More colleges offering admission to students who never applied

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Direct admission, as it’s often called, allows colleges to send students offers based only on their GPA or a few other criteria, such as essays, letters of recommendation, and intended major or geographic location without the hassle of months of uncertainty.

More than 85% of four-year schools admit at least half of their applicants, federal data show. They are just those candidates who jump through the first hoops. Participants say the goal of direct admission is to make the process less burdensome, show low-income and first-generation students that college is within reach, and make more prospects available to institutions desperate to meet enrollment targets.

“Right now there needs to be some redistribution of the power dynamic from colleges to families,” said Luke Schurman, chief executive and founder of Niche.com Inc., which offers profiles and ratings of hundreds of thousands of schools and cities. Niche ran a direct-admission program with two colleges last spring and is now working with 14.

Within the past year, the Common Application, private-college scholarship program SAGE Scholars, State of Minnesota and Concourse—purchased in September by enrollment-management consulting firm EAB—have launched or expanded direct-admission programs in conjunction with colleges or universities. .

For most, the process is fairly straightforward: Students who want to learn more about the college, or who are particularly interested in joining the direct-admission pool, register on a website with basic information such as biographical information and GPA and areas of academic interest. Most students don’t know which schools are even participating. The platform then screens the students based on the criteria requested by the schools and after coordinating with the schools, sends admission offers.

The 30 questions on the Niche website take about half an hour to complete, Mr. Schurman said.

After running its screens, Niche first notifies eligible students who have expressed interest in a school, for example, by opting to receive mailings—they might accept an offer. The next students they reach may have shown interest in similar schools.

Claire Gabor was only considering large public schools near her home in Portland, Ore., until an email in February with the logos of Maryland’s Niche and Mount St. Mary’s universities swayed her from that path. “Congratulations, Claire!” It was written in part. “You are being offered admission for the fall semester of 2022 based on your niche profile. No application is required.”

“My first question was, ‘Is this true?'” said Ms. Gaber, now 19. “Then I read it.”

After campus visits, talks with the rugby coach and a $25,000 annual scholarship that brings it under the total cost of Oregon’s state universities, he’s now a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s.

Under this model, a student’s file only goes into the official applicant pool if they accept the school’s decision and agree to further contact. Then it is up to the school to wake up the student.

“The dating metaphor, you can’t avoid it,” says Joe Morrison, founder of EAB’s Concourse platform, comparing the process to swiping right on an app.

Concourse’s Greenlight Match began last year as a pilot with 10 colleges focused on low-income and first-generation students in Chicago, primarily through community-based organizations. It now has more than 70 partners on the domestic front, including Auburn University and Southern Methodist University.

So far, the colleges participating in the direct admission test include public and private institutions, both small and large. A few more selective schools say they have begun discussions about signing up, at least for students interested in specific academic subjects or for international students.

“Any project, opportunity, initiative that helps remove friction from students interested in going to college is something that comes up on my radar,” said Jordana Mazierz, director of graduate admissions at Montclair State University in New Jersey, which is working with the Common Application and EAB. “Why do we have to make it so difficult for them?”

Last year the Common Application offered spots to about 3,000 candidates based on Montclair State’s GPA criteria. Thirty-one submitted deposits and 27 actually enrolled.

Miguel Popoca Flores, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, said he didn’t realize he had so many options until learning about Minnesota’s direct-admission program. Based on his GPA, he was guaranteed admission to schools including the University of Minnesota Duluth, Dunwoody College of Technology and Minnesota State University, Mankato.

He’s still applying to others, but if they don’t pan out, “you always have this college as a backup,” he said. “You are not stuck in limbo.”

The University of Augsburg in Minnesota is participating in direct-admission pilots with the Common Application and the state of Minnesota, and has cut its own application to an average of seven minutes to complete.

Almost all applicants with an unweighted GPA of at least 2.75 are admitted. Online offer letters with guaranteed scholarship details arrive within days.

According to Robert Gould, vice president of strategic enrollment management, Augsburg has already connected with 184 students through the Minnesota pilot, about half of whom weren’t on the school’s radar. And as of November 7, it had received 1,581 applications through the Common Application and its website, up 44% from the same period a year earlier. It admitted 1,094 of them.

The path to direct admission can actually be longer for some students, as several schools that have been flagged for accreditation still require applications to be completed. Critics warn that this could intimidate prospects and undermine the goal of simplifying the process.

SAGE Scholars, a tuition-award program for private colleges, now offers what founder James Johnston likens to a mortgage pre-approval—subject to verification, and potentially more paperwork, if schools so choose.

More than 30 schools signed up for its “FastTrak” program this fall.

Goldie-Become College in Delaware has about 700 undergraduates and was overwhelmed to see 4,333 students qualify for admission through FastTrack, based on a 2.5 GPA threshold.

Administrators limited the pool based on geography and academic interest, bringing the automatic admissions field down to 434.

Larry Eby, executive director of institutional advancement, said even a small gain from FastTrack would count as a success.

“If we have an enrolled student from this, it’s something we haven’t had before,” he said.

(This story appeared from a wire agency feed without text changes.)

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