Phases In The Process Of College Choice
The process in which a student goes through in developing interests, researching, and beginning the college application process is broken down into three phases as studied by Hossler and Gallagher (p. 207). Personally going through this not that long ago and seeing students go through these phases, particularly the second and third phases, every day as a College and Career Advisor for a high school has brought new insight into this process and how the trends have changed even from then to now.
The predisposition phase of the college choice process is when the student starts to develop their college aspirations and expectations for their post-secondary career (Bergerson, p. 22). When navigating the college process this particular phase took place during the later middle school days and early high school days which correlates to the findings of Cabrera and La Nasa (p. 26). Being the youngest of 4 children, all of whom graduated from college, the process was not an area of uncharted territory, although the process of the application process had changed from child to child. My mother and father also attended college which Bergerson’s research shows is a “significant predictor of college attendance” (p. 23). Parental involvement in both an encouraging and supportive manner was present during the predisposition phase. They encouraged discussions about future plans, what expectations were being set, as well as what their intentions were for post-secondary goals. They also supported the process with inclusion in siblings’ campus tours, moving into dorms and being present when working through the financial aid process. Although there were several steps of parental involvement that were advantageous for the college process, certain preparations were not considered when planning for all four children. Coming from middle to low-class socioeconomic family, college finances were available for only the two eldest children. Attending college and financial repercussions became a personal responsibility. There were several points throughout college where the availability of financial aid was nonexistent because taxes were not filed on time. Being selected for financial aid verification with no way of proving proof of financial need, lead to having to take out emergency loans to be able to stay in classes. Financial preparation is a significant factor affecting students in low socioeconomic communities. It directly affects the decisions they make during the predisposition phase, so the saving for college, stage of parental support plays a substantial role in how students begin to develop their future plans (Bergerson, p. 23). Family support is not the only factor that can affect a student’s predisposition phase. The peers that a student surrounds themselves with will also play a role in their choices (Bergerson, p. 23). Growing up with a group of peers who all had post-secondary educational goals allowed for advancement. It gives students the opportunity to set themselves apart from others by challenging each other academically, taking more rigorous classes, and making sure that a specific high school degree plan, correlated to intended career goals, is followed. “Academic performance in high school has been the most important consideration in freshman admissions decisions for decades” (Clinedinst, 2019). These steps set us up for success in the next phase of the college process.
Bergerson defines this phase as a point “in which students form choice sets and determine which institutional characteristics are important” (p. 24). This phase allows students to discover what their area of interest is, match institutions that offer that their interests, determine college readiness standards for those institutions, and begin their application process (Bergerson, p. 24).
From personal experience, this stage was more difficult to navigate than the predisposition phase. Taking the SAT and /or the ACT exams was a requirement but knowing the why and what the results translated to was unknown. Not possessing the knowledge of the reasons for the application process and not taking the opportunity to find the answers can have an impact on the outcome of this phase. The college application process for older generations can change drastically from that of current students applying to college, so parents can be significantly removed from the process, not really able to assist students in the ways that are needed. This factor can affect what drives students to make particular decisions, leading them to not aligned with the best interests. My parents would hint towards more affordable options because they knew that they wouldn’t be able to assist me financially but I didn’t know comprehend that at the time. Although parental encouragement may have been to consider fiscally smart college options, not sacrificing educational quality was also a significant component. Society has a way of holding brand names to a higher standard and undercutting the quality of lesser-known names. This affected the search process by only applying to well know institutions that had a larger cost of attendance than an equally reputable, smaller institution. These factors were all found to influence the choices students make in the selecting institutions in which to apply (Bergerson, p. 24).
Coming from a small town and middle to lower socioeconomic class there weren’t many resources available in relation to college access other than guidance counselors. Personally, the guidance counselor was not someone who significantly impacted college guidance unless it was to send transcripts. Guidance and resources came from peers, family experience, and personal research. “Research has found that high school personnel have a limited role in students’ post-secondary education selections”, and this coincides with personal experience (Bergerson, p.26). Professionally being the “bridge” to closing “the information gap for low-income students” relates directly to the work in College and Career Advising (p. 26). As a College and Career Advisor, serving predominantly low-income, underrepresented students, the sole purpose on campus is to provide students with the preparation, knowledge, and resources for college access. Starting with students as incoming freshmen and prepping them through their senior year, when they are applying and selecting the college of their choice, is a part of the job. This particular school district may be an exception, but every high school in the district has at least one College and Career Advisor that is involved and directly impacts the students’ search phase. Similarly, students are also heavily influenced by their peers/friends during this phase. When applying to college, the Texas A&M University application was submitted a week before the deadline because of the influence peers had on the search phase. “During this stage, students begin to move away from parents as primary information sources, relying more on peers and on materials…” (Bergerson, p. 27). The final steps of the application process bring this phase to a close and lead into the next college process, choice.
This is the final phase of the college choice process. In this phase students review the information gathered from the previous phases, decision letters, financial aid award packages, outside scholarship offers, etc. and make a decision on which institution to complete the enrollment process. In this final stretch of the decision making process family and peer influence starts to dissipate as institutional factors begin to rise (Bergerson, p. 27). Financial aid is a leading factor in the choice phase as studied by Avery and Hoxby (p. 239).
