Students, parents and enrollment professionals are in for significant changes to the college admissions process. Whether they shake things up temporarily and call for adjustments or have far-reaching implications, it is important to wrap our heads around the new rules/changes to cut through the confusion and respond strategically.
1. The New SAT
The revamped SAT, administered for the first time in March, has won bouquets and brickbats. The changes have been incorporated for better alignment with actual school work, and in their student survey, the College Board has concluded that test takers have responded positively to the new test. A CNN report cites a survey by Kaplan Test Prep that found that despite the new SAT resembling the ACT in some ways, many more students who hadn’t previously considered the ACT are now rethinking their decision. Is it partly because the ACT, which has remained unchanged for several years, is now more attractive simply because students can leverage its well-established best practices and quality practice materials?
It may very well be, because teachers and tutors are still absorbing the new configurations, and it will take a while for them to modify their approach in line with the changes. The restructuring has had colleges and universities scrambling to make sense of the implications. Parents and school counselors are also anxious to understand how the new scores work and what versions will colleges use. Better engagement by policymakers with colleges and universities, proactive communication on how the test is going to be interpreted by admissions committees and test preparation options can go a long way in clearing confusions and making judicious decisions.
2. Prior-Prior Year
There will be two major changes to FAFSA starting from the 2017-2018 cycle. FAFSA applicants will be required to report the prior year’s income information; that is, for the 2016-2017 school year, students would have to submit information for 2015. The FAFSA will be available from October 1 of the previous year as opposed to January 1 of the upcoming school year.
The changes do offer some advantages. For one, they allow better alignment between the financial aid application process and the college application process. For another, you no longer have to estimate income information.
However, the changes also introduce problems for colleges and students. In the first year of implementation, for instance, new deadlines will see recruitment officers dealing with back-to-back student recruitment seasons. Colleges may rush students into making commitments earlier than they usually do.
In Illinois, state grant programs are suspended for 40-60 days after the FAFSA becomes available. Colleges will need to stress on financial aid application deadlines and have students submit FAFSA before applying for admission. Budget cycles may also make it difficult for some colleges to announce aid packages earlier than others, thereby affecting their competitiveness.
3. Blocking access to FAFSA position
When students file their FAFSA online, they can list up to 10 colleges that they’re partial to, in order of preference. Some colleges use this information in their admission and financial aid decisions. A new rule blocks this access.
What the rule has done is make it difficult for state agencies to estimate expenses of grant programs in a flexible way. So, while the rule aims to help students by eliminating colleges’ ability to improve their yield ‘dishonestly’, it can actually end up hurting students because agencies now have limited insights to project funds and may use less optimal or more stringent ways for financial estimation.
Pop Quiz: What is yield?
Yield in college admissions is the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after having been offered admission. All colleges love having a high yield.
4. SNT expansion
Simplified Needs Testing (SNT) will be expanded to students who’re eligible for Medicaid. In certain circumstances, the Federal Need Analysis Methodology uses SNT to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This simplified formula ignores assets, thereby increasing eligibility for financial aid. An applicant qualifies for the SNT if the parents have an adjusted gross income of less than $50,000 and every family member was eligible to file an IRS Form 1040A or 1040EZ (or wasn’t required to file a Federal income tax return). However, Medicaid expansion over the past couple of years leaves some room for the possibility that policymakers may adopt a more conservative stance on financial aid at the national level.
Enrollment professionals must raise their voices on policies that may mean well but not be as productive or beneficial as envisioned. By leading discussions on important changes that affect students, parents, colleges and all stakeholders in the admissions process, enrollment officers can effect positive change