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Insider Thoughts: Adapting to Application Trends

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Insider Thoughts: Adapting to Application Trends

5 Minute Read 

An interview with Stacey Kostell, CEO of the Coalition for College  

The hectic nature of this past enrollment cycle, and the educational inequities it’s continued to expose, requires our field to take the time now to reflect on how we adapted to these challenges and how we’ll need to improve moving forward. While currently serving as the CEO for the Coalition for College, I formerly served as an admissions leader and understand the gravity of the hurdles higher education is currently facing.

Current Application Trends  

The pandemic has unveiled a growing disparity between application rates to community colleges vs. four-year institutions. While the media has been reporting record application volume at highly selective colleges, the number of students applying is not increasing, meaning students may be applying to more colleges. The concern is the number of applications from first-generation and limited-income students is down compared to previous years. Institutions that serve many first-generation students are also reporting a decline in applications. An entire segment of students is being left behind amidst the chaos of the pandemic.   

Impact on Admissions  

The short-term consequences of these trends vary based on institution. For those with large application increases, the issue is predicting yield and shaping the class to meet the institution’s access goals around both racial and socioeconomic diversity. The large application increase seen at some schools is not due to first-generation and limited-income students. For those schools experiencing lower application volumes, yield is still extremely important, but these institutions will continue to recruit into the spring semester in the hopes of meeting their enrollment goals. Additionally, these schools will be paying close attention to retention rates given the change in learning models at many schools this year. What we may see is an uptick in waitlist activity with some schools continuing to offer admission later in the season with increased aid to meet enrollment goals.   

Coalition for College  

As we have watched these trends unfold, my colleagues and I at the Coalition know that our undertaking is more important now than ever. The Coalition for College member schools are united in their mission to support lower-income, under-resourced, and/or first-generation students; to provide responsible financial aid; and to bolster students’ success in college—and beyond. I think it’s important to think about long-term solutions and what we can do now to make an impact for more limited-income students to attend college. This year, we have focused on creating digital tools for 9th and 10th graders to engage in the college search process early, along with a curriculum for schools and community-based organizations to use to help inform students about smart college choices. 

In the short term, we have been working with member schools to provide virtual programs to students, families, and counselors on topics such as filing the FAFSA and being a first-generation college student. Wwill continue programs this spring for seniors who have not completed the steps needed to go to college, and we have added a number of programs for transfer students. 

Advice for VPs Adapting to Change  

As a former VP of enrollment, my advice to new VPs adjusting to these changes would be to serve as a constant voice to leadership about the importance of access and ensuring students have the needed financial aid to attend and graduate from your institution. My second piece of advice is to rethink every yield model. While it’s vital to use data, listen to what you hear from your staff who work closely with students and families, reach out to your peers to brainstorm, and enlist current students and staff to assist in your recruitment efforts. 

We have all had to adjust to using virtual meetings rather than meeting in person. For many schools that includes their campus visit programs, receptions, and interviews to name a few. Zoom fatigue is real. I would explore other ways to reach students and families that are more personal. Create virtual opportunities for small group conversations where students can engage. I would also look at how best to use social media channels. A product like Wisr gives you the benefits of both personal engagement and a platform students are comfortable using. This type of strategy is critical this year but will continue to be important because it is meeting students where they are, whenever they have time to connect.   


About Coalition for College:  

The Coalition was founded in 2015 by a group of dedicated college leaders aiming to improve the college application process, particularly for those students from historically under-represented groups. 

Coalition for College member schools are united in their mission to support lower-income, under-resourced, and/or first-generation students; to provide responsible financial aid; and to bolster students’ success in college—and beyond. For more information visit https://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/ 

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