What Students and Colleges Should Know

More than 250 admissions deans issue statement valuing self-care and family care — and urging students to share the context to understand their situations.

June 30, 2020

The college admissions cycle that is (slowly) finishing for students entering in the fall has been unlike anything admissions officers have seen before. With campuses empty, colleges had to recruit admitted applicants without being able to do anything in person. A further complication was that most students applied before the pandemic but were asked to commit to a college as coronavirus spread. One way or another, the process is coming a close over the summer.

But as unusual as this year has been, admissions officials are gearing up for one that may be more challenging. In the upcoming cycle, some students will still be studying online, some students physically in their high schools and some in a combination of the two. They will be looking at colleges in every state of operation — with some planning for classes in person, some not and some planning for a combination. Students’ families have been suffering as well — from the health impacts of COVID-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic and the recession.

As a result, more than 250 admissions deans (and the number is growing) have come together with the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to issue “Care Counts in Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19.”

In the document, the admissions officials attempt to reassure students — and themselves — about what’s really important this year.

The first item mentioned in the statement is self-care.

Self-care is of high importance, especially in times of crisis,” the deans write. “We recognize that many students, economically struggling and facing losses and hardships of many kinds, are simply seeking to get by. We also recognize that this time is stressful and demanding for a wide range of students for many different reasons. We encourage all students to be gentle with themselves during this time.”

Next is academic work, but with reference to what students may not be able to do. “We will assess your academic achievements in the context of these obstacles. In addition, we will assess your academic achievements mainly based on your academic performance before and after this pandemic. No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests (although many of the colleges represented here don’t require these tests) or their inability to visit campus. We will also view students in the context of the curriculum, academic resources, and supports available to them.”

Then the deans turn to service. They endorse the idea of serving those in need but are realistic about possibilities for students in stress. They conclude by saying, “No student will be disadvantaged during this time who is not in a position to provide these contributions. We will review these students for admissions in terms of other aspects of their applications.”

The deans also care about families. “Many students may be supervising younger siblings, for example, or caring for sick relatives or working to provide family income, and we recognize that these responsibilities may have increased during these times,” they write. “We view substantial family contributions as very important, and we encourage students to report them in their applications. It will only positively impact the review of their application.”

And the deans conclude with extracurricular activities. “No student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities during this time. We also understand that many plans for summer have been impacted by this pandemic and students will not be disadvantaged for lost possibilities for involvement,” they write. “Potential internship opportunities, summer jobs, camp experiences, classes, and other types of meaningful engagement have been cancelled or altered. We have never had specific expectations for any one type of extracurricular activities or summer experience and realize that each student’s circumstances allow for different opportunities.”

There are signatories from every Ivy League institution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago; from leading liberal arts colleges such as Bowdoin, Carleton, Colorado, Davidson, Haverford, Swarthmore and Williams Colleges; and from public research universities like the University of Arizona, Colorado at Boulder, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Texas at Austin.

E. Whitney Soule, senior vice president and dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin, said via email that the statement aims to help students.

“Without COVID-19, there is already plenty of anxiety churning for students preparing to apply to college. There’s the anxiety around which courses and how many, which tests and how many, which activities and should they be broad or deep?” said Soule. “And all of those questions swirl around an anxious exercise of trying to estimate and maximize chances of admission. For many students, the interference of COVID-19 doesn’t interrupt that anxiety circuit, it powers it. The point of this deans’ statement is to explicitly state that we understand, that we already apply context to our review, and that we will apply flexibility to meet that context in application review. I hope that our written statement is reassuring and can reduce anxiety.”

Rachelle Hernandez, senior vice provost for enrollment management and student success at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “We don’t want students worrying that limitations to their activities, or other opportunities due to the pandemic, will negatively impact them or our consideration of their application. We hope the statement is encouraging to high school students and their families, and importantly conveys that we value the many ways that students are continuing to prepare for their futures, despite the challenges of the pandemic, by successfully completing their coursework, taking care of themselves, and helping their families or volunteering in their communities.”

Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions and student financial services at MIT, said, “I signed the deans’ statement because I believe that the most important thing for students to do right now is to take care of themselves and those around them, and not to overworry about how this will all affect their college application. Collaborative statements may have more impact than individual voices.”

Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer in education at Harvard University, who helped coordinate the effort, said it was intended “to help students and parents who were unclear about what was expected” and also admissions leaders themselves. “They have statements about self-care in their websites but want to state what it means.”

To Weissbourd, the biggest thematic item out of the statement was about context. “We’re not trying to create a pandemic service Olympics,” he said. “But we want students to talk about themselves,” and that includes things like caring for family members who are sick or lost their jobs. Students have been taught not to reveal such information, he said.

The real question, he said, is whether different students will be admitted than would have been otherwise. “I don’t know,” he said.


excerpts from article by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

By now, most independent educational consultants (IECs) who work with college bound students have heard that NACAC has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that eliminates several provisions of the NACAC SPGP. The DOJ argued that some of these rules—those requiring colleges to restrict recruitment efforts—constituted collusion or restrained trade.

Many IECA members have asked for guidance on what they might expect or “what to tell client families” so they are not blind-sided as the rules that colleges have followed for years become relaxed. I think there are two specific bits of information IECs and families should know:

1. Colleges for years have agreed to a universal response date, the date by which students would commit to a college for the fall. Colleges had agreed to rules that prohibited them from trying to “poach” a student who had made a commitment elsewhere. Meaning, colleges would not pursue a student who committed to attend elsewhere, including a prohibition of incentives to change their mind (like a last-minute bump in financial aid).

This rule will end. So, what will happen? We really don’t know. Most organizations, like the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and IECA believe most colleges will, at least initially, voluntarily keep to this rule. Yet we know that any college that fails to achieve enrollment numbers may feel compelled to recruit past a student’s personal decision or beyond the May 1 deadline. Like the proverbial leak in the dam, what we don’t know is if a few colleges pursuing students will result in an all-out effort to recruit already committed students.

We also don’t know yet if colleges will take actions proactively to protect students that commit. For example, I predict that deposits may well increase from the hundreds to a thousand dollars or more, all to make it less likely that students will casually accept offers late in the year with a new pursuer, post-commitment. Likewise, housing deposits and fees could increase. Thus, while some colleges may pursue students who have committed elsewhere, other colleges may work to make a student think hard before making an expensive decision to change their commitment.

Other questions will be left to IECs to consider. If colleges can seek to recruit students who have already deposited, will our advice that students may not double deposit or admonitions that once you accept you must withdraw applications elsewhere, still be valid? Will this lead to a “second season” of admission where students are free to negotiate for their best deal?

2. The second area that the Justice Department secured a change was in recruitment of students applying under a binding “Early Decision.” The rule had been that colleges could not use special incentives to entice students to apply early—and commit—since this was binding. For example, colleges were precluded from using special Early Decision scholarships, or early decision priority for dorms or classes.

These rules, too, are now gone. Colleges may begin to offer incentives to apply under a binding ED, and there are signs that colleges are exploring this. Again, we hope that such incentives don’t become widespread, but I suspect it will happen. We know that Early Decision is a serious commitment, and as such, a decision should be done upon thoughtful and careful planning with an IEC when there is a clear first choice, not merely because an incentive is put on the table.

Once again, IECs will have to ponder the advice they give to students. Such incentives could become one more variable to consider in the process.


US News & World Report publishes great article about choosing a College Consultant

U.S. News & World Report Homepage

What to Look For When Hiring a College Consultant

A consultant should help reduce anxiety for parents and students during the college admissions process.

By Josh Moody, Reporter April 4, 2019, at 11:43 a.m.

OPERATION VARSITY Blues, as the FBI dubbed it, is the college admissions scandal heard around the world.

The alleged bribery scheme to help the children of wealthy parents get into elite institutions ensnared Hollywood actresses, business moguls and college coaches accused of helping rig the system by creating a “side door” into schools, circumventing the normal admissions process. Working with an independent college counselor, parents allegedly tried to gain an edge by having students admitted as athletes – despite not playing sports – and changing their standardized test scores.

Now the scandal has cast college consulting in a negative light, prompting some professionals to call for a recommitment to ethics in the industry.

“This is an unfortunate example of the lengths to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, particularly to gain admission to highly selective colleges,” Stefanie Niles, National Association for College Admission Counseling president and vice president for enrollment and communications at Ohio Wesleyan University, said in a news release.

