Much has changed in the admissions field in the last ten years. Applicant pools have increased at many colleges, in some cases dramatically, not only because of an upswing in the college-bound high-school population but also because of the phenomenon of submitting larger numbers of applications. Coaching for the SATs and the ACT has reached new levels of sophistication. Independent educational consultants who advise students on a fee basis are now commonplace almost everywhere. And a cottage industry of service providers, from graphic designers, to marketing consultants, to video producers, is blossoming in every corner of the country.
Of all the new wrinkles in college admissions, though, e-admissions is both the newest and potentially the most profound.
What is e-admissions? Broadly, e-admissions encompasses those aspects of the admissions process that have been influenced by the advent of the Internet. While students and their families still talk with counselors, friends, and relatives during their college search, they turn increasingly to the World Wide Web. There they find not only the web sites of almost every college and university in the United States (and even many abroad) but also countless "matching" services. To use these matching services, students enter data about themselves, which is then matched with data provided by colleges, yielding — at least in theory — a list of suitable colleges.
While Kenyon's admissions office still receives thousands of letters and telephone calls requesting information, we now receive more information requests via e-mail. Even before many of these students request information, they have visited our web site to learn more about the College.
When the application deadline approaches, do students still panic, stay up late into the night polishing their essays and wracking their brains for one more way of letting us know why we ought to admit them? Yes. And do they then rush to the post office to make sure the postmark matches the deadline date? Not necessarily. Rather than rushing to the post office, in many cases they can simply press the "send" button on their computers to speed their online application to the colleges of the dreams.
How have these innovations affected college admissions? Prospective students have immediate access to much more information on colleges than ever before. Many web sites contain everything traditionally found in catalogs and viewbooks, as well as thousands of additional pages of information. On the Kenyon web site, prospective students can listen to the Chamber Singers, keep track of the construction of the new natural-sciences buildings on "Chem Cam," peruse the Collegian and other publications, play with molecular models, read about (and sometimes hear and watch) student projects, and even check the notoriously fickle weather in Gambier.
For better and worse, e-admissions removes the information filter of the admissions staff. By searching the directories we provide, prospective students can locate and, using e-mail, correspond with friends who attend. They can communicate directly with faculty members via e-mail and ask about courses, facilities, and postgraduates plans of their majors.
That doesn't mean admissions officers are exempt from electronic relationships, though; indeed, we welcome them. E-mail, list-serves and chat rooms, all of which allow for direct links with students, are regularly used by admissions staffers to create more personal lines of communications with prospective students.
Who benefits from e-admissions? Students and their families, certainly. They are more knowledgeable about colleges. The on-line searches, while not flawless, do help students find colleges that fit their interests, including ones whose names they had not previously heard. Requests for information are handled quickly. And international students now have a much easier time of getting college information and completing an application.
On-line applications are easy to complete, and they are a blessing for those students who, like me, have nearly illegible handwriting — and poor spelling skills. They also remove some of the drudgery and redundancy of filling out applications. Furthermore, they ensure that students no longer are tied to the unpredictability of the postal service.
Colleges and universities are beneficiaries as well. We can get our message out to students we miss when we use more traditional communication strategies. Employing the full capabilities of the web, we can demonstrate our distinctive features. And information can be kept current; we don't have to wait until the next publication cycle to update information.
As e-commerce and "dot-com" companies have permanently changed the way businesses operate, so, too, has e-admissions reshaped the way higher education — and its clients — conduct the college-admissions process. The challenge to keep up, to know what is happening in the field, to evaluate the myriad opportunities that spring up seemingly daily can be daunting (as can the cost). But it is also very exciting. College admissions will never be what it was even a few years ago, and we think that is, by and large, a good thing.