3 Big Takeaways for Students & Parents from the NACAC 2011 Conference

By Sam Coren
StudentAdvisor.com Staff

studentadvisor nacac 2011Every year thousands of people involved in the “front line” of college admissions convene at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) national conference. This year’s conference in New Orleans was NACAC’s largest event to date, with well over 5,000 in attendance.

For the StudentAdvisor team, it was a bit like being thrown into Willy Wonka’s factory. But instead of oompa loompas revealing to us how things are done behind the scenes, it was legions of college admissions folks and counselors. We met so many incredible people and had so many insightful conversations at this year’s NACAC Conference that attempting to rehash them all in a single blog post just wouldn’t do them justice.

After soaking up tons of information over the past 3 days I wanted to pass along what I’ve learned to the people who could use it the most. If you’re a student or the parent of one who’s just getting started with the college search and application process here are some “big takeaways” from NACAC’s 2011 conference that will help you out over the next few months:

1.  Trying to Decide on the Best Fit College? Go With Your Gut

This year’s keynote speaker was Jonah Lehrer, author of the best-selling book, How We Decide. Choosing your best college match is one of the biggest decisions a student will have to make, so Jonah’s findings, based on neuroscience studies, were of high interest to NACAC attendees. But what was most surprising from Jonah’s speech was that those who strive to make the most rational choice on figuring out which college to attend aren’t really being rational at all. At the end of the day, people are most satisfied making complex decisions based on instinct.

Emotions are a powerful thing – trying to cut them out of your college decision making process completely will make you run in circles and struggle with your own indecisiveness. So when you’re mulling over college rankings and taking college tours trying to make up your mind on which schools are the right ones to apply to – ask yourself this: “Will I be happy here?” If the answer is “no” then you’re wasting your time.

dean nacac2011 how we decide2.  College Rankings are Still Very Flawed

For those parents and students out there who are familiar with US News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges rankings, you might not know that NACAC has an Ad Hoc committee dedicated to assessing their accuracy. At this year’s conference they uncovered a slew of issues in the calculation of the rankings and made some recommendations on how they could be improved.

NACAC’s committee recommended that standardized test scores and class rank of the admitted class be canned from the criteria and instead the focus should be on the satisfaction and engagement of current students. After all, it sure does look nice on paper that the best colleges are also the most selective in terms of admissions. However, being in the most selective school with the brightest students doesn’t mean much if all those students are unhappy with their experience. As someone who’s read countless college reviews, I’ll have to agree with the NACAC committee on this one.

The committee has also recommended that the “reputation” factor in the criteria carry a lesser weight. The reputation score, which accounts for almost a quarter of a school’s ranking, is calculated based on surveys sent to college presidents and school counselors. According to NACAC’s report on the rankings, “peer assessments are highly subjective and may be disproportionally influenced by social factors that do not measure institutional quality.”

For more on NACAC’s findings with the US News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges rankings you can read the committee’s full report here.

3.  Beware of “Fast Apps”

One of the biggest trends, and issues, in the college admissions world is the use of fast apps or fast-track apps. For those not familiar with the term, a fast app is an application sent directly from a college to a prospective student with an invitation to apply. Some fast apps might use terms like “VIP”, “Platinum” or “Special” to describe the application while others might be more subtle and not use such buzz words which give the impression of exclusivity. The controversy stems from colleges who are accused of using these in the context of “recruiting to reject” – that is, using these invite-only fast apps to boost their selectivity rating by trying to flood the applicant pool.

If you’re a student and you happen to receive one of these from a school this might cause some serious confusion – especially if you end up getting rejected in the end. So if you happen to get one of these application invites – don’t waste your time and money applying unless you’re serious about the possibility of attending that school. Even if it makes you feel like a “shoe in” or you think it could just be a “safety school” – there’s no guarantee that it’s the right school for you or that you’ll even be accepted.

For more on the issue of fast apps be sure to check out Eric Hoover’s article, The Complexity of ‘Fast Apps’.

Were you at the 2011 NACAC National Conference this year? Share your “big takeaways” for students and parents in the comments!

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