Campus to launch early admission program in 2006

By Daniel J. Fitzgibbons

In a bid to attract more students with strong academic credentials, the campus will launch an early action admission program in the fall of 2006, according to Michael Gargano, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life.

Gargano, who described the First Choice program to the Faculty Senate on Dec. 16, said the non-binding program is being developed in response to national admissions trends which show that many high school students are making decisions about college well before their senior years.

Noting that many students and families are starting the college selection process as early as the 10th grade, Gargano said, “As students get into the start of their senior year, they’ve already made a decision.”

Unlike the traditional admissions process, through which students apply by Jan. 15 and receive an acceptance letter in April, First Choice applicants will submit their materials by Nov. 1 and have their notification by mid-December, he said. Accepted students will have until May 1 to respond.

“It reduces family anxiety and allows us to process financial aid forms earlier and do better planning,” he said. “It will give us the same competitive advantage as other universities.”

First Choice participants will be able to use the summer to complete their applications, said Gargano, and the longer timeline will also give campus staff more opportunities to work with disadvantaged students to identify financial aid options.

The program will be non-binding, he said, so students can declare their preference for UMass Amherst, but still pursue other options. “My sense is they won’t change their minds because once they come here, they’ll fall in love.”

While First Choice is expected to draw students who have already decided on a field of study, the program will be open to undeclared students as well, said Gargano.

The vice chancellor also updated the current admissions picture for the senate, saying that 21,000 applications are expected this year for an incoming class of around 4,240. Last year, the Admissions Office received about 18,000 applications.

Admissions staff have reported being “overwhelmed” at college fairs around the country, he said, and prospective students are showing strong interest in a number of areas, including biological sciences, pre-law and pre-med, social and behavioral sciences and the humanities and fine arts. “Interest in the business school is still high,” Gargano added.

Reflecting the same trend toward longer educational planning that prompted First Choice, many prospective students are already thinking about graduate school, he said.

In addition to traditional recruitment activities, the Admissions staff is focusing more attention on community colleges, said Gargano. Admissions has opened an office at Springfield Technical Community College and is strengthening ties with Greenfield and Holyoke community colleges.

“We think this will have a dramatic impact on recruitment of ALANA students,” he said.