places, sometimes with supplements required by colleges that don't want too many casual applications). Another is "fast track" applications, which are mailed to high school students with invitations to fill in a shorter application, maybe without any essays at all.
The Curious Case of ‘Catnip’ and the Common Application

"Many high-school counselors offer colorful descriptions of “fast-track” applications, an increasingly popular recruitment tool among colleges. Such applications come with students’ names and other information already filled in. Typically, these solicitations also provide other incentives, like waived essay requirements, and promise quick admissions decisions...

"But there’s growing concern in high schools about how such applications are coexisting with another fixture of the admissions realm—the Common Application, the free admissions form accepted by 414 colleges.

"At the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual conference last month, several counselors discussed what they described as an increasingly common scenario: students using a fast-track application to apply to a college that’s a member of the Common Application. In such cases, high schools cannot electronically submit students’ supporting documents—transcripts, secondary-school reports, and letters of recommendation—to colleges.

"Why not? Because a member college isn’t able to download those documents until (or unless) a student submits his or her application through the Common Application’s Web site. In other words, a student can bypass the Common Application’s system by submitting a fast-track app, but that student’s counselor cannot do the same.
"Mr. Graf and other counselors have criticized Royall & Company, a direct-marketing firm that has pioneered the use of fast-track applications. Some of Royall’s clients package them as “V.I.P.” applications. The irony: Some colleges send such apps to thousands—even tens of thousands—of prospective students each year...

"The company’s leaders, who did not immediately return a telephone message on Wednesday, have previously described fast-track applications as a time-saving means of simplifying the application process, helping colleges reach more prospective students. They’re also good for business: Most colleges that use them report significant increases in applications.

"In recent years, Robert Killion, the Common Application’s executive director, has heard numerous complaints about the challenges raised by fast-track applicants applying to Common App colleges. Some counselors have asked why the nonprofit association does not transmit supporting documents for students who choose that option.

"Money is one answer, Mr. Killion concedes. For each application filed through the Common Application, the association gets a $4 fee from member colleges who use the Common App exclusively (institutions that also accept other applications pay $4.75 per applicant). “We’ve built a system for students who want to follow the Common App model,” says Mr. Killion. “If a student wants to pursue an alternative path, that’s their prerogative, but I’m not sure why we, for free, should have to subsidize someone else’s system.”
"Willamette is a member of the Common Application, and it offers a fast-track application. “Colleges that use both are put in a squeeze,” says Ms. Rhyneer, a former chairwoman of the Common Application’s steering committee.

"Although Ms. Rhyneer seconds the concerns expressed by Mr. Graf and other counselors, she disagrees with negative characterizations of fast-track apps. Willamette sends such an app to about half of its inquiry pool and uses it to encourage particularly promising applicants to apply. “Counselors tend to paint everybody using it with the same brush, but we’re not trying to get a zillion apps,” she says."

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