Unfortunately, when going through this phase of the process cost of attendance and respective award packages were not included in factors influencing decisions. Reputation, sense of fit and social opportunities Texas A&M University could offer were components that ranked higher on the list of institutional characteristics (Bergerson, p. 29). Other viable institutions may have offered a better financial opportunity but the intrigue came from the name brand institution with the network that stretched far and wide, to every corner of the earth. Something that could have aided in making a more informed decision would have been recruiter contact but at the time that was not a resource that was offered for students (Engberg & Wolniak, p. 150). As a College and Career Advisor, bringing in recruiters on a regular basis to meet with students is an important factor throughout all three phases. Inviting recruiters to speak with students at the beginning of the school year for introductions and institutional presentations and then inviting recruiters back during the second semester to allow students to turn in documents ask questions, get assistance reviewing financial aid documents, setting up orientation, etc. Developing a strong relationship between the campus and institutions of higher education gives students more opportunities to explore and gather information. This allows them to better understand which institution will best fit their needs making the choice phase a more seamless process (Bergerson, p.30).
With each year that passes there are new trends that emerge amongst education affecting previous processes and methods. Educations is an ever-evolving field and to stay abreast of the changes, currents trends need to be identified and studied to determine how they are affecting the currents systems of operation.
The college admissions and college choice process is no exception to changing times. From 1995 to 2017 there was a significant increase in the number of freshman application submissions (Clinedinst, p.6-7). Since graduation from high school in 2012, to 2017 there was an increase in the percent of students who submitted both three or more college applications, 77 to 81 percent, and seven or more college applications, 28 to 36 percent (Clinedinst, p. 7). Professional experience has shown encouraging all seniors to submit at least three college applications. This allows students to have options and to be able to see which institution is going to be the best match, best fit school for their needs.
Recruitment outreach and institutional strategies play a significant role in the number of schools in which a student will apply. Clinedinst reported that “Contacting students through email and engaging with them through the institution’s website or by hosting campus visits were the most important recruitment strategies that colleges and universities used for first-time freshmen” (p. 10). Now more than ever institutions are using electronic media to reach out and appeal to. The institutional outreach correlates directly to the trend discussed in the previous sections. Through contact with recruiters and institutional outreach, students are realizing the different options that are available to them in terms of colleges or universities they can apply. When going through the college choice process the only outreach experienced was through mass emails sent out by institutions and the information found through university websites. Now students get face-to-face contact with college admission recruiters, which Clinedinst reported was one of the more popular strategies used to reach out to students (p. 10). Institutional outreach correlates directly to the trend discussed in the previous sections. As the outreach strategies increase, reaching more students, the number of application submissions also increases.
Implications and Change
Although there are advantages for the students with these trends, they also create an adverse effect for admission offices, who review applications for admission (Clinedinst, p. 6-7). Clinedinst showed from her research the “the average number of applications for each admission office staff member (excluding administrative staff) for the Fall 2017 admission cycle was 1,035 for public institutions and 461 for private institutions” (p. 7). The increased volume of application does not just affect the admissions office. It creates a sort of domino effect impacting other areas of student affairs such as the institution’s selectivity in admissions and the number of students admitted per year (Clinedinst, p. 7-8).
Most institutions are run like a business and numbers equate to funding. If institutions want to continue to maintain the numbers for applications, then there needs to be a strategy in place to ensure that the implications don’t outweigh the desired result. Institutions know that admissions and financial aid season are the two busiest times of the year. So, that means making sure that the enrollment, admissions, student affairs offices are equipped with the respective employees to ensure success. They can higher seasonal or temporary staff members, which several universities and institutions already utilize.
There are many factors that influence the college choice process of students. The ability to be aware of these influences, trends, and changes to ensure that the students are making the most informed decision in their college choice is the responsibility of several entities, including that of the students. As a whole, research has helped develop “an understanding of college choice that aims to resolve the continued stratification of higher education in the United States” (Bergerson, p. 46).
- Avery, C., & Hoxby, C. M. (2004). College choices: The economics of where to go, when to go, and how to pay for it. Do and Should Financial Aid Packages Affect Students’ College Choices? Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/chapters/c10102.pdf
- Bergerson, A.A. (2009). College choice as a comprehensive process. ASHE Higher Education Report, 35(4), 21-46. Retrieved from http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMNHr7ESep7c4yNfsOLCmsEiep7VSs6i4SK%2BWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGutk%2B2prNJuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=eue&K=47276196
- Cabrera, Alberto & La Nasa, Steven. (2002). Understanding the College‐Choice Process. New Directions for Institutional Research. 2000. 5 – 22. doi:10.1002/ir.10701
- Clinedinst, M. (2019). National association for college admission counseling. 2019 State of College Admission. Retrieved from https://www.nacacnet.org/globalassets/documents/publications/research/2018_soca/soca2019_all.pdf
- Engberg, M. E., & Wolniak, G. C. (2010). Examining the effects of high school contexts on postsecondary enrollment. Research in Higher Education, 51(2), 132-153. Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.easydb.angelo.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=b34144c2-009b-474e-86a1-8f7c0224d3c8%40sdc-v-sessmgr02
- Hossler, D., & Gallagher, K. (1987). Studying student college choice: A three-phase model and the implications for policymakers. College and University. 62(3), 207-220. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234741450_Studying_Student_College_Choice_A_Three-Phase_Model_and_the_Implications_for_Policymakers