It’s Time to Make College Admissions Less Exclusionary

It’s Time to Make College Admissions Less Exclusionary

Having worked in education for the entirety of my career, I’ve occupied many different seats at the table, from Public school teacher to Chief Learning Officer, from an admission officer to a partner for higher education marketing and enrollment services. But perhaps the most challenging and revealing role I have played has been that of a parent.

The College Admissions Process Is Complex, Confusing, and Emotional

My son, the youngest of my three children, went through the college application and admissions process this year. That process is complex, confusing, and emotional—even for someone like me who knows higher education and understands its nuances. As I’ve watched his journey unfold, it has reinforced many things for me: among them, the exclusionary nature of college admissions. 

Applying to college is a defining time in many young people’s lives—and not always in a positive way. There is an implicit understanding among college applicants that their worth is being weighed and measured. Schools’ decisions are binary—you’re either in or out—and there’s a distinct lack of instructive or helpful feedback to soften the blow of rejection. 

For young people who have poured their hearts and souls into their college applications, a rejection letter often feels judgmental, a negative assessment of who they are. 

When I sat down to think about this year in higher education, my biggest takeaway came not from the work I’ve done professionally but from my personal experience: If the college admissions process is difficult for someone like me who is deeply familiar with the system, how much harder and more stressful it is for families who aren’t privy to the intricacies of higher education?

Overcoming Higher Education’s Image Problem

It’s not a stretch to suggest that the logistical and emotional friction associated with college admissions contributes to people’s increasing distrust of higher education institutions and mounting questions about whether college is still a worthwhile investment. 

I understand why people are asking this question, but I’m certainly not ready to give up on the promise of higher ed. Instead, I look around and see many opportunities to help higher education overcome its recent image problem and embrace inclusion over exclusion. Here are just a few:

Direct admissions 

Many schools across the country are testing the concept of direct admissions to grow enrollments. Companies like Niche, Concourse, and even the Common Application are piloting programs that have admitted thousands of students in a “flipped model” where colleges solicit students based on their profiles instead of the other way around.

Direct admissions are essentially the antithesis of the exclusionary admissions process integral to elite colleges’ and universities’ brand value in that they make higher education accessible to anyone.

Compassionate reenrollment 

While need-based financial aid is available to students, it’s no secret that millions of Americans attend college without earning a degree or other credentials to help them pay off the student loan debt they accumulate. 

Compassionate reenrollment strategies give students who have stopped out or dropped out the opportunity to complete their degree—and colleges the opportunity to capture hot leads waiting for a chance to reenroll.

Non-traditional programs 

If you asked me ten years ago if a 4-year degree is more valuable than a microcredential, I’d say, “Absolutely.” Today, the answer isn’t so obvious. It depends on a person’s individual situation.

Pursuing a traditional college education isn’t necessarily the right pathway to adulthood for many adolescents graduating from high school, and schools will need to think outside the box to maintain steady enrollments amid an impending demographic cliff

Colleges and universities could benefit from offering non-traditional options like prior learning assessment (PLA), microcredentials, and dual enrollment programs that make college more accessible to young people—and more appealing from a cost and efficiency standpoint.

There Is No “Right” Path Forward for Adolescents 

There are many different pathways to adulthood, and there is no “right” one. Our own kids remind me of this truth. We have one daughter who chose not to attend college out of high school, one who just finished a 4+1 bachelor’s and master’s program, and our son, who is just beginning the college admissions journey. They are each succeeding in their own way. 

The more higher education can continue to demystify the college admissions process, provide deeper transparency, and offer pathways for students to find the best fit for them, the more likely they are to improve their image, earn the trust of their communities, and remain relevant for the long term.

If you’re ready to develop higher education marketing strategies that meet young people where they are, let’s connect.