An increasing number of colleges and universities are experimenting with a new admissions strategy to boost enrollments and increase their student diversity. It’s called direct admissions, a process where colleges make offers of admission – often with financial aid – to students without requiring them to go through a lengthy admissions process first.
It’s frequently described as a flipped system, something like receiving notice of a pre-approved mortgage. Here are the basics. A student first creates and posts a profile, including information like grades, test scores, location, interests and other college-relevant information. Participating colleges then evaluate those individual profiles and extend admission offers without requiring students to go through the hassle of obtaining letters of recommendation, writing an essay, and filling out application forms.
A company named Concourse, founded a few years ago and subsequently acquired in 2022 by EAB, was an early entry into this market. It created an online platform for students to submit their profiles, which are certified by the students’ counselor, a teacher or principal. Universities are then presented with anonymized versions of the profiles that match their criteria, and they decide whether to make proactive offers of admission and financial aid to prospects who meet their criteria.
It costs $75 to create a profile, but that fee can be waived based on student need. Colleges participating with Concourse also waive their application fees. Concourse claims that its student participants receive an average of 5.8 admission offers. If accepted, students are under no obligation to accept the offer.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Concourse started its Greenlight Match program last year as a pilot with 10 colleges focused on low-income and first-generation students in Chicago. It now counts more than 70 partners on the domestic front, including Auburn University and Southern Methodist University.
Overall, Concourse has about 125 colleges making direct admission offers, according to Joe Morrison, its CEO. “And there are many more in the onboarding pipeline, which is growing rapidly,” he said.
Idaho was one of the first states to introduce a direct college admissions program, rolling it out in 2015. Initial evaluations show that it yielded an increase in first-time undergraduate enrollments by more than 8% and in-state student enrollments by almost 12%.
Now other companies and states are jumping into the direct admissions business. For example, the Common Application (Common App) has piloted a direct admissions program since 2021, offering admission to students who created a Common App account and provided enough academic information but had not yet completed all of their open applications.
In the latest version of the pilot, six participating colleges offered admission to 18,000 students; over 800 students accepted the offer. The impact of the pilot was strongest for Black or African American, Latinx, and first-generation students, according to Common App.
This November, Common App launched a third round of its direct admissions pilot, with 14 colleges participating, reaching nearly 30,000 students with direct admission offers.
In fall 2022, SAGE Scholars launched its FastTrak program to match highly-qualified students with colleges and universities that best suit their needs before they apply. By uploading key pieces of information to their student portal, including transcript, GPA, and activities, students are considered for direct admission at dozens of FastTrak colleges.
Niche started a direct admissions project in 2022 with 13 institutions. And in the state of Minnesota, over 50 colleges and universities take part in that state’s version of a direct Admissions program, including a full range of community, technical, tribal, public and private institutions. A full list of participating colleges and universities can be found here.
Although direct admissions began mostly at colleges that accept the majority of their applicants, schools that are more selective in their admissions policies are beginning to take notice and sign up. In the Common App’s 2022-23 pilot, the participating institutions were: Augsburg University, Austin Peay State University, Frostburg State University, George Mason University, Iona University, Kean University, Marymount University, Mercy College, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Stockton University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Utica University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
How much will direct admissions change the college application landscape? Is it a game-changer or a flash in the pan? Will it boost enrollment numbers? Does it offer a potential workaround for achieving student diversity, should, as many experts predict, the Supreme Court decide to end race-conscious admissions? Do students enrolled through direct admissions perform as well in college as those admitted through the normal application process?
Those are all questions yet to be answered definitively. While no one expects Harvard, Stanford or Yale to begin offering direct admissions, the strategy is clearly on the upswing and may offer an increasing range of colleges an effective alternative to address their enrollment challenges.