Without travel, usual criteria, college admissions teams mulling approach

As college admissions counselors look toward the fall semester, it has become clear that the traditional methods used to recruit and evaluate high school students may be of little use—potentially leaving low-income and students of color in the lurch. Inside Higher Ed notes that a growing number of school districts are announcing online-only or hybrid reopenings for the near term, separating students from their high school counselors and leaving college admissions teams unable to recruit in person. 

Rethinking recruitment

Whereas some universities would typically visit hundreds of high schools in the fall to educate students about their offerings, they are now pivoting to digital outreach, hosting virtual events and creating online workshops to engage and support families. Aimee Kahn-Foss, director of admission at Agnes Scott College, told Inside Higher Ed that the college is making an effort to support “students from diverse backgrounds during this difficult time and understand the significant challenges they are facing.” 

Virtual recruitment, Kahn-Foss says, is giving the college’s admissions team an opportunity to “reach out to students who might be missed in our travel and recruitment efforts.” Recognizing that students and parents likely have less support from counselors in the current moment, the college also is providing general admissions information and financial aid tips via workshops and virtual events that include students in areas the college can’t generally reach.

Prioritizing holistic evaluations

The way recruiters evaluate students is poised to shift drastically, as well. “We have to put our traditional rubrics to the side” and review candidates in context, says Kristin R. Tichenor, the new vice president for enrollment at Wentworth Institute of Technology. That means admissions teams are paying attention to the growing digital divide and making efforts to be more flexible in their evaluations. With standardized testing sessions canceled due to the global pandemic, many institutions have adopted test-optional policies; others recognize that many high schools adopted pass-fail grading systems in the spring, challenging admissions teams to look at high school students’ applications holistically.  

“Institutions are also aware that traditional measures will not yield results that are consistent across schools or students, and will not be comparable to previous years,” David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told Inside Higher Ed. “We anticipate that institutions will adapt admission requirements… Flexibility will be a key ingredient, particularly at large universities.”

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