Pulling back the curtain on college admissions

What really matters to college and university decision-makers?

Higher ed leaders join bestselling author Jeff Selingo to discuss Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions 

Admissions is the beginning of every student’s higher ed journey. It’s also the root of many of higher ed’s biggest challenges — from lagging enrollments to issues of inequity. New York Times best-selling author, Jeff Selingo, spent a year embedded in three different admissions offices — a select private university, a leading liberal arts college and a flagship public campus. His goal? To better understand the behind-the-scenes selection process in order to help students, parents and the institutions themselves. 

On Wednesday, March 10, InsideTrack brought author Jeff Selingo together with invited higher ed leaders in a unique online book club setting to discuss his latest book “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions.” Participants came ready to share their questions and engage. Here’s a quick recap of the hot-button topics.

Four key takeaways


 1.  Nobody knows what’s coming next.

As we begin year two under the cloud of COVID-19, higher ed admissions is in a period of transition. Take standardized tests, for example, long a mainstay for college admission. Some schools are making the tests optional, while others are dropping the SAT/ACT test requirement altogether. Is this the beginning of the end of standardized tests? With extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities canceled due to coronavirus, how will a year-long lack of athletic, academic or volunteer pursuits impact the application process? How will merit scholarships play out in a year when more students than ever require financial aid? And with fewer markers to go by, will admission committees be weighing essays more heavily? COVID-19 has created more questions than answers. With change being the only certainty, what’s next is anyone’s guess.

 2.  When key players admit more students, lesser-known schools feel the repercussions.

Well-known schools with a brand are now accepting more students than before. While this is good for them, it’s bad for the lesser-known colleges and universities — schools that counted on a certain number of students being rejected by their first choice. As one admissions leader noted, “How can we get our enrollment numbers when the bigger, branded schools are now accepting a higher number of students.” During the pandemic, when students have to attend classes online or in a hybrid setting, they’re opting to choose the institution with the name brand — the known commodity — trusting that the name is worth their higher ed dollars.  As a result, lesser-known schools are feeling the enrollment heat.

 3.  Student mobility changes course.

Prior to COVID-19, student mobility had been on the rise. Though most students still attend college within 100 miles of their home, the trend had been moving toward greater migration. Then came March 2020. Since then, students are again opting to stick closer to home. Are we seeing a pandemic-caused trend reversal? Will a shift toward selecting schools closer to home help mitigate the demographic patterns we had been seeing? Stay tuned.

 4.  Creatively countering the loss of the on-campus experience for prospective students.

For students, a key to the process of choosing a school is determining whether or not it’s a good fit. One important way schools do that is by getting the prospective student and their family on campus for a first-hand look at what sets that institution apart. This is when they get to tour the school, check out the dorms, catch a game, eat in the dining hall and see what the students are like. Because of COVID-19, campus visits have been shut down or greatly curtailed. So how do you get a feel for campus without actually setting foot on one? Allowing prospective students to take part in an online class, as well as having current students and alumni reach out via call, texts or video chat can add a personal touch to this often isolating time.

Want more insights into how other institutions handle the prospective student inquiry experience? Check out our 2020 report and analysis on student inquiry handling. 

If you’re interested in joining future InsideTrack book club events, let us know!

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