Earlier this month, Royall & Company released the results from a flash poll of 171 institutions that confirmed a substantial shift toward early FAFSA filings across the country.
Coinciding with this early FAFSA window was a surge of early application activity, with students seemingly filing their applications earlier along with their FAFSAs. But, it also appears that some students are filing fewer applications (at least so far), as colleges saw their early lead in applications erode significantly as we moved into December.
In fact, some schools have gone from a position of relative comfort to a position of being down in applications in just a few short weeks.
This is turning out to be a very unpredictable year.
When asked about this trend by enrollment leaders, the advice that I’ve been giving schools comes in two forms:
1. Do everything you can to build the most robust pool of applicants possible
When sailing uncharted waters, you want as much depth beneath your hull as possible. Some folks might think that a smaller applicant pool will be all right because yield will improve—but that’s almost never the case.
While yield might improve a bit, the changes are likely not enough to overcome a meaningfully smaller admit pool. And, by the time you realize yield rate improvements won’t save the day, it’s really hard to motivate students to apply.
2. Have a plan in place to gauge the intent of your admitted students
If applicant behavior is changing this much, it is very likely that last year’s yield metrics could be off significantly. If your admitted-student pool is small enough, your team can likely do this with phone calls. But, if your pool is larger, you’ll need to ensure you’ve built a game plan that goes beyond calling.
So far, the only constant to this year is change. We’re in for a wild ride to May 1.