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The latest college application trends

By Suzanne Shaffer

Applying to college used to be simple. When my husband applied (back in the dark ages), he filled out a paper application, mailed it in along with his transcript, and waited for a response which came in the spring.

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By the time our daughter applied, the application was more complicated, with multiple layers of information and additional documents. Today, applications are completed online via the Common Application and many students who apply early receive decisions before winter break.

The admission process evolves with each new freshman class. For the class of 2020, a number of colleges are offering alternative ways to apply that allow them to evaluate the student as a whole rather than as just a collection of application documents.

Video submissions

Students in the arts have been submitting videos as part of their college application portfolios for years but now a handful of colleges are inviting video submissions as part (or even all) of a student’s application.

Tufts University has been encouraging optional video essay submissions from all students since 2010. Students who submit videos post them on YouTube for viewing by the admissions committee. Many can be viewed on the Tufts University admissions channel.

Goucher College, a small liberal arts college in Maryland that has been test optional since 2007, now allows students to submit a two-minute video in place of traditional college application materials (transcript, test scores, essays). In a promotional video Goucher created for its new app, you see a transcript being ripped in half. The college believes this approach allows every student the opportunity to be authentic and showcase his or her strengths.

Only a handful of colleges are offering these admission options to date — most stick to the standard application procedures. Colleges who do offer the video option will post it on their admission page and clearly explain the guidelines and criteria. These videos are not expected to be professionally produced or edited, but created and filmed by the student using simple video technology.

Test optional and test blind schools

If your student has less than stellar standardized test scores, or has other reasons for not wanting to participate in the testing process, a test optional college might be an addition to his college list.

story-icon-bar-convo-3Listen to a recent NPR story about George Washington University’s new test-optional admission policy and whether it is helping the school achieve its goal of increased diversity.

According to FairTest.org, there are more than 800 four-year colleges and universities that do not consider standardized tests when admitting substantial numbers of applicants. Some of the colleges exempt students who meet certain criteria, like GPA or class rank, while others require scores but only use them for placement purposes.

The debate continues about whether or not such schools are truly test optional — in other words, does it hurt your student’s application to opt not to include scores when students with high scores will submit them — but with all the controversy over the new SAT, this trend could gain some steam and more colleges may adopt this policy.

Very few colleges practice “test blind” admissions (i.e., the school does not consider an applicant’s SAT or ACT score even if the student submits it). Hampshire College in Massachusetts went test blind in 2014 and recently reported very positive results in the quality and diversity of its incoming freshman class. Becoming test blind means that Hampshire is no longer included in US News and World Report’s annual rankings but the college is happy with the trade-off. Find out more about Hampshire College’s admissions policies here.

Spring admission programs

This past year saw an increase of applicants being accepted for the spring of 2016 rather than the traditional fall start. This practice has been around for a while but is increasing with each application year. Preliminary results from a recent survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that 17 percent of 299 responding colleges offer deferred admission to fall applicants. Some allow students to request second-semester admission and others make the decision for them.

Northeastern University in Boston and Skidmore College in New York enroll a subset of students right away but require them to spend their fall semester at a designated program abroad. Middlebury College in Vermont has been offering applicants spring admission since 1970: about 85 students, “Febs”, are offered spring admission each year.

A program called “Freshmen Connection” at the University of Maryland, where one out of every five admitted freshmen starts in the spring term, permits spring applicants to get a head start in the fall by taking part in university activities and participating in an extension program during off-peak hours on campus. Brandeis University now enrolls 100 or so students for midyear arrival in the spring.

All of these practices are motivated by the same philosophy: campus populations drop off after the first few months of college each year, due to December graduations, freshman attrition, and students leaving campus to study abroad. Colleges have also discovered that spring freshmen often use this time to prepare and find it a constructive way to ease into college. Though this practice is growing, many high school students and parents aren’t familiar with it. Do the research so that, if spring admission really does not appeal to your student, he can cross colleges that offer it off his list.

Non-application applications

This application trend gives students the opportunity to bypass traditional application documents and fulfill a college’s alternative application procedure. Students are still given the option to submit a regular application, but can opt out and apply using these non-application application alternatives.

Bennington College in Vermont offers the option of a “dimensional application.” The college asks applicants to build a portfolio that demonstrates what they will bring to the Bennington Community, creatively and intellectually. This portfolio can highlight a student’s creativity, community involvement and writing skills.

Bard College gives students the opportunity to take an entrance exam consisting of four 2500-word essays on scholarly topics graded by professors. Candidates who score a B+ or higher will automatically receive an offer of admission. In an effort to change traditional methods of finding students, Bard began offering this option in 2013. Bard stresses “this is not a test of what you already know; rather it is an opportunity to demonstrate close reading, critical thinking, and the ability to interpret problems. It is an effort to connect testing to learning.”

These new application trends are not yet widespread. But as more and more colleges recognize that students are more than a collection of documents, tests, and grades, tomorrow’s college student surely will have more opportunities to apply without using the standard procedure and documentation. Encourage your student to investigate the options available at the colleges on his list!

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s new High School Parent eNews and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for a preview of what’s ahead. You can also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow High School parents by joining our High School Parent Facebook group.

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