Working in the field of college admissions successfully requires living with contradictions. The two main responsibilities of the job, for instance, are:
1) Get prospective students as excited as possible so they will apply, and then
2) Tell a bunch of them, “no.”
As a result, admissions officers spend a lot of energy and time thinking about how we let applicants know about admissions decisions.
The old model is to let applicants know all at once, usually around April 1st. That gave admissions officers time to go through everyone who applied, pull out the ones they want most and deny (or waitlist) everyone else.
At some point a group of admissions officers realized that:
a) They already knew pretty well which students were CLEARLY going to be admitted or denied without needing to go through the whole applicant pool, and
b) The sooner they told applicants they were admitted, the better the chances of recruiting that student.
This led to a weird competition to see who could get admit letters out first. Many schools went to “rolling” admissions, meaning that they made decisions as applications were received. Some of these are very competitive institutions, and in those cases rolling means they make the clear decisions, while a bunch of applicants will be asked for more information (usually full first semester or third quarter grades) to give them more time to decide what to do.
In some states and regions, “rolling” schools are believed to be less competitive. This is utter nonsense – when and how you release decisions has nothing to do with who gets those decisions – and, of course, this leads to more silliness. Many schools, for instance, vehemently deny that they are rolling, and describe very specific times when they will release admission decisions. Then, in a wee quiet voice, they mention that they may, on occasion, go ahead and admit the best applicants as they are received. So basically they work the same as the very competitive rolling institutions, just without calling themselves rolling.
There are, of course, a handful of schools that stick strictly to the traditional notification dates, but even these can get kind of sketchy. A few years ago we started seeing a lot of “pre admission” letters from some of the best known and most competitive schools in the country. These are letters going out long before April notification dates that says things like, “You are SO the kind of student we want and we are SO going to admit you, but we can’t tell anyone yet so we’re just saying…you know…we like you and you should be really happy about what you will get from us and, like, you are SO awesome and will look great in our school colors, so I’m NOT telling you that you’re admitted but you SO are going to get a nice letter from us in April.”
The wording may (MAY) be a wee bit more official, but you get the idea.
The big controversy circulating now is whether to mail decisions at all. Hundreds of institutions have gone to electronic decision notification. A recent survey surprised me. Most of the respondents (high school students) said they would rather get their admission decisions online IF they were admitted. They would rather, however, get deny decisions on paper. My theory is that this is based on timing. If you get an electronic decision, you’ll probably be able to access it during the day, with all your friends around (and not your family). That sounds great if you get a positive response, but miserable for a negative one. Most of the guidance counselors I’ve spoken to really want admissions officers to keep the decisions at home. I’m curious to hear what readers think.
Two last notes – the whole thick versus thin envelope thing is now pretty much a myth that just causes stress. Since so many decisions are online, there may be NO envelope, and when there is an envelope it may be just a letter directing you to all your other information online. No telling until you open it.
Finally, my award for the best excuse EVER by a highly competitive institution to let applicants know about their decision early goes to…MIT. That’s right, the venerable Massachusetts Institute of Technology released their decisions early this year, on March 14. Their reason – it was Pi day. As you know, of course, Pi = 3.141592653, etc. As a result, MIT launched their decisions at 1:59 pm on March 14 – about two weeks before most of their competitors. Brilliant!!! That will, of course, make so much more sense in the year 2653.
Regardless of when you find out, most schools should give you until May 1 to commit (for those of you lucky enough to be admitted to Mason this year, congratulations! You can submit your enrollment confirmation anytime until May 1 online. Yes, you can do that right now, if you want. Go ahead. I’ll wait.).
As always I hope you all get in everywhere you apply, I hope you all get every scholarship you want…and I hope most of you are coming to Mason.
Be seeing you!