Despite App Increases, Colleges Worry About Enrolling Enough Students

Even when colleges meet their enrollment targets by the May 1 notification deadline, admissions deans worry about summer melt, which occurs when students who submitted enrollment deposits decide over the summer not to attend the college. This happens because students who are admitted to another college from a waitlist cancel their enrollment at the school where they submitted a deposit. Also contributing to summer melt is the practice of sending enrollment deposits to more than one college. Despite the fact that double depositing is not allowed and can result in both colleges withdrawing an offer of admission, more families may be doing it, which means colleges will lose additional students who have promised to enroll.

Summer melt lowers a school’s yield (the number of accepted students who enroll) and adds to the challenge of meeting enrollment goals. Too few students mean not enough tuition dollars to meet the college’s expenses. While the most elite schools will easily fill in any gaps by admitting students from their waitlists, less selective schools may have a more difficult time meeting enrollment goals.

Applications were up at many schools this year, but the number of high school students graduating high school and applying to college was not expected to be higher. The increase in applications was more likely a result of students worried about the competition for admission and about their ability to pay for college. These students applied to more schools so that they would be sure to have choices and could compare financial aid and scholarship offers.

When students submit more applications, they will need to turn down a lot of admission offers, so that even though a college saw an increase in applications, it can end up with fewer incoming students. The pressure to maintain or improve their yield has led admissions staff to reach out to newly admitted students early and often to get students to make a commitment, and concern about summer melt may lead some schools to look for more ways to keep students emotionally invested in attending the school.

A number of colleges end up accepting applications after May 1. Admissions deans at these schools hope to fill their remaining slots over the coming weeks with additional freshman and transfer students. For students who were not admitted to any colleges, or who are not happy with their college choices, being able to submit additional applications means they still have options if they want to attend a four-year college this year. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conducts a Space Availability Survey each year, and in early May families can check the list of four-year colleges still accepting applications for the fall term. While you won’t see any Ivies on the list, there are many fine schools that have openings. While financial aid may be limited at some schools, many indicate that they do still have financial aid available to students. Some of the schools are open to transfer but not freshman students. As students shift from one college to another, some schools will be added to the list and others will disappear over the summer. Students who are interested in applying should contact colleges directly, as admissions offices will have the most up-to-date information about space availability and application procedures.

Efforts to increase yield and avoid summer melt are likely to continue next year. Some colleges are paying more attention to demonstrated interest as a way to gauge the likelihood that a student will enroll if admitted. If you haven’t visited a college or attended a local information session, and don’t put the effort into preparing an application that communicates a real understanding of what the school has to offer and why you would be a good match, you could find yourself waitlisted at colleges that will accept students who may have less impressive grades and test scores but who seem more likely to enroll.

That doesn’t mean you should feign interest in schools you really don’t care about. Instead, take time to research and choose your colleges carefully, so that you can prepare an authentic application for each school. Rather than applying to 15 or more colleges, limit your applications to those that you really know and are excited about. You will have a less stressful and more satisfying college application process.

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