Can you wait until Orientation to make up your mind?

A recent article in the Boston Globe reported on the trend for students to wait longer than ever to decide which college they will attend. Many years ago colleges and universities were using all kinds of scary tactics to get students to commit early – threatening lousy housing assignments, bad course schedules, or even claiming the students wouldn’t have space if they didn’t send large, non-refundable tuition deposits. It’s hard to believe in today’s environment that colleges and universities managed to reach an agreement back then that was great for all students – that we’d all use one commitment deadline of May 1. This gives students who apply for aid on time at least a couple of weeks to make up their mind, and still leave time for colleges to go to waitlists for remaining spaces, or open a few more sections in a popular major.

I hear more and more, however, that students are willing to sacrifice multiple deposits to have more time to make up their mind. This creates a huge anxiety level at colleges not sure when or whether to go to their waitlists, to open more courses, etc. At Mason, for instance, I had WAY more students deposit than predicted, and I’m sure a number of those students are coming to orientation still making up their minds. The Globe suggests that this is about the economy, but I think it’s also about all the hype around college admissions. Students are still looking for that “perfect fit”, and extend their own stress far into the summer. Personally, I’d rather see students take a leap of faith and really try to get revved up, use orientation to network with future classmates and faculty and to increase their sense of belonging to a community (those three factors have great correlation with student success). I completely understand, however, that after being bombarded by our marketing hype students don’t feel they have enough information to settle on a decision in the very short time period we’ve allowed. Add to that the incredible courseload and extracurricular involvement many of you have in high school, and it’s no surprise that the summer becomes less and less a period of increasing commitment and more and more a time of continued exploration of options. Be seeing you.


4 Responses

  1. More deposits than normal? That’s unexpected.

    Can you give us a sense of how much more? Is it as much as 25%?

  2. We targeted a class of 2,450 freshmen, but were planning to go as high as 2,550. We currently have well over 2700 deposited students, about 2650 after we take out students who have already informed us they are going elsewhere. Typically we would see around 2-3% no-shows (typically referred to as melt in higher education, these are students that have deposited at more than one institution). Based on what’s going on nationally and our internal data, I am expecting melt to be closer to 4% putting us right at our high target.

  3. Is 2450 freshman your usual number?

    Or is that an increase?

  4. We’ve had about that size since 2005 when we had a class over 2500. The next year we planned to come back to about 2300, but we had this Final Four run…so back to 2450 we went. To keep our commitment on housing (guranteed for all four years if you start in housing as a freshman, meet deadlines, etc) we had a smaller class last year while we ramped up our housing (now at over 5,000 and still growing making us one of the largest residential campuses in the state). With the new housing open and a smaller class last fall, we knew we could go back to a slightly larger incoming class this year, and we’ll likely keep in and around that freshman class size over the next few years.

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