Davis & Elkins College is a small institution (just over 700 students) in a beautiful part of West Virginia, surrounded by the Allegheny Highlands. Like most colleges, it admits most who apply. This year, the college admitted about 700 students out of 975 applicants, aiming for a class of 250 to 300.

In the fall, the college plans to consider some students who have not applied for admission at all. These will be students who have created profiles through Sage Scholars, which has offered a service since 1995 to help students pay for their education. This year, in addition to showcasing students colleges might want to recruit to apply, Sage will also be offering some of its hundreds of members the ability to view profiles (which will contain the interests, grades, and test scores of students who have them) and admit students directly.

Rosemary M. Thomas, executive vice president of Davis & Elkins, said, “I think it’s a great way for students to explore all kinds of options. One thing will be missing: “They won’t get a rejection letter. It takes away the fear of failure. »

By creating a profile, “you just say, ‘I’m interested in college.'”

Thomas said she might consider admitting 25 to 30 students this way in the first year of the program, and more later. She doesn’t think it will totally replace traditional admissions — Davis & Elkins will likely keep that for West Virginia residents. As Thomas said, the college is known in the state but not very well known outside. The college will be looking for profiles of students who say they want to study in West Virginia or a similar environment, or those who enjoy learning outdoors, or who want one of Davis & Elkins’ college programs (even s they probably won’t have heard of college).

Sage Scholars expects approximately 40-50 colleges to participate in the program in the first year. James B. Johnston, the president of Sage, said he does not plan to charge students to participate, nor colleges. It does not charge any group to participate in its recruitment and scholarship programs. The money for the 700,000 students in its database comes from businesses. Employers pay to offer Sage as a benefit to all employees to help their children apply to colleges. Financial organizations are also joining, for customers. Johnston says that means his pool of students (not all of whom are high school seniors) therefore has a feature that many colleges seek: they are able to pay for all or a significant portion of their college education. It expects this to be a major selling point for its 450 member colleges.

These are private colleges, but most admit a large percentage of their applicants. But the group as a whole includes Rollins College, Center College, Loyola University of New Orleans and the University of Rochester. This does not include the Ivy League or similar institutions.

“Most of these colleges admit a huge percentage of those who actually apply,” Johnston said. Ultimately, he said his message for colleges was “why are you putting them through all this shit?”

sage and contest

Sage isn’t the only player seeking to drastically change admissions by scrapping applications.

Concourse is a company that started with international students, but last year broke into the US student market, focusing on Chicago. In the United States, it has focused on low-income students. Next year, it will expand to seven regions: New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta (while keeping Chicago). In each of these areas, Concourse will identify colleges that serve low-income students and college advisors who will certify the accuracy of what students put in their profiles.

Joe Morrison, CEO of Concourse, said he hadn’t heard of Sage’s new effort, but “in general, I support any organization that simplifies and streamlines the college admissions process for students, regardless of regardless of their demographic I believe that proactive admissions is an idea whose time has come, so I won’t be surprised to see other organizations follow in our footsteps.

The main differences between Concourse and Sage are the socio-economic status of the students and the fact that the colleges participating in Sage are all private.

But both approaches challenge this traditional way that admissions has worked.

David Hawkins, director of education and policy for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, said he hasn’t heard of Sage’s new efforts. But he said he thought it was natural.

“The entry of additional players into a more student-centric method of ‘applying’ to college seems inevitable given that the pandemic has spurred new ways of thinking to reach voters and customers across the economy,” he said by email. “In the context of college admissions, our members are thinking more critically about how best to serve students and meet institutional needs, including re-engineering processes to facilitate a more efficient way to match supply and demand for higher education.

NACAC is currently considering changing the admissions process to make it fairer and will convene a panel to review the changes.

‘Absolutely comfortable’

Steven M. Corey, president of Olivet College in Michigan, which plans to participate, said the demographics of its applicant pool and enrolled students show the breadth of potential for Sage’s idea. Despite Sage’s focus on wealthier applicants, more than half of Olivet students are eligible for Pell grants, and more than half are first-generation.

“I’m absolutely comfortable with this approach,” he said.

In fact, Corey said he was very much in favor of rolling consideration for college admission in high schools. If a student took (and passed) certain college preparatory courses, he could see colleges saying that students would automatically be admitted.

Robert Oliva, assistant vice president for enrollment management at St. Francis College, New York, said he was awaiting program details from Sage, but was keen to participate.

Oliva said he views the application process as more about building relationships with students than about admitting students per se. (The college admitted 3,480 of the 4,200 who applied to be freshmen in the fall.)

He said he saw Sage’s idea as one that would allow St. Francis to work with students earlier in the school year, and he sees that as a plus.

Unsurprisingly, colleges that have particularly good admissions years (with the traditional system) are less interested in the alternatives. Duquesne University, for its part, is coming off a banner year for admissions.

Joel Bauman, senior vice president for enrollment management, said via email that he would be more comfortable with a “pre-admission” decision rather than an admissions decision. Students could be informed that they are likely to be admitted if everything is checked and they continue to do at least as well as they did before. But he would like this assurance.

Still, Bauman said, “I am generally in favor of alternative and more transparent systems to promote such pre-college and college behavior support programs.” He added, “I think the ice has been broken by such programs with an unofficial nod to talent identification programs, programs that identify, recruit and train candidates to prepare for admission. in the best schools, Questbridge and Posse for example, and now these programs can open it up to other populations like the broad category of the middle class not oriented towards the very selective groups of institutions.

Public relations

Richard Ekman, former president of the Council of Independent Colleges, recently joined Sage’s board, and he thinks the idea will work. But he cautions not to expect dramatic changes in the first year.

“I think a lot of colleges have a hard time admitting how open their admissions selections really are. For these colleges, the pre-admissions approach may have some advantages by simplifying the process for students and families who we know are often confused,” he said. “Often it is first-generation, low-income students who are eagerly sought after by colleges, but who can easily be left behind and not complete and submit their applications for admission.”

He said Sage’s approach is “prudent”, in that it “will start with a small number of institutions where the college and Sage have a history of mutual support. “

Ekman added, “The downside, of course, is that colleges generally like to brag about the selectivity of their admissions processes. It will take careful public relations for a college and Sage to portray this move in a way that prevents others from calling it a lowering of standards.