More Colleges Offering Admission to Students Who Never Applied

It sounds too good to be true: Get into college, with a guaranteed scholarship, without ever applying. This fall, tens of thousands of students will receive such offers from schools around the country.

Direct admissions, as the approach is often called, allow colleges to send offers to students based just on their GPAs or a few other criteria, such as intended major or geographic location, without the hassle of essays, recommendation letters and months of uncertainty.

More than 85% of four-year schools admit at least half their applicants, federal data show. They just make those candidates jump through hoops first. The aim with direct admissions, participants say, is to make the process less cumbersome, show low-income and first-generation students that college is within reach, and funnel more prospects toward institutions desperate to meet enrollment goals.

“There has to be a bit of a redistribution of the power dynamic from the college to the families right now,” said Luke Skurman, chief executive and founder of Niche.com Inc., which offers profiles and ratings of hundreds of thousands of schools and towns. Niche piloted a direct-admission program with two colleges last spring and is now working with 14.

Within the past year, the Common Application, private-college scholarship program SAGE Scholars, the state of Minnesota and Concourse—purchased in September by enrollment-management consulting firm EAB—have also launched or expanded direct-admit programs in conjunction with colleges or universities.

The process for most is fairly straightforward: Students looking to learn more about colleges, or who are interested specifically in joining the direct-admit pool, register on a website with their biographical information and basics such as GPA and areas of academic interest. Most students don’t know which schools are even participating. The platform then screens students based on schools’ requested criteria and, after coordinating with the schools, sends out admission offers.

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