By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: April 14, 2011

You may have been thinking in the back of your mind that colleges must be reacting in some way to the economic downturn of the last three years. Shrunken endowments that haven’t recovered, horrendous unemployment figures, fewer applicants whose families are able to pay $30,000 - $50,000 annually — factors that must be in play when it comes to admissions.

Recently, Christopher Hooker-Haring, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Muhlenberg College, offered his thoughts on the ‘business’ of college admissions. He put it this way:

“It’s not just a numbers game anymore. Increasingly colleges feel nobody is ‘owed’ admissions.”

That may mean admissions offices more than at any time in recent memory must be attentive to their institution’s need to survive financially. How does that play out for the family standing at the entrance to the college application maze? For one thing, it’s now harder to predict application outcomes.

To assist that family, Hooker-Haring provides these thoughts about coping with the process of admissions:

Real Interest In Attending

Individual students apply to more colleges than ever. Tens of thousands of applications must be sorted and sifted through at larger and/or more popular colleges and universities. Is the applicant really interested in attending a school? Admissions officers have a tougher time discerning the sincerely interested student from the “blanket” applier who sends out multiple apps almost at the click of mouse.

Hook, Line and Sinker

When casting about for colleges, students need to put a sharp hook at the end of the line. What’s yours? A hook means that personal angle, that passion, that substantive interest that a student can demonstrate by means of the application essay, resume, transcript, etc. It may be commitment to a particular hobby, sport, or intense academic focus (complete with associated, follow-on summer programs). Violin, hospice care, Indian dance, DNA research, SCUBA, cake-decorating, debate, creative writing, human physiology. What’s your hook?

Hooker-Haring to juniors: “If you don’t have a passion, you have about six months to get one.”

The Great Divide

Just as the economic disparity among have’s and have-not’s has opened wider in the overall population, so, too, has the financial situation between the most and the least financially endowed colleges and universities. Will there be a shakeout? Will the same programs you sign up for this fall be available three falls from now?

Get ready to ask another set of questions about the schools you’re applying to: “Have there been any layoffs in the past 3 to 4 years” or “Has the college recently dropped any sports or academic programs.” Hooker-Haring indicates that poor levels of maintenance and upkeep could be symptomatic of financial problems. That may even have an effect on financial aid. Could that financial aid which seems cast in concrete actually be more like sand?

In the end, it’s not just a school’s fit for the student — one school among many to which a student applies. The word ‘fit’ may transform itself into commitment: responsiveness, willingness to commit early, potential contributions to campus life, and possibly the ability to pay.

Topics: College Admission


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