The scandal prompted similar criticism from others in the space. American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers Executive Director Michael Reilly said in a statement, “This behavior compromises the integrity of college admissions and reinforces stereotypes that people of privilege can circumvent the rules. It undermines public confidence in our institutions.”

As its moment in the spotlight arrives, the college consulting industry is booming both domestically and internationally.

Data from the Independent Educational Consultant Association, a nonprofit professional organization, show a 400 percent increase in domestic independent educational consultants since 2005. In that same time, the number of international consultants grew by 1,000 percent.

To Mark Sklarow, IECA chief executive officer, this is the most explosive scandal he’s seen in the admissions world since he began working with the nonprofit 25 years ago. The actions taken by the educational consultant at the center of the Varsity Blues case are in direct contrast to IECA ethics, which specifically bar admission guarantees and emphasize truthful, accurate application materials.

“We want to make sure that if a family hires a member of our association, that they’re really knowledgeable, well trained, ethical, competent, all the things that you would expect,” Sklarow says. He adds that in the absence of state licensure for independent educational consultants, IECA has adopted that role of arbiter, setting standards and practices.

For parents planning to hire an independent educational consultant, Sklarow has advice on what to look for…  link to the article  https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-04-04/what-to-look-for-when-hiring-a-college-consultant

College Visits

With private school tuition’s continually on the rise, more and more families are exploring public-school options.  As we visit these schools, I will share my thoughts.

Visit to Rutgers Main Campus  – New Brunswick, NJ
April 2018

Size: approx. 32K undergrad
Tuition: Mid $20K in-state – low $40K out-of-state
Selectivity:  SAT Range M 600-720 R/W 590-680

First Impressions. We were greeted by a friendly group of students, admissions staff, professors and homemade sugar cookies shaped like R’s in the visit center upon arrival. We listened to a short overview of the university and then heard from a panel of students and professors. We were then brought around to the five sub campus locations that make up the main campus on a bus lead by a student ambassador. Here are the highlights and my impressions.

Five campuses all in one. Rutgers New Brunswick is made up of five distinct campuses. There is a busing system that runs regularly throughout all of the campuses. It is an easy walk on walk off system that students seem to quickly acclimate to. Each campus has its own dorms, dining hall, students center, and library.  Incoming students can choose which campus they wish to reside on and usually get one of their top two choices. While they are separate and have their unique identities, all students have access to all five campuses during their time at Rutgers. Here is a brief description of the five campuses copied from Rutgers Literature and Rutgers website.

Busch: The campus is home to the High Point Solutions Stadium and provides a high-tech and suburban atmosphere focusing on academic areas primarily related to the natural sciences; Physics, Engineering, Mathematics & Statistics, Pharmacy, Chemistry, Geology, Biology and Psychology.

College Avenue: This campus includes the historic block known as Old Queens campus. It is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and theaters in downtown New Brunswick, as well as the NJ Transit train station which provides easy access to New York and Philadelphia.

Cook: Farms, gardens, and research centers are found on the George H. Cook Campus, including the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (formerly Cook College), the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers Gardens, and the Center for Advanced Food Technology.

Douglass: This campus shares its campus with Cook. The campus has many stately buildings with traditional architecture. Douglass Campus is home to the Douglass Residential College for women and has four women’s-only housing options.

Livingston: Livingston Campus is home to many of the social science departments and the Rutgers Business School. The Louis Brown Athletic Center (commonly known as “the RAC”), the student-founded Livingston Theater, and the Rutgers Ecological Preserve are also found here.

Well spoken and focused student panel and ambassadors. The students who we met during our visit were impressive in their articulate communication of their ideas, their participation in many programs/clubs/internships and their overall demeanor and school spirit.

Committed and compassionate faculty panel. The faculty were very informative and down to earth. They all seemed to get the large size of the student body and the large campus and spoke of several resources for incoming freshman and beyond to help students to integrate with the community at Rutgers and thrive academically.

Internships. Rutgers has a wide range of academic programs and with its proximity to NYC by train on campus it offers students some great internship possibilities. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson, which is located right next to campus provides a variety of internship opportunities.

Tradition. With its roots linking back to 1766, Rutgers is deep in history and tradition. It has many traditions like Rutgers Day, Midnight Breakfast hosted by professors, and Division 1 sports that give the big school a sense of community. Certainly, worth a visit!