Fear and Uncertainty Can Lead to Bad Behavior on All Sides

At the same time that many families are in a state of high anxiety over the competition to get into college, admissions staffs at the majority of colleges are worried about enrolling enough freshmen.

According to the recently released 2017 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors,  only 34% of colleges had met their fall enrollment goals by the May 1 deadline for students to accept an offer of admission.

If a college is significantly short of its enrollment target, it will have to make budget cuts because of the loss in tuition revenue. Colleges that don’t have large endowments and are very dependent on tuition are especially vulnerable to fluctuations in enrollment. Nobody wants to lose faculty and staff, and every college will be working hard to meet enrollment targets this year.

Admissions offices at many colleges are likely to be dealing with enrollment pressures for a while. In many parts of the country, the number of high school seniors has peaked, and for the next few years, there may be fewer students applying to college. International recruiting has become more important as colleges seek to broaden the applicant pool.

Families are no longer so willing to take on big loans for expensive colleges, and this has impacted private colleges as well as nonresident enrollment at some public universities. Some schools are trying to reassure families worried about the costs going up every year by guaranteeing that tuition will remain the same for four years. However, additional fees as well as residence hall and meal plan costs can still increase each year.

Fear and desperation can bring out the worst in people. When students feel the pressure of competition for college admission, they sometimes resort to exaggerating or fabricating their achievements. Some students even have someone else write their application essays.

Admission offices are not immune to the temptation to cheat. There have been cases of colleges reporting higher average SAT scores to the US News rankings, and it’s would not be surprising to learn that other schools have engaged in this practice.

In recent years, as fear of competition and the desire to compare costs motivates students to apply to more colleges, it has been increasingly difficult for colleges to predict how many students will accept an offer of admission. There have been reports of admissions directors recruiting students who had already committed to other schools. Doing this after the May 1 decision deadline is a violation of NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice, and the fact that it happens is a sign of how desperate some schools are to meet their enrollment targets.

While some colleges may be engaging in unethical behavior, that doesn’t mean students get a pass to violate the rules. If knowing that you have conducted yourself honorably is not enough motivation to complete your applications in an ethical manner, be aware that dishonesty could jeopardize your admission. Some colleges may ask for proof of your community service hours or extracurricular activities, especially if the hours you claim on the application seem excessive. Admissions officers will be suspicious if the “voice” or the quality of writing in an application essay is not consistent with the essay you wrote as part of the SAT or ACT, or does not seem to match your academic performance in English classes. Parents who are tempted to provide too much help with essays should know that admissions officers are quite capable of recognizing essays that were written by 45-year-olds.

It can be challenging to stay on an ethical path, especially when other people, and institutions, may stray from that path. But applications that are authentic stand out, and there’s nothing better than getting an acceptance from a college and knowing you earned it.

Success Stories

  • Mary Ann D., Thousand Oaks
    "I just wanted to let you know how much Bill and I have appreciated your assistance to and guidance of Ariel in the admissions process. We are thrilled that she has chosen University of Puget Sound. I really feel that it embodies what we visualized for her as we were filling out your questionnaire 9 months ago. Most importantly she is thrilled with it."
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