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What's The Rush? Thoughts On Releasing Admissions Decisions

By Bari Norman

July 20, 2006 (JOURNAL OF COLLEGE ADMISSION) -- As this year's wave of admission decisions are released, I find myself asking students a new knee-jerk "first question" after they tell me they've been admitted (or not). "How'd you find out?" I ask. It's a sign of our times.

Was the decision sent via email (Columbia University, NY)? Was an email sent saying to check your updated status online (University of Michigan)? Did you get a phone call (Arizona State University, AZ)? Were you given a PIN number in advance, and then told to check your status after a specific date and time (University of Pennsylvania)? Maybe, possibly, did you get an old-fashioned letter via snail mail (Barnard College, NY)?

No doubt, we live in the information age. Our students expect information instantaneously. They grew up with the conveniences-and inconveniences-of computers and electronic mail.

I wonder if this is a good thing. Does it make our students quicker to act on their own behalves? Are they quicker thinkers than kids in previous years? Are they more motivated to get things done in a timely manner than kids I've counseled before? Or does it make them more demanding when they're on the receiving end of things? Maybe I shouldn't say this out loud, but I think it's the latter.

Let me be clear. I love the kids I counsel. It's at the heart of what drew me to and keeps me in this sometimes crazy profession of ours. With that said, my students don't strike me as very different from their peers who graduated 10 or 15 years ago. As a group, they wait until the last minute to complete their applications. They don't give me their counselor and teacher recommendation forms for each school they're applying to. They ask for recommendations a week before they're due. They forget to write their Social Security Number at the top of forms. They ask for things with little lead time because they expect things quickly. But they don't do things quickly. They're teenagers.

So when I see colleges rushing to get decisions out quicker, I think, "For what?" These Early Decision kids, in particular, are enrolling in the fall, if they're accepted. And will the few days, give or take, really make a difference? I don't mean to sound dated or old-fashioned. I like a lot of the newly-introduced admission technologies. In fact, I may be email's biggest fan. Despite some reservations, I fully support the introduction of online applications. Still, I lament the emphasis on instant gratification and the loss of human contact in college admission, college counseling.

Nothing's perfect, I know. With the pros of technological innovation come the cons. Still, as admission offices discuss their marketing and communications plans for next year, I hope they'll think about the message they're really sending as they release admission decisions to high school students across the country-either electronically or by regular mail.

"I like a lot of the newly-introduced admission technologies. In fact, I may be email's biggest fan. Despite some reservations, I fully support the introduction of online applications. Still, I lament the emphasis on instant gratification and the loss of human contact in college admission, college counseling."

BARI MELTZER NORMAN, Ph.D. is an educational consultant. She has worked on both sides of the admission desk-as an admission counselor at Barnard College (NY) and as a high school guidance counselor. She earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and her B.A. from Barnard College (NY).

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