THE BLOG

March Madness for College Admissions Decisions

Mar 13, 2013 | Updated May 13, 2013

Throughout March I empathize with nervous high school seniors and their families as they await college admissions decisions. The seniors have dedicated so much time and effort into their high school experiences, their decisions of where to apply, and their actual applications. The waiting process naturally causes feelings of extreme doubt and stress.

Yet unlike basketball's March Madness with its set schedules and championship Monday, the college notification process is unpredictable and complex. Thirty years ago as I waited for my decisions, there was only one method of notification -- snail mail. That waiting process nearly leveled my parents and me as we rushed to the mailbox every day looking for thick (happy) or thin (unhappy) envelopes.

With the advent of various technologies, notifications now vary dramatically and make the waiting process even more agonizing. High school seniors must now wade through a myriad of college admissions portals, processes, usernames, and passwords -- often facing more than one portal for an individual college. Keeping track of all their applications and notifications is incredibly complicated. Some students learn about acceptances via emails. Others must check onto a college portal at a certain time or receive information about decisions via the postal service (thick and thin envelopes still exist).

Sadly, few colleges even post on their websites the actual time and date of their actual releases of decisions. Of course, many colleges notify students over time without one release date. Yet even then, notification of that process would be ideal. One senior I know just found out she has been waitlisted from a one of her top choice colleges after a friend told her to check her portal. She learned that the college's decision had been there for 10 days and never received an email to check. She could have used that time to prepare a waitlist response and perhaps a new visit to that college.

Fortunately some colleges effectively use technology to announce the exact time and date of their simultaneous decision release methods -- (cleverly often on the eve of their spring breaks).

For example, two weeks ago, MIT announced its upcoming simultaneous release of decisions -- online at 6.28 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Thursday, March 14, International Pi day. MIT's decisions may ironically turn thousands of kids away from Pi, but not from its notification process. MIT emailed all applicants of its notification plan and posted the exact notification time on its website -- well in advance of the release time. Thankfully, after the average high school day ends, all MIT applicants -- whether accepted, waitlisted, or rejected -- can learn their fate.

The worst occurs when individual colleges do not release decisions at the same time. One college consistently sends out acceptances via snail mail first and then follows a day or two later with rejections. Seniors painfully watch their classmates and friends get in before they receive their rejections -- a process that is palpable and unnecessary.

Technology does not cure this notification process. I spent an awful Friday afternoon last week as a senior watched as students around the country posted their acceptances to one particular college on Twitter and on a new Class of 2017 Facebook page. The college emailed acceptances out first and a few hours later, its rejections. After a few hours of hopeful waiting, the senior knew she had been rejected before the email rejection arrived in her inbox.

It would be ideal if the National Association for College Admission Counseling and other college advocacy groups would encourage colleges to develop a unified method of communicating decisions to students. The waiting process is hard enough without the stress of making sure students don't miss admissions decisions or find out through a process of elimination.

Technology offers us this possibility. MIT and other colleges that use simultaneous notifications and make it clear how and when decisions will be made save so many students and their families from the unnecessary pain of finding out via the process of elimination.

Thank goodness colleges use the same MAY 1st intent to register day. Deciding where to attend is equally confusing for many students and their families, but at least the acceptance deadline is clear. May the same thing happen soon to reduce March Madness for college admissions decisions. We would rather watch college basketball.