Don’t Be Fooled by Priority Applications

Note: I wrote this post about priority applications a year ago, but it’s just as timely now. LO

I received an email yesterday from a friend of mine whose son is a brilliant high school senior. She wanted to know what they should think about invitations her son has received to apply to colleges through VIP or priority applications.

Here is her question:

My son has received approximately 10+ email/print invitations from schools to complete their priority applications. These invitations say there are no essays, no application fees and quick scholarship notification, etc. The schools that I can remember are:

  • Drexel University
  • Rice University
  • Tulane University
  • Fordham University
  • University of Denver
  • University of Tulsa
  • Loyola New Orleans
  • Macalester College
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Colorado School of the Mines

Is this a gimmick to increase their application numbers? Would it be worth filling out the applications (meaning – do you think there is any scholarship money at the end of the tunnel?) I appreciate any thoughts you might have on this matter.

Be Careful!

What my friend has described is a college application that’s referred to in the industry as a fast app or fast application. This is the time of year when high school seniors across the country are receiving these apps whether they are called priority apps, VIP applications or some other names.

Here is how an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education once described these quickie applications:

Many high-school counselors offer colorful descriptions of “fast track” applications, an increasingly popular recruitment tool among colleges. Such applications come with students’ names and other information already filled in. Typically these solicitations also provide other incentives, like waived essay requirements, and promise quick admissions decisions.

For these reasons, some counselors call them “crap apps.” Matthew J. DeGreeff, director of college counseling at the Middlesex School, in Massachusetts, uses a simile instead. “This is like catnip for admissions deans,” he says, “because you can expand the application pool overnight.”

The Motivation Behind VIP Applications

Why are schools making it easy for students to apply?

For starters, it boosts their applications numbers. With the help of outside firms, colleges send out thousands and even tens of thousands of applications that are easier for teenagers to complete than the typical ones.

That’s what Drexel University has been doing, according to another Chronicle article. The school buys hundreds of thousands of names of teenagers who have scored within a certain range on the SAT and then sends them a letter asking if they’d like more information. All the students who respond yes end up getting an VIP application. Can everybody be a VIP?

In contrast, Ursinus College has abandoned its fast application practice (to its credit), which had made the liberal arts college, a red hot school as its applications soared. You can get a better appreciation of the fast-app practice by reading this New York Times article from earlier this year:

A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race

Schools Not That Into You

Just because a student receives one of these applications certainly doesn’t mean the school is interested in him or her.  In some cases, schools use these applications to increase their applications so they can reject more students.  Selectivity, after all, is something that US News’ college rankings care about.

If applicants receive scholarships from a school, it’s not because they completed fast applications. In fact, relying on a fast app might cause a student to overlook talent scholarships that may require an additional application. The easiest way to find out if a school will give a teenager a scholarship is to use its net price calculator.

Bottom Line:

Don’t apply to a school because it appears to like you. Only apply for the right reasons and you won’t get snookered by fast apps.

Application image courtesy of jenni from the block.

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15 Responses to Don’t Be Fooled by Priority Applications

  1. Dan September 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Lynn,

    Is this a crap app (which might be at a variance with your posting @ Ursinus)?

    Received this morning from Ursinus:

    With a 12:1 student to faculty ratio, Ursinus professors are student-centered, working with you side-by-side on research, internships, study abroad, and employment opportunities.

    You will be actively engaged in your studies and gain the preparation you will need for work, professional studies, or graduate school. Eighty-five percent of our graduates one year out of Ursinus report that they are working full-time, in graduate school, or completing a year of fellowship or service.

    When you apply online before December 1, these will be the benefits:

    • The Office of Admission will return a decision within four weeks from the date of your
    completed application.
    • There will be no fee to apply.
    • No separate academic scholarship application will be required, and merit award
    notifications will be sent promptly after the December 1 deadline.
    • Your early action admission decision will be non-binding—if admitted you would not
    be making a commitment to attend Ursinus.
    Please visit the Common Application website to apply, and browse our fall travel schedule to see when we will be in your area. We look forward to reviewing your application.

    Richard Floyd
    Director of Admission

  2. Lisa Ransdell September 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Thank you for this post Lynn. I have become increasingly cynical about techniques used by schools to increase their applicant pools, including yet another permutation of the approach you describe here: admissions counselors actively wooing students who are big question marks in terms of admissibility at the school in question. I find this to be mean, since it falsely inflates student expectations and creates false hope. So not only are schools finding every trick in the book to improve their stats, they are messing with the tender egos of 17 and 18-year olds.

  3. Greta September 26, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    Thank you for the timely post Lynn as I have a senior who received these letters and e-mails recently. I just wanted to comment on 1 of the letters that he did receive! Interestingly, I had researched this school before but it did not make his “apply” list. This school offered a really great merit scholarship that I had forgotten about, and so this school is back on his “apply” list. So for us, my son received 1 great letter, and for that we are grateful!

  4. Susie Watts September 28, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    Thanks for the important post Lynn. Many families are confused by these priority or VIP emails from colleges and don’t know how to react to them. There is always something new in college admissions. I guess that’s why we find college counseling so interesting.

    Susie Watts
    Denver, Colorado

  5. Jill October 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    We got one of those from Tulane but it worked out well. He got in the school and loves it. If we had nor received that fast application, it may not have made his list.

  6. Jennifer October 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Lynn, You are usually quite clear on the difference between financial aid and merit scholarships, so I have to point out that this sentence in your post is not quite accurate:

    “The easiest way to find out if a school will give a teenager a scholarship is to use its net price calculator.”

    In fact, a college’s NPC is helpful in determining the amount of need-based financial aid a student might receive, but it has nothing to do with the amount of merit scholarships that a student could receive. The fast app email from Ursinus that Dan described in a comment above specifies that no separate merit scholarship application is required and sounds like a no-lose proposition for any student with an interest in that college.

    • Golffather June 29, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      Not true. Some NPCs do ask for gpa and test scores and so do factor in merit aid.

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