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Key ways to transform the college admissions process

Harder doesn’t always equal better—the college admissions process should be easier and more accessible
By Joe Morrison, Founder and CEO, Concourse
March 18th, 2021

Harder doesn’t always equal better—the college admissions process should be easier and more accessible

The lasting impact of the pandemic on higher education is undeniable. The number of high school graduates going straight to college decreased by 22 percent this fall, and higher ed lost about 400,000 students in the US. An upside to the challenges of the pandemic is the catalyst for change, and the ability to innovate and update long-standing processes.

For decades, the college admissions process has been way too complicated, time-consuming, and stressful. Higher education institutions are bureaucratic and slow to change, often adding more requirements to their applications and asking students to jump through hoops to be admitted. Ivy League schools take pride in their low acceptance rates, and the admissions process demoralizes those students who don’t get selected to their top schools. Simplifying the process would benefit students and universities alike.

The College Board recently announced that it is getting rid of the SAT Subject Tests and Essay, and the list of universities that are test-optional is growing daily. This is a step in the right direction, but so much more needs to change.

Here are some ideas driving college admissions reform:

Higher education should be accessible to all students. Every student should have access to the same kind of care and attention across the board in regard to university admissions, not just the select few who can afford extra support and resources, such as paid college counselors, and private college prep tutoring. The university admission process should be painless, simple, and universally available to students who need help finding and accessing the right university programs based on their academic interests, qualifications, and budget.

Universities need to modernize how they recruit and diversify their international student population. International students have become incredibly important to universities in recent years. But university recruiting has relied on very expensive tactics: travel to in-person events, handing out brochures, and traditional “spammy” marketing. With the pandemic severely limiting travel and budgets, universities can no longer afford to operate like they used to. Because of this, universities have also tended to focus on a few high-value, high-density markets like China. This has created a huge diversity problem, with the majority of international students at many universities all hailing from a single country.

Students should benefit from the vast array of higher educational opportunities around the world. Technology has allowed the world to become truly global. This access to information, goods, and services, and breaking down of borders, should also apply to higher education opportunities. While there are thousands of excellent institutions around the world, most students aren’t aware of all of their options and how to pursue them.

Creating networks of international universities and college counselors that span the globe is a way for universities to access a broader pool of students and make admission and scholarship offers to those with the right combination of admissibility, academic interests, and budget. With this approach, students can discover a wide range of best-fit higher education institutions that they may not have heard of, from multiple countries, with consideration given to their budgetary constraints.

The journey to higher education should be exciting and empowering for students. The onus of matchmaking and admission should be on the counselor and the universities, to alleviate stress on the students. Everyone can and must work together to make the process more flexible and easier for students. Rather than students pursuing universities, what if universities come to the students they want with acceptances? Then a stressful “assessment” process is transformed into an empowering discovery process. Students focus on and explore the universities that want them, rather than wasting time chasing schools that do not.

The college admissions process is ripe for reform, and following are four ways to transform an outdated and one-sided process into a more equitable and empowering one.

1. Simplify and automate. Universities need to create a simple, fast process that is more streamlined with fewer requirements. The pandemic has proven that the once required elements are really not necessary. The application needs to be boiled down to the essential information needed to accurately assess a student. A single standardized profile that takes less than an hour can replace unwieldy applications, essays, and other university-specific requirements.

2. Go global to expand possibilities both for the students and universities. Look beyond borders into other countries. Students can find more opportunities in places they may have never known existed, and universities can diversify their student populations.

3. Take a more personalized, human approach vs. an enrollment funnel model. Every student should get a consultation from a university admissions officer, instead of being treated as a sales lead. Students can first be pre-screened to match with universities they are qualified for, can afford, meet their preferences, and can provide scholarships if needed. This matchmaking can happen before a conversation, so the focus can be on finding the right program of study and ensuring a good fit.

4. Increase collaboration between students and college counselors at high schools and provide more direct access to universities. The more universities can interact with counselors and their students, the more aligned they can be on making the right admissions decisions for everyone.

We have an opportunity this year to truly rethink and re-invent how higher education admissions operates. Shifting the balance of power from the universities to the students would provide more opportunities for higher education for all.

About the Author:

Joe Morrison, a global college admissions expert and technology entrepreneur and business leader, is Founder & CEO of Concourse, an edtech platform focused on increasing access to higher education around the world. He earned his Bachelors in Computer Science / Electrical Engineering at the University of Waterloo and a Masters in Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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