Paying for College

Feedback from NACAC

NACAC (pronounced "NAH-kak" or, by some, "NAY-kak") stands for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. NACAC's mission:

The National Association for College Admission Counseling will support and advance the work of counseling and enrollment professionals as they help all students realize their full educational potential, with particular emphasis on the transition to postsecondary education. NACAC is committed to promoting high professional standards that foster ethical and social responsibility.


Jeff Wendt, of Today's Campus Online, recently interviewed Joyce Smith, NACAC's Executive Director. As the interview's introduction notes, Joyce has been involved in college admissions since 1976, and she's been employed on numerous college and university campuses.  Now she watches the high-school-to-college-pipeline for 11,000 admissions practitioners at high schools and colleges.

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So, here are Joyce's answers to eight of Jeff's questions about today's college admissions scene:

What changes did the present economy introduce for 2009-10 admissions?

Uncertainty ruled among families and counselors.  And admissions offices developed tactics to deal with uncertainty.  For example, to shore up their incoming freshman classes, many schools accepted more applicants than usual.  They also offered larger grant aid packages - and offered them to more students.  Many of those tactics took place in mid-process.  It was a year more stressful than most.

What additional economy-related changes do you foresee for 2010-11?

Families and high school counselors report that colleges have applied unusual pressure to obtain commitments from students well in advance of the May 1 national candidates reply date.  Since May 1st many wait-listed families have complained about pressure they've been receiving to make quick decisions on subsequent offers.  We've asked our college members to take care of their wait lists as early in the summer as possible.  However, uncertainty about 'summer melt' is higher than usual.

In what parts of the U.S. are there increasing numbers of college applicants?

According to NCES and WICHE the primary growth states today are Texas, California and Florida.  Meanwhile, any students who are willing and able to travel can find many alternatives throughout the United States.

Is the angst about college admissions among shoppers a given, or is it something that should be reduced or eliminated by admissions practitioners?

Yes, angst is a given.  Going to college is a life-changing opportunity that involves many decisions being made for the first time, including the possibility of rejection.  Many schools cannot accept all who want to attend there.  But many admissions practitioners feel that making admissions as paperless as possible has reduced some of the stress and anxiety.

How might some of the angst be reduced?

As a lead or prospect, a potential freshman feels like he or she is being courted.  Then he or she is flooded with promotional and marketing material in a variety of media.  Then, inevitably a growing number of schools reject many of them.  It's an expectations roller coaster with an unhappy ending for too many.

Which American parents are hiring professional admissions counselors?

Among our members are 400 independent counselors.  Many of them are former college admissions or financial aid officers.   They are hired by a range of parents, not just the rich and famous.  Their clients include parents whose children attend high schools where counselors face workload challenges.  They also serve families where the parents lack familiarity with the admissions process.  I've noted that the children of campus admissions counselors are often assisted by independents, because their teenage children don't want to listen to mom or dad who's in the business.

What admissions office consequences have resulted from an ever-increasing number of apps submitted by college shoppers?

More staff.  Longer reading periods.  Tighter turnaround periods.  More rejections.  More uncertainty.

How might the translation of sticker price into out-of-pocket cost be made simpler for shoppers?

In 2008-09 the U.S. government spent $18.3 billion delivering Pell Grants to 6.2 million students.  In 2010-11 that is expected to be $32 billion and 8.4 million students.  While someone helps a student or family complete the FAFSA, the translation of sticker price to out-of-pocket cost can be made crystal clear.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.