Colleges Told Not to Ask Applicants to Rank Choices

October 5, 2015

The Assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling voted Saturday to amend its ethics code to state that colleges should "not ask candidates, their schools, their counselors or others to list or rank their college or university preferences on applications or other documents." The move comes amid criticism of the practice, which some colleges have used to make admissions or financial aid choices, rewarding those who seem most likely to enroll. Critics have said that the practice is particularly troublesome given that many applicants don't know how colleges will use the information. The Education Department in August said it would stop sharing this information with colleges.

W. Kent Barnds, executive vice president and vice president for enrollment, communication and planning at Augustana College, wore a sandwich board to the opening night reception at NACAC urging Assembly members to be careful about approving additions to the ethics code. In an interview, he said Augustana does not ask applicants where they are applying and to rank their choices. But he said Augustana does do some things that come close to that, and while he's been assured by NACAC leaders that he would not be violating the ethics code by continuing these practices (which are in place at many colleges), he was worried about seeming to possibly violate the policy.

For example, he said that Augustana asks, postadmission, if the college ranks first, in the top three or top five of an admitted applicant's choices. And Augustana asks applicants placed on the wait list "Are we your first choice and will you enroll if admitted?"

Barnds explained that the rationale for such questions is that they "help prioritize counseling outreach and ensure the others involved in recruiting are focused on those who are most interested." He added, "If we had limitless resources this wouldn't be necessary, but we have to try to be efficient when possible."

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