Seniors at Portland’s Cleveland High School were packed into the counseling center on a recent November day. Some were at computers filling out college applications. Others were waiting to hear an admissions officer from Portland State University call out their names.
Waiting a few minutes, in the world of college admissions, isn’t long. But today’s teenagers are busy — they’re used to Googling information and firing off messages fast. So, college recruiters in Oregon are visiting high school seniors to see if they’re college material.
In the Cleveland High counseling center, the brief wait on this day was often worth it as college admissions staff let kids know immediately whether they’re accepted or not.
Eighteen year-old senior Zawadi Doti sat down next to PSU admissions counselor Marshawna Williams. They looked at Doti’s transcripts and scores for her college entrance exams. Then Williams smiled.
“Congratulations, you’re admitted to PSU,” said Williams.
“Thank you,” Doti responded, breaking into a grin.
“You’re welcome,” Williams said, before plowing into an explanation of financial aid and upcoming deadlines.
Doti was still smiling as Williams had her pose for a photo in a horned helmet with a green foam finger to celebrate becoming an “Instant PSU Viking.” Williams admitted dozens of students in numerous high school visits leading up to a Dec. 1 scholarship deadline.
“This is so much fun!” Williams said. “I mean we ran into students that cry, and it’s so emotional for us.”
Still, Doti plans to apply to several out-of-state colleges and weigh her enrollment options.
“Now that I’m in it, it depends on what happens in the future, but probably, yeah [I will enroll at PSU],” Doti said.
Doti’s guidance counselor, Jennifer Van Kopp, was more blunt about what she thinks her students will do.
“By nature they’re lazy,” Van Kopp said. “And they have so much other stuff going on right now. It’s overwhelming to apply to a bunch of different schools, and we’re on them about it. And so, I think it is going to make them think, ‘Oh my gosh, I got in and I’m going.’”
Private schools like Reed College, Lewis & Clark College and University of Portland don’t do instant admissions events. Neither does University of Oregon, which has made raising entrance standards and recruiting into California a bigger part of its enrollment strategy.
Instant admissions are in stark contrast to the traditional way of applying for college — the mostly anonymous filing of paperwork — followed by sometimes months of waiting for responses.
PSU isn’t alone in the sped-up option, however. The three regional universities — Southern, Western and Eastern Oregon — all offer something similar. Eastern admissions director Gina Galaviz-Yap started what she calls “on-the-spot” admissions two years ago.
“We understand that these students — especially first-generation — this entire application process may be daunting or very complicated, so our ‘on-the-spots’ is an opportunity to walk them through the process,” Galaviz-Yap said.
But at least one Oregon college tried it and stopped, years ago.
Carl Thomas directs admissions at Oregon Institute of Technology.
“It was kind of anti-climactic to be admitted on the spot, because most of the students understood, ‘I meet the admissions requirements,’ because just like the regional universities and the big universities, we have standard admissions requirements,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t quite the thrill that we hoped it would be.”
OIT hasn’t done on the spot admissions since 2011. But Thomas said OIT does waive application fees within certain time windows, or for students who attend special events on campus or on visits to high schools and community colleges.
College counselors agree a lot of what they’re doing is marketing aimed at students and school officials. They’re competing with each other to a degree, but also trying to differentiate themselves — OIT as the tech school, Eastern as a college that’s just better known in the region.
And back at Cleveland High, PSU counselor Williams said the challenge is sometimes reminding high schoolers that PSU is worth considering.
“Being that we’re downtown, I think people look us over because we’re the backyard school,” said Williams. “But they don’t know how much we have to offer until they sit down with one of our counselors.”
At the same time, admissions counselors are appealing to students outside their backyards. They say with Oregon’s relatively small population and low high school graduation rate, they have to get every Oregon student they can and look outside the state to keep their classes full.
EOU has expanded its on-the-spot admission events to high schools in Idaho, Washington and western Oregon. PSU is creating “Instant Vikings” events all over western Oregon and into southwest Washington. OIT is visiting high schoolers and waiving application fees from Hawaii to the Midwest, with a particular focus on big population states like California and Texas.