College Promotions Step Up as Application Deadlines Move Up

By Sam Rosensohn

Dear High School Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors,

It’s important that you know that senior year doesn’t count for as much as your first three years in high school, and that colleges are moving up their application dates so you can apply earlier senior year.

It’s also important to note that more and more high school students are starting to visit colleges in their sophomore year, and decide by the end of their junior year where they want to go to college.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst brought all of this to mind when it recently unveiled its new non-binding early action program, First Choice, which has a Nov. 1, application deadline.

Students will be notified whether they’ve been accepted by mid-December and given the option to enroll in special online courses for college credit while still in high school.

To further entice early applicants, accepted students will receive $2,000 scholarships from the UMass Alumni Assn., and priority for housing selection and class registration.

“Many students and families are starting the college selection process as early as the tenth grade,” said Dr. Michael Gargano, UMass vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life.

“We’ve become very aggressive in our student recruitment. We see ourselves as a national institution and when students think of higher education we want them to think of the University of Massachusetts Amherst first,” said Gargano.

“Can you name the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic? Of course you can. Can you name the second?” asked Will Dix, a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School in Chicago. “Colleges try to be first on students’ minds with the hope that that will propel them to choose the school eventually.”

Dix, a nationally recognized college counselor, believes that moved-up deadlines that are fastened to an improved chance of admission, a scholarship and housing benefits “put students at a disadvantage, because they’re being pressured not only to make themselves into super-geniuses, but also to make decisions under conditions that only a used-car salesman could appreciate.

“UMass joins the ranks of Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Illinois, and others who seem intent on making senior year even more irrelevant,” said Dix, who worked in admissions at Amherst College for eight years.

Tim Napier, a college counselor at the Hopkins School in New Haven, doesn’t believe that early action makes senior year irrelevant. “A lot of people seem to be getting upset with new early action programs, which are based on a student’s work through eleventh grade, as if that makes twelfth grade irrelevant. It doesn’t.

“What it does do is reward students who have done well through eleventh grade with early admission and with money. Not bad rewards. And getting one’s house in order – getting good grades, gaining a sense of what you may want to do in college or life is also a reward in itself.

“There is an expectation by many hopeful educators – and I think they are correct – that if students do a good job through the end of the eleventh grade, they will want to keep up that good work through twelfth grade, and not let their senior year become irrelevant.

“What worries me,” said Napier who’s tracked and been a part of college admissions for 30 years, “is the stepped up recruiting of students in high school and that colleges are fast becoming salesman, and sooner or later there will become the truth in advertising issues from colleges.

“Generally, I like any program which gives students more options and more time to enjoy their senior year and fewer days and weeks of the agony of waiting to hear if and when they will be accepted. And these programs are early action programs. They demand no commitment on the part of the students; they simply offer an option and an early notification for those students who have worked hard to do well and to have developed some sense of direction,” said Napier.

Gargano said the First Choice program at UMass was also expected to increase the number of applicants, and in turn allow the university to be “a bit more selective in admitting the freshman class, and clearly our objective is to raise the academic profile of the student body.

“As students get into the start of their senior year, a growing number have already made a decision about where to apply. The First Choice program will reduce family anxiety. It will also allow us the same competitive advantage as other leading universities,” Gargano said.

So what’s this all mean to you to freshmen, sophomores and juniors?  It means you should get on the college trail as soon as you can, because there’s much to sort out.

As my friend Allen Compagno likes to say, the molecules are moving a whole lot faster today than they were a year ago. There are lots of good programs that colleges are offering, but it takes time to discover whether what is offered is truly good for you.

UMass’ First Choice program might present an ideal opportunity for some of you. And if it is, you want to be certain that you know long before the start of senior year that you will have satisfied all of the required courses and SAT II requirements.

Because more and more schools are offering additional benefits to students who apply early, I want students to grasp the importance of freshmen grades and to visit schools early so that by the start of senior year, they know where they want to go.

Edward B. Fiske and Bruce G. Hammond, authors of The Fiske Guide to College noted, “Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Life is full of them, but nowhere are deadlines more important than in college admissions.”

Fiske, education editor of the New York Times for 17 years and one of the more knowledgeable people on the college front, encourages students to take charge of the college search.

When students do take charge of the search, he notes, parents stop nagging and the anxiety drops.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com