Should You Be Flattered By a College’s Red Carpet Treatment?

I received an email yesterday from a friend of mine whose son is a brilliant high school senior. She wanted to know what they should think about invitations her son has received to apply to colleges through VIP or priority applications.
Here is her question:
My son has received approximately 10+ email/print invitations from schools to complete their priority applications. These invitations say there are no essays, no application fees and quick scholarship notification, etc. The schools that I can remember are:

  • Drexel University
  • Rice University
  • Tulane University
  • Fordham University
  • University of Denver
  • University of Tulsa
  • Loyola New Orleans
  • Macalester College
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Colorado School of the Mines

Is this a gimmick to increase their application numbers? Would it be worth filling out the applications (meaning – do you think there is any scholarship money at the end of the tunnel?) I appreciate any thoughts you might have on this matter.

Be Careful!

What my friend has described is a college application that’s referred to in the industry as a fast app or fast application. This is the time of year when high school seniors across the country are receiving these apps whether they are called priority apps, VIP applications or some other names.
Here is how an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education once described these quickie applications:
Many high-school counselors offer colorful descriptions of “fast track” applications, an increasingly popular recruitment tool among colleges. Such applications come with students’ names and other information already filled in. Typically these solicitations also provide other incentives, like waived essay requirements, and promise quick admissions decisions.
For these reasons, some counselors call them “crap apps.” Matthew J. DeGreeff, director of college counseling at the Middlesex School, in Massachusetts, uses a simile instead. “This is like catnip for admissions deans,” he says, “because you can expand the application pool overnight.”

The Motivation Behind VIP Applications

Why are schools making it easy for students to apply? For starters, it boosts their applications numbers. With the help of outside firms, colleges send out thousands and even tens of thousands of applications that are easier for teenagers to complete than the typical ones.
That’s what Drexel University has been doing, according to another Chronicle article. The school buys hundreds of thousands of names of teenagers who have scored within a certain range on the SAT and then sends them a letter asking if they’d like more information. All the students who respond yes end up getting an VIP application. Can everybody be a VIP?
In contrast, Ursinus College has abandoned its fast application practice (to its credit), which had made the liberal arts college, a red hot school as its applications soared. You can get a better appreciation of the fast-app practice by reading this New York Times article from earlier this year:

A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race

Just because a student receives one of these applications certainly doesn’t mean the school is interested in him or her.  In some cases, schools use these applications to increase their applications so they can reject more students.  Selectivity, after all, is something that US News’ college rankings care about.
If applicants receive scholarships from a school, it’s not because they completed fast applications. In fact, relying on a fast app might cause a student to overlook talent scholarships that may require an additional application. The easiest way to find out if a school will give a teenager a scholarship is to use its net price calculator.

Bottom Line:

Don’t apply to a school because it appears to like you. Only apply for the right reasons and you won’t get snookered by fast apps.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Okay so I’m I got this letter in the mail and I don’t know what to do. It’s from Lynn University. Saying that they would like me to apply with a leader of innovation application and I am now conflicted about what to do.
    Ps: I am a junior in high school

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  2. Okay so I’m I got this letter in the mail and I don’t know what to do. It’s from Lynn University. Saying that they would like me to apply with a leader of innovation application and I am now conflicted about what to do.
    Ps: I am a junior in high school

  3. My daughter received a VIP application from Drexel University last year. Her first choice school at the time was the University of Pennsylvania. I encouraged her to apply to Drexel because it was literally next door to Penn (she loved the area) and a huge bonus was the fact that it was free. We spent well over $1000 on application fees and sending score reports.
    She was accepted to Drexel AND offered a substantial merit scholarship. We went to both the Scholar’s Day and the Accepted Students Day and Drexel quickly became her first choice school. Pretty ironic considering she had only applied because of the free VIP application.
    She is now a freshman at Drexel University and loves it! She is in the honors college, made the Dean’s list, is busy getting ready for her first co-op next year, writing for the newspaper and taking full advantage of the cultural passport as well as the honors ticket programs – all for less than a state school would cost thanks to the very generous scholarship Drexel offered her. So don’t dismiss VIP applications out of hand. If you are even remotely interested in the school and/or the area where the school is located it’s well worth it!

  4. Hi Lynn,
    My daughter is a high school junior, and she has begun receiving the VIP/fast app treatment from colleges by email and in by snail mail. The most notable is UOP in Stockton. It is too early and she is not interested. However, it is flattering for a teenager.

  5. My daughter received one from Colorado School of Mines. She filled it out last night in fact – she was interested in applying there anyway. She would love to apply to Rice too. So do these fast apps mean there is a *reduced* chance of admission to these schools, if the student applies through them?

    1. HI Patty,
      I don’t think your daughter would reduce her chances of getting into Colorado School of Mines by using a priority application. If the school was already on her list, there is no harm to using a fast app and saving her time and you money!
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy