Lots of my colleagues are back from Toronto, where they attended the NACAC Conference. Lots of discussion this year, as in previous years, has focused on “stealth applicants.” I’ve never liked this term from the very first time I heard it. In fact, I find it offensive.
For those of you who don’t know, stealth applicants are those students who apply out of the blue; that is, they haven’t requested information from the admissions office in a formal way; as far as the admissions office can tell, they’ve never visited campus during a formal tour. Never sat in a presentation at the high school. Never even walked up to a table at the college fair.
Who do these kids think they are?
There are two problems with this: First is a problem of definition. Many places farm Student Search and EOS mailings out to third-party vendors, and never load the names into their student database. They’ve sent two or four or six or more emails, letters, or brochures to these students; the students assume they’re on the mailing list, and don’t take the time to request more information. (Really, you’ve mailed them five pieces; do you think they’d automatically understand they should fill out a card to request more?) The colleges thus don’t know these students were on the list of names they purchased from College Board or ACT, because they only put names in the database when students actively inquire via traditional means. When students like this show up later as applicants, the admissions office is flummoxed. So much for personal attention.
If you think about it, you could use this to teach Alanis Morissette the real definition of irony: Many of the colleges complaining about stealth applicants are the same ones who bombard students with emails that contain links to “Fast Apps” encouraging kids to apply to a school they’ve never heard of because a) it’s free and b) it’s easy. The students should be referring to Stealth Colleges: They come out of nowhere, previously unseen, and drop weapons of class construction on the poor unsuspecting children (and yes, most of them are children.)
That’s the small problem.
The big problem is the arrogance of colleges: The assumption is that students should know they need to express some interest, because it’s so much easier for us. And we think this way because fifty years ago, the only way you could find out about a college in the next state was to write and request information–often just a catalog. (You could call, of course, but that was expensive.) Colleges got used to that: Everything was orderly and predictable. No more: It’s now possible to find out almost everything you need to know about a place by looking online, not just on our websites, but dozens or hundreds of others, like College Confidential, College Prowler, Peterson’s, USNWR, etc.
And this, we seem to suggest, is the fault of the students. They were born too late to figure out how things should be done.
Instead of blaming them, how about we understand the world has changed and deal with it? Isn’t that one of the things you’re supposed to learn in college? And isn’t part of the reason people laugh at colleges because we make so many assumptions about the way things should be, based on the way we feel the most comfortable?
It’s time for the profession to grow up. These kids could teach you a thing or two.