School Admissions & Stealth Applicants

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Schools Face Having to Alter Admissions Process Due to ‘Stealth Applicants’

A growing trend in how students apply to college is changing the landscape of college admissions, forcing admissions offices to rethink the number of students the school needs to admit and, in turn, how the school awards its available federal grants, student loans, work-study, and other limited financial aid funds.

As colleges and universities provide a greater array of Web-based options, more students have begun to research their college choices online and to apply electronically. As a result, many schools have seen an increase in the number of students who don’t follow the traditional admissions path and who fail to show a measurable “demonstrated interest” in enrolling — applicants who forego visiting college campuses or personally contacting the admissions office and whose first interaction with a school is often their electronic application.

These students, known as “stealth applicants,” are throwing off administrators’ estimations of their school’s yield rate — the proportion of accepted students who will ultimately enroll at their institution.

Admissions Formula May Change

This inability of admissions offices to reasonably predict their yield rate in the face of a growing influx of stealth applicants has led many schools to realize they may need to change their admissions formula, according to a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“ ‘Stealth Applicants’ Are Changing the Admissions Equation,” May 2, 2008).

“For colleges that try to bring 100-percent science to the admissions process, it is very disruptive,” said Jeff Rickey, dean of admissions and financial aid at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

Many colleges have begun to see a highly variable yield ratio over the past few years, the timing of which corresponds with the sharp increase in stealth applicants. At Earlham, for example, the yield ratio has fluctuated between 23 percent and 34 percent as the number of stealth applicants among the total applicant pool has jumped from 17 percent to 30 percent in the last four years alone.

Trying to Gauge Stealth Applicants: How Interested Are They?

In a recent Chronicle survey, more than a third of the admissions officials polled said that demonstrated interest was an important factor in admissions decisions. But since stealth applicants come to the admissions-review table with no established history of demonstrated interest, schools have no way of measuring these students’ interest along the “demonstrated interest” spectrum admissions officers have traditionally relied upon.

Are these applicants students who applied on a whim at the last minute? Or are they students who have been researching the school for months online — without the school ever knowing?

With the growing presence of stealth applicants leading to increasingly unpredictable yield ratios, schools are being forced to reconsider how many students they will need to accept each year and how the financial aid office should apportion the school’s limited grants, student loans, and other financial aid funds.

Increased Acceptance Offers Target Enrollment Gaps

To ensure that their annual freshman class has an adequate number of students, many schools are beginning to send out a greater number of acceptance letters. By increasing the number of accepted students, admissions offices are hoping to also increase the number of students who choose to enroll.

But at the same time that colleges and universities are trying to avoid enrollment gaps, schools that pledge to meet 100 percent of students’ determined financial need must ensure that each accepted student is awarded enough grants, college loans, and other financial aid to cover the cost of attendance after her or his family’s contribution.

Schools that gamble on a lower yield rate but end up with more enrollments than anticipated run the risk of having to award more money in federal grants, student loans, and work-study than they have available

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