Wednesday, May 30, 2012

College Counseling Trends to Watch for Fall

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The next order of business for most high school counselors is graduation, but signals sent from Kalamazoo to Washington DC suggest the college counseling scene greeting us this fall will be remarkably different from the one this year brought.  Counselors will want to pack their computers along with their beach reading to track these hot topics in college advising this summer:

Affirmative Action takes an unexpected turn  Many counselors are already focused on the University of Texas case the Supreme Court will hear this fall.  Like many cases before it, this case focuses on the use of race in the undergraduate admissions policies of a public university. Court watchers feel the circumstances in this case may lead a more conservative Court to rule differently on this case than they did in the Bollinger case, limiting the use of race in admissions.

That speculation received a jolt this week when four Asian American groups urged the Supreme Court to ban the use of race in college admissions decisions.  This is the first time this many underrepresented groups voiced their opposition to raced-based affirmative action, and their argument is pretty straight forward—they feel Asians are losing out on opportunities when race is a factor.

The case may not be impact the 2012-13 school year, but an early ruling could throw the entire system into chaos; if the Court rules against the use of race by, say, December 2012, some early applications may have been evaluated using race, while later ones could be exempt. This case clearly has implications for future classes, but it may mean something to school counselors in 7 months as well—stay tuned.

An increase in pay to play  This year’s increase in the number of college applications could very well lead to more colleges using ability to pay as a factor in admissions.  Record numbers of students also means a record number needing financial aid; since random selection could tilt admissions decisions over the amount of aid a college can offer, more colleges are likely to create a more even fiscal playing field by considering ability to pay for at least part of their class.

Colleges that are “need conscious” are supposed to let students know this, but they don’t exactly take out billboards and send out texts announcing these changes.  Counselors will want to instruct students to ask college representatives about the role of ability to pay in admissions decisions; this is the best way to get the most current information.

March Mayhem Becomes May Madness  The increase in applicants is due in part to more people applying to college, but it’s also due to individual students applying to more colleges.  That means more students with multiple admits are telling more colleges “no” on May 1st, leaving some colleges to rely on waitlists, and others to rely on—well, nothing!

Not every college puts students on a waitlist, and many that do keep their list short, since they don’t want to raise the hopes of too many students.  A number of great, small liberal arts colleges found their waitlists tapped out this spring, so they had to re-open admission in early May.  That’s right—if a student was looking for a college this May, they had some great options never before seen around Mother’s Day.

The numbers will increase next year, so look for an increase in the number and quality of May options next year.  This isn’t a good sign, but it’s likely to be a trend that can benefit students at least for next year—and serving students is what we do.  

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