Mary L. Churchill, Associate Dean, Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement and Professor of the Practice, Boston University
For students and families who are considering college, a relatively new option for admission is gaining popularity. In addition to the long-standing regular admissions process, and various options for early admission decisions, is something called “direct admission.”
The Conversation asked Mary Churchill, a scholar of higher education administration at Boston University, to explain what direct admission is and how it works.
What is direct admission?
In direct admission, soon-to-be high school graduates can be accepted into a college or university without having to submit an application.
This often happens during a student’s senior year of high school, but some colleges make these offers during junior year.
Direct admission is one of several strategies colleges and universities use to make it easier for high school graduates to go to college. They are also hoping it can help reverse a trend of declining higher education enrollment in the U.S.
Applying to college can take a lot of money and time and requires students to figure out the college application process, which can sometimes be complex. The fear of rejection also discourages some people from applying.
With direct admission, this fear of rejection is removed because qualified students receive an acceptance letter from a college without needing to apply.
One university’s explanation of the direct admission process.
How can students qualify?
In some cases, all a student has to do is graduate from high school. In other cases, students have to achieve a certain GPA or score on the ACT or SAT.
Students don’t typically know that they have qualified until they receive an acceptance letter. Many community colleges are charged with offering educational opportunities to any member of the public. So they will often directly admit all students who successfully graduate from a given high school or district. Other colleges are more selective and may admit all graduates with grades or standardized testing scores above a minimum target.
In some states, all students who graduate from a public high school are offered admission to a set of public colleges and universities. Idaho was the first to do this, in 2015.
What are the benefits for colleges?
One of the biggest advantages is they get more direct access to the students the college wants to attract, which can be different for every college. Often the most desirable students are top scholars, people from a particular geographic area or some combination of demographic attributes, like racial or ethnic background and family economic status.
This enables colleges to reach more students than they would if they only did high school visits and college fairs, or direct marketing to students.
In addition, the college has an opportunity to reach potential students who are from more demographically diverse backgrounds than their usual applicants.
For example, colleges can target schools that have a lot of students from a particular group that is underrepresented on campus and that the college hopes to attract – and offer direct admissions to all the students in a graduating class.
If a college wanted to enroll more male students, it could offer direct admissions to all-boys high schools. If it wanted to enroll more Black and Latino boys, it could offer direct admissions to all-boys high schools with larger populations of Black and Latino students.
What are the benefits for students?
Direct admission does not require students or their families to fill out an application or pay application fees. Of course, students who accept their admission must complete paperwork and pay tuition and other costs associated with enrolling – but they need not do anything to receive an admission letter from the college.
When an unexpected welcome letter arrives from a well-known college, it can help students who didn’t see college in their future begin to envision themselves as college students.
Some colleges target students for direct admission even earlier than their junior years, because they know that students often decide whether they want to go to college or not as early as middle school.
Evidence shows that direct admission programs lead to more students admitted to colleges, and more students attending.
When Idaho launched its statewide direct admissions program in 2015, overall college enrollment grew by about 8%.
Is this the future of college admissions?
For colleges that are nonselective, the answer is yes.
Direct admission is a relatively inexpensive way for an individual college, or an entire state, to make college opportunities more clearly available to more students. Colleges can get the attention of their ideal student populations.
As direct admission becomes more common, colleges – especially community colleges – will likely need additional staff and money to handle the large-scale influx of admissions.
Some institutions are even partnering with education management companies, such as Concourse, Sage Solutions and The Common Application. These colleges may be able to spend less on marketing and recruitment over time. But initially, they will need to spend more to process students admitted directly.
Students may find themselves receiving admission letters from colleges they’ve never applied to – and perhaps never even heard of. This may lead students to turn more to guidance counselors to help them decide which direct admission offers to accept based on a school’s cost, academic programs and other factors.