bullInside Higher Ed, one of higher education’s leading news outlets, recently conducted a nationwide survey of college admission directors. The newly-released results are shocking, and reveal a profession entirely different than that portrayed in popular media. Instead of sifting through an excess of qualified applicants, most admissions officers will spend this fall trying unsuccessfully to meet their enrollment goals, as the supply of quality higher education continues to outpace (eligible) student demand. Consider the following findings:

— More than 60 percent of admissions directors surveyed in 2014 had not filled their respective classes by the traditional May 1 notification deadline.

— More than 30 percent of admission directors spent the spring and summer of 2014 recruiting students who had already committed to attending other colleges—a practice that is effectively banned by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

— Nearly 80 percent of admission directors are moderately-to-very concerned about meeting enrollment goals for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle.

Although the above findings inspire fear among every college administrator outside of the Ivy League, they should have the opposite effect on college applicants and convey a few admission-related truths:

1. The application process does not end in November.

The rise of Early Decision, Early Action, and priority/VIP applications does not indicate a more competitive admissions process wherein applying early is a must; it reflects an increasingly competitive and desperate four-year college sector that is willing to adopt almost every strategy under the sun to increase applications and enrollment yield. Trust us, time is on your side. Although meeting a November deadline can offer very modest advantages at a few select “Early Decision” colleges, using the months of December and January to solidify your college preferences and improve your applications is perfectly appropriate, even encouraged, given that the overwhelming majority of institutions need to accept students meeting their admissions criteria, regardless of whether they apply by the early or regular decision deadline.

2. There is a lot of money to be won.

In an effort to boost attendance and meet enrollment targets, many colleges have devoted an increasing share of their budgets to attracting desirable students via the offering of merit-based (i.e. non-need-based) financial aid. Using merit scholarships to lure high-achieving or high-scoring students can improve a college’s ranking and eventually its desirability, ultimately fueling enrollment. And because “high-achieving” and “desirable” are relative terms, you don’t have to be an academic superstar to earn merit money. A number of reputable schools now offer sizable merit awards to “B” students. Please see our post on winning merit aid to learn more.

3. If you’re a good high school student, you can attend a great college.

There were many outstanding institutions that failed to meet their enrollment goals in 2014, and each was recruiting good (not necessarily great) students well into the summer. Here are a few:

Beloit College
Drexel University
Eckerd College
Juniata College
Knox College
Lake Forest College
Lewis & Clark College
Mills College
New College of Florida
St. Mary’s College (MD)
University of Arizona
University of Maryland, College Park

This list and the survey highlighted above offer indisputable evidence that higher education is indeed a buyer’s market. This fact should compel students to adopt an admission strategy that is based on confidence, rather than worry, and take comfort in the fact that any applicant with an open mind and decent transcript can attend an excellent college at an affordable price.

Andrew Belasco
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.