Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Key Questions to Ask Your College Reps

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

A very different school year requires a very different approach to getting updates from your favorite colleges. In other years, it was enough to ask a rep, “What’s new?” as they set up for their high school visit with your students. This year, they aren’t coming to your high school—and that’s just the start of things that are new!

Keeping track of the changes this year requires a more systematic approach. Try this simple checklist for starters:

How has the admissions process changed? It may be tempting to just ask about the college’s use of test scores in admissions, but there’s typically much more to any changes the college has made in reviewing applicants. Asking this broader question gives the rep to address all the changes related to admissions, including:
  • Any change in the use of ACT and SAT scores—do they still require them? Remember, many schools that are test optional in admissions are still, mysteriously, requiring test scores for scholarships.
  • How they will review a file that that doesn’t have test scores. Some schools are weighing the other parts of the application the way they always used to, while others have changed the value of the other parts of the application in ways they think best address the way to read an applicant with no test scores.
  • Deadlines for all applications. This is especially the case with Early Action and Early Decision schools, many of whom have decided to push their due dates and response rates well into January. That’s a big deal to students who had hoped to hear from their Early schools in December, so they wouldn’t have to apply to the Regular schools with January 1 deadlines.
  • Deadlines for particular programs. The Business School may be taking applicants later, while the Music School may still be auditioning in January. Make sure you know.
What do you want to know about academic rigor? Many colleges will still emphasize the importance of how hard the classes were (and are) that students took last year and this year. With many schools changing to online or remote learning last spring, that meant some of the more challenging courses were graded differently- if at all—and it could mean changes to this year’s classes, too, including the number of high end courses students have access to. Asking about the best way to convey that information will lead to an important discussion about rigor—and it’s likely to bring very different answers from different colleges.

How has the delivery of classes changed? Many colleges are still changing their minds about how to deliver classes this Fall, while others have made commitments to the online/in-person question that are scheduled to last the entire year. We’ve already seen many campuses change this answer to this question in the last week, but it’s still important to ask—there may be plans for this year and next year that will affect your students’ chances of admission, or their interest in applying.

How will deferred students affect admissions for next fall? More students who were supposed to start college this Fall took one look at things and said “Maybe next year.” Does an increase in delayed starters mean fewer of this year’s seniors will be admitted? Will financial aid resources be changed—of housing promises? It may be too early to tell, but more schools are thinking about this already.

What’s the best way to get in touch with you? Many office phones are being left unanswered, so this could be a year when email becomes more important than ever. Ask, just in case.


  1. why couldnt we just go back to school?

  2. I am curious your perception of how universities are handling non-test score applications. From observation, universities are notifying kids that took standardized tests already, but not notifying kids that didn't. Not sure that shows bias, but its a trend.