What Is Direct Admission to College?

Your student wants to apply to college. Or maybe your student is thinking about college and wondering whether they will be admitted anywhere. They’re not sure about anything, but they go ahead and fill out the Common Application “just in case.” It’s a good plan.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, one day an email arrives. “Dear _____, We want to let you know that if you apply to our school, you’ll be admitted.”

Wait, what? Your student hasn’t even applied yet. How can they know they’ll be admitted?

Suddenly, they have more confidence. They know they’ll get in somewhere, even if it isn’t their first choice of school. (But maybe it is!) They’ll apply where they know they’ll get in – but they may now also have the confidence to apply to other schools as well. They know they’re college material.

Sound impossible? Sound like fantasy? How could this be?

It’s not fantasy. It’s called Direct Admission.

What is Direct Admission?

Direct Admission is a relatively new admission strategy being employed by a number of colleges to help with national declining enrollment trends and also to increase diversity at their institutions. According to the Common App, it is

“a pilot program that proactively offers qualified students admission to select institutions within their home state. This program aims to help underrepresented students with increased school choice and a sense of security in their application process.”

Colleges in the program make offers of admission – often with financial aid offers attached – to select students based on their Common Application Profile. Forbes magazine describes it as a “flipped system,” something like a pre-approved mortgage.

Your student creates their Profile on the Common Application website, including grades, test scores, their location, interests, intended major and other basic information. Colleges in the program evaluate these profiles and offer admission to selected students who meet their criteria for grades, test scores and high school courses. Students are not obligated to accept the offer made by the school. Interested students do need to apply, but may not be required to complete the entire application process. Some schools allow these “pre-approved” students to skip the supplemental essay, letters of recommendation, or other portions of the application. Colleges may also waive application fees.

Again according to the Common App website,

“The Direct Admission process operates on the idea that college admissions can be a two-way system: students identify schools they are interested in and submit applications traditionally and also institutions identify students who would be successful at their institutions and offer admission early in the application cycle.”

How is the system working and what institutions are participating?

The state of Idaho was one of the first to pilot a program in 2015. That year, first-time undergraduate enrollments increased more than 8%.

Some private companies such as Concourse and Sage Scholars have set up Direct Admission programs. Concourse began with 10 colleges in the Chicago area in 2021 in what they named the Greenlight Match Program. These schools reached out and offered 650 students spots. In 2022, the program included 125 colleges from all over the United States, with more to come. The Sage Scholars program, called FastTrak includes dozens of colleges.

The Common Application piloted its program in 2021. Six participating schools made 18,000 offers with approximately 800 students accepting the offers. This past November (2022) The Common App program included 14 participating schools and reached out to nearly 30,000 students.

Direct Admission programs are generally focused on low-income and first generation students, and are having the largest impact on Black or African American, Latinx and first generation students.

For most schools, Direct Admission is not a one-time event. Admission offers will be ongoing throughout the admission season.

In spite of the large number of offers, according to Colleen Perry Keith, President of Goldey-Beacom College, “We want the students to whom we extend offers to know they have been carefully chosen, and are not just one of thousands who have received offers of the ‘To Whom It May Concern’ variety.”

What does this mean for students and their families?

It is still unclear how this new admission strategy will affect the admissions process in general. Time will tell. The program began with less-selective schools, and although it is broadening across the United States, it will likely never include “elite” institutions. But it is not intended for the population of students applying to those schools.

“Direct admissions is about changing the narrative of a college education from one of scarcity to one of opportunity, by ensuring students know that college opportunity is an abundant resource — and one that’s available to them,” said Jenny Rickard, President & CEO of Common App.

Direct Admission programs hope to boost college enrollment, especially for low-income and diverse students. So far, it appears to be working. According to Diverse Issues in Education, information gathered by the Common Application shows that, “students who received direct admission, particularly students of color, first generation, and low-income students, were three to four times as likely to apply to the admitting institution and sent out more applications overall than the control group which did not receive direct admission.”

Director of Admissions at the University of Minnesota at Crookston, Alyson Leas, stated, “Direct admissions is taking away two obstacles from students. One being those students who have already told themselves they could never get into a college and the second obstacle being having time to complete an application. We in the industry know an application (without essay) can take less than 30 minutes, but students don’t know that. It’s a process that’s been hyped up their entire lives. This system allows them to go from ‘Do I have time to go through an application? Will I even get in?’ to ‘Oh. I’m in.” (Inside Higher Education)

“Oh. I’m in.” There it is. It’s worth creating a Profile. It’s worth asking an institution whether they are participating in a Direct Admission Program.

It’s certainly worth paying attention to an offer if your student receives one.

Related articles:

Five Conversations You and Your Student Should Have As You Begin the College Admission Process

Getting to Know You: 15 Ways to Learn About a College

26 Admission Questions You May Not Have Thought Of

Arrive, Apply . . . Accepted! Consider Instant Decision Days

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