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Articles / Applying to College / Seniors: Still Shopping for A College?

Seniors: Still Shopping for A College?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | May 9, 2017

It's the second week of May. The famous May 1 enrollment deadline is in the rearview mirror. Most college-bound high school seniors are busy with year-end testing, financial aid packages, and wearing their college-branded shirts and caps.

But ... what if you, too, are a college-bound senior, but you haven't enrolled anywhere yet? What if you're still looking for the right college? Are there any good schools out there still accepting applications at this "late" date? Of course there are.

There are always exceptions to rules. The May 1 enrollment deadline does not apply to every single higher education institution in America. Some time ago, I wrote about a Plan B for getting into college. It involved surveying a list published by NACAC (the National Association of College Admission Counseling) that showed which colleges are still looking for students to fill their incoming classes. Well, the new list is out and, if my trifocals see the small print properly, it looks like there are 522 (!) schools still looking for students. My guess is that the odds are well in your favor of finding an excellent school match to attend this fall.

A while back, my College Confidential colleague, Sally Rubenstone, posted an informational thread on the CC forum that has drawn some interest. In it, regarding the then-current NACAC list, she noted:

... some colleges have spaces only for transfers and not freshmen ... or vice versa. The list also indicates which colleges still have financial aid and housing ... and the vast majority do.

There will be additions to the list in the days ahead, so check back often. But if you're interested in any of the places that are already included, don't dawdle!

Those comments appear to apply to the current list, too. All this falls under that Plan B of college admissions. When a certain Plan A doesn't work out, go to Plan B.

This Plan-B approach also ties into a previous post of mine: So-Called “No Name" Colleges. In it, I wrote:

So now, let's take this no-name-brand approach to your college search. I received an interesting press release the other day entitled Education Experts' Best Ten Colleges You've Never Heard Of — Why students love these affordable choices for higher education. As I read it, I kept thinking of Walmart vs, Kellogg. There's a real core of truth to this, if you're willing to keep reading. ...

... I do this in an effort to try to expand your thinking about college selection and get you to think beyond name brands. The big schools have large promotional budgets. The colleges that you'll see listed and described below have probably not sent you a shiny viewbook or bombarded your inbox with spammy invitations to apply. But (another big but), you might be able to find within this list a school that can easily meet your educational and budget requirements.

Chris Tears, writing in a Forbes article, aptly notes:

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org) has released its annual list of colleges that still have space available for the fall. If you or someone you love does not yet have a college that meets the “head, heart and wallet" test I proposed last month, this list could be of value. There are hundreds of high-quality colleges, including Skidmore, Union and my own, Drew University, that are still accepting applications . So the search for the right college fit can continue. And, as the Chicago Cubs proved last fall in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, winning in extra innings is indeed still winning, a great cause for celebration. ...

... A fair question would be: How can a strong college or university find itself without enough students to fill its class by the enrollment deposit deadline? In my experience, there are two main reasons: admissions standards and market volatility. In the first case, colleges need to admit students who are fully prepared and inclined to work to be successful, so that they will thrive, grow and graduate, ideally in four years' time. Any institution with standards would rather fall short of its enrollment target than admit students they are uncertain can handle the work. Setting students up for failure by admitting them when there's reason to know they are not likely to be successful is not good for students still maturing into young adulthood, nor does it help colleges with their retention rate, an important statistic in various types of ranking. ...

... What should you do if you're interested in exploring more options? Go back to identifying the criteria that constitute the right fit for you:

  • Size: Small, medium, or large?
  • Type: Public or private?
  • Location: Urban, suburban or rural?
  • Program: Liberal arts or career-track/pre-professional?
  • Personality: Eclectic, multicultural, progressive, or traditional, conservative, preppy jock?
  • Price tag: Affordable on a net price basis for both the short and long term.

The last criterion is not so much a question to be answered as it is an imperative to be met. The money always matters in the college process, because you need to be able to handle the total cost of attendance, budgeting for four undergraduate years, ideally doing so without taking on more than the $27,000 in debt that accrues over four years via the federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans that are building blocks of most financial aid packages. Such an investment means students have real “skin in the game" to stay focused on choosing courses, majors, and wisely taking steps on the path to graduate school or a first job.

Where the money is concerned, a reality of this situation is also that most institutions have spent most of their financial aid resources by this point, so ability to pay will be a positive factor in the cases of those using this list to apply late. ...

True, true, true. Also, I strongly encourage those of you still looking for college admission options at this post-May 1 date to study the complete list of schools still seeking applicants. You will find some genuine surprises and best-kept secrets among the schools found there.

If I may add a personal note about the so-called hidden-gem/"no-name" institutions, I see the name of the small liberal arts college where I began my higher education career on this year's list. Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania was the subject of a very encouraging review recently. Keep in mind that I have no active connection with the school and call it out from the NACAC list only to show you the kinds of admission opportunities that still exist today.

Here's an excerpt from that review:

I hope that after reading this post you can tell how much I enjoyed my visit to Lycoming, and how impressed I was by the campus, the people and the future of the institution. Having taught for 19 years at small independent schools, it is not uncommon to work with students who want to find a college that will give them the supportive environment they have experienced in high school and Lycoming is just that kind of college. The close personal relationships between teachers and students is inspiring, and the College's commitment to finding students who will be the best fit for the community is unwavering. Lycoming wants the best students they can get, but it is the kind of place that can bring out the best in solid students who were NOT the best in high school. They will fly prospective students into Williamsport to visit, and the personalized approach to the admissions process may very well turn their heads. Lycoming has excellent programs in art, archaeology (one of few programs that give undergraduates a chance to work in the "Old World" and the "New World") and business to name a few. They have recently won a grant from the Mellon Foundation to facilitate humanities and social science professor/student collaborative research; over the next two years, ten (of eighty total) professors will be supported in building new collaborative projects with their students.

The energy and excitement I saw on campus were contagious. Lycoming may be have just begun their third century but their outlook is that of the upstarts who are in a hurry to make their mark. I strongly encourage any student considering a small liberal arts college to give Lycoming a long look.

I couldn't agree more. Thus, this "still-seeking" list contains some real gold, but you may have to do some careful prospecting to find the gems that suit you.

The bottom line here, then, appears to be that it's never too early to be a latecomer to college admissions. So, study up and good luck!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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