2020 NACAC Virtual Conference Recap

This week Mutara had the opportunity to exhibit and present at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Virtual conference.  This was a first time I participated with this community and found it extremely informative.  As expected, the overall theme was COVID-19 and how institutions are coping and planning.

I wanted to share 3 areas of disruption in college admissions that jumped out at me.

  • How students are choosing their colleges
  • How information about prospective students is captured in an application
  • The impact of "test optional" and Pass/Fail grading

How students are choosing their colleges

Three of the sessions I attended described how the dynamics in students has been changing in how they research and decide on colleges:

In each of these sessions, the presenters described the trend of moving away from in-person visits and meetings as well as an increase in the number of students who are deferring attending college.

Here are a few other items of note:

  • Personal outreach from admissions counselors has an increasing impact on admissions result, specifically emails and phone calls.
  • Schools are increasing their use of social media engagement with success.  For example, there is a 92% increase in Instagram and a 111% increase in twitter use related to admissions over the past year.
  • 40% of survey respondents transfer in some way from one school to another
  • Students are making fewer visits to colleges and successful schools have strong virtually college fairs.  This is especially important for recruiting internationally.
  • Students are applying to fewer colleges.  For example, almost 20% of students applied to one school.
  • Cost and location are an increasing factor in decisions.  80% of students viewed cost as a very significant factor (versus 50% in the prior year)

Changes in capturing application data

The CommonApp organization highlighted a number of changes they're researching for future changes to reflect the changing dynamic in the information schools need from their applicants.

Since 1975, when the first application was created, the breadth of organizations utilizing the common app has increased.  Additionally, there has been a shift to being more customer-focused by institutions when asking information from candidates.  As such, the following considerations are driving this analysis:

  • Is this information required?  If so, how is it used?
  • Is there a way to better explain how the information will be used if it will cause concern by the candidate?
  • Is the question posed in a manner that's inclusive of the candidate's identity and life experiences?

With this in mind, the CommonApp is investigating the following questions (or question areas) for future modification.

  • Citizenship: Although citizenship is needed to appropriately handle compliance and support services, being able to describe how this information is used will help candidates who are part of DACA or may be undocumented.
  • Gender Expression: Currently, the options are binary and not inclusive of how many people identify.
  • Family: Currently, the question assumes the standard nuclear family unit.  
  • Religious Preference:  Although often used to help match candidates to scholarships, it can cause issues and is rarely imported into the student information system.
  • Military Discharge Status: Again, something that can be misinterpreted in terms of how it would be used.
  • Disciplinary History:  This question can cause challenges in getting more diverse students to apply.  This is because certain minorities are significantly more likely to have suspensions and other disciplinary items on their record.  Many school districts are refusing to provide this information to universities as well.

The impact of "test optional" and pass/fail grading

The session "Reimagining the Application Review Process" was one of my favorite presentations at the conference.  In the session, the presenters described how their institutions were adapting to the realities of reviewing the applications of high school students graduating during the pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, the metrics most relied upon for evaluating candidates are not readily available:

  • Missing grades:  due to the rapid change in how courses are taught (and tested), most schools have gone to pass/fail grading for some or all courses.
  • Test optional:  in a similar manner, many institutions are making standardized tests optional in evaluating candidates.
  • Activities:  many activities such as sports, clubs, and scouting have been cancelled.

Therefore, institutions are counting on other means of evaluating candidates:

  • Interviews
  • Recommendations (which often includes recommendations for more than just counselors and teachers to get additional depth)
  • Pop-up Question prompt video.  This is a new technique where a candidate is given a prompt and two minutes to record their answer.  It gives the admissions counselor an understanding of how the candidate thinks as it can't be too highly scripted.

One of the panelists (from Bowdoin College) indicated that her school has been test optional since 1969 and felt that they haven't missed the standardized tests (and several members of the panel indicated they hoped that their school stayed test optional.

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