Online Applications Create Barriers for Low-income College Applicants

Making college applications easier increases all students’ access to higher education, right?

Not so fast. Motivated by selectivity—a trait demonstrated by percentage of applicants admitted and used in college rankings like U.S. News & World Report—schools want to attract as many applicants as possible. But yield—the percentage of students who accept an admissions offer—is just as important as selectivity. Expected yield determines school budgets, and miscalculations can be devastating.

With more than 700 universities and colleges now connecting their application processes through the online Common App, students can apply to more schools than ever, which means they are receiving more offers they won’t accept. The result for schools is a decreased yield.

To avoid admitting students who won’t accept offers, schools have turned to tracking demonstrated interest—the likelihood a student will actually enroll. Visiting the campus, attending information sessions, and even liking the school on Facebook all count toward a student’s demonstrated interest, boosting a student’s chances of being offered admission.

The downside is that such visits and access to universities and colleges are more achievable for middle- and upper-income students who can afford to travel. These students can also afford to be “in the know” by hiring private admissions counselors who help them navigate the complexities of the applications process.

Lower-income students are less able to afford demonstrated interest and may be unable to commit to a school during the early decision period, when they are still waiting to compare financial aid packages from other schools. Consequently, these students are missing out on admissions offers from many top-tier schools.

Universities and colleges have the power to rectify this problem by decreasing marketing efforts to students they will never accept, but they must first resist the lure of selectivity.

Read the full story of How the Internet Wrecked College Admissions

Adelia Humme

Adelia Humme

Previously an academic adviser at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, Adelia has contributed her editorial skills to The Eckleburg Project, Redivider, and Texas A&M University Press. She recently moved from Texas to Boston to pursue a master's degree in publishing & writing at Emerson College. She devotes her free time to reading fantasy novels and spoiling cats.