By Jesse Collier. Updated May 2017.
Already committed to a school, submitted financial aid, went through the big decision, only to find out that another school on your list actually wanted you?
For many students in the US and Canada, the month of May signifies a ritual passing from high school to college or university. It’s a time full of anxious waiting, heartfelt longing, and sometimes disappointment when a first-choice school doesn’t come through.
But what if some schools who rejected students offered them discounts to attend, after the students had already accepted another school?
Notable schools such as Hampshire College, Elizabethtown College, Washington and Jefferson College, and Lawrence University among others, have taken to snagging students after they had already made their choice to attend somewhere else.
For most students, this is a troubling time. They have already talked to their family, arranged travel and financial aid, and posted their decisions on social media.
Past May, students have most likely already visited the school they will attend in the fall and have built up a giddy excitement to finally set off on their own path.
This year however, schools have been sending students emails and messages with incentives such as higher financial aid to get them to come to the school. Talk about dangling a carrot in front of their face.
For some students, this is a dream come true. They can finally afford their first choice school.
For others though, it means making a difficult decision again. Should they back out if they already accepted a different school? Will they be able to afford this school even with higher financial aid?
With a new decision comes hard choices and long conversations for the parents as well, as more costs and longer travel times may be deciding factors. Parents are repeatedly being put under pressure to front at least some of the costs for their child’s education. Even in wealthier families there is more and more guilty discussion in front of their student about how paying for their school will be a burden.
This issue raises some ethical concerns as well. Are schools allowed to swing discounts on students who have already accepted another school?
While some schools with more lenient discount policies can toe the line and still get away with it, to more larger schools, it just feels like an old-fashioned highway robbery.
However, some schools do maintain wait lists and don’t just accept people later on in the summer if they applied to general admission but not the wait list. If the school deems that they can admit more people, they will usually check the wait list first along with the qualifications of each student.
Yet receiving emails out of the blue is still disconcerting, even if there was a chance to be admitted from the wait list for another school. For all the preparation that students and parents go through, including taking multiple tests and exams, visiting the campus, and figuring out financial aid, it can sometimes be for naught.
Schools do acknowledge the burden that this can place on families. In a statement from Ursinus College in Collegeville Pennsylvania, Dave Tobias, vice president and dean for enrollment management, says, “I don’t think anyone that sits in the seat that I sit in is twiddling their fingers behind the scenes like Mr. Burns from ‘The Simpsons’, saying Ha ha ha, we get to do this”.
Instead, some schools feel the need to get competitive with other schools. After May, most students have sent in their deposits which may not be enough to cover the school’s budget. Even if it is, some schools wrestle with not meeting their full capacity, so they try to bring in more students.
In complying with National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) ethical rules, schools are not supposed to “knowingly” offer more financial aid without a student’s approval. Yet what constitutes a school “knowing” about a student’s admissions status?
One prevalent strategy seems like common sense. If a school reaches out to students after the deadlines, the students probably shouldn’t say that they’re not going to that school. This would mean that they would still be eligible for possible discounts from the school.
What do you think about this issue? Do schools have a right to send discounts after deadlines have passed, thus snagging committed students from other schools? Or are schools stepping over the ethical boundaries and being unfair to families? Voice your opinion below!
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