What happens to high school seniors if all their well-laid plans for college start to fall apart in April?
For those who find themselves among the academic homeless, "May Day" - when college decisions are typically due - does not necessarily have to signal an emergency.
Beginning May 7, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers will post a list of schools that still have openings for the fall freshman class. Last year, some 400 colleges and universities had slots available after May 1.
A given school may have only a few empty slots, and once they are filled, the school's name is removed from the list. The association advises wavering seniors, therefore, to move with due haste.
Those finding themselves without a school to be true to this time of year are not typically sluggards who failed to mail their applications in on time, nor did they get rejected at all the colleges where they applied. Usually there are a host of reasons - ranging from a lesser financial aid package than was expected to an athletic scholarship falling through.
Two seniors under guidance counselor Gunnar Olson's charge are typical examples. The students at St. Mary's Hall, a private school in San Antonio, Texas, both got into high-quality colleges but suddenly found their situations changed.
One is an international student who had expected to return to Germany to study. But three weeks ago, long after application deadlines had passed at most colleges, he announced to Mr. Olson that he wanted to go to college in America. The other student experienced a change in his family, and now doesn't want to go as far away to school.
To help them out, Olson did some research and found that 865 colleges and universities in the United States have either rolling deadlines - essentially no deadline other than the start of school - or late deadlines, anywhere from mid-May to September. Those schools can provide initial targets for students who need to rethink their plans late in the school year.
Still, while that significant number gives hope to thousands of late-applying seniors, it's not a practice to depend on too heavily as a backup. The overall trend appears to be a shift away from rolling admissions to stricter deadlines.
"Colleges are trying to control the number of students and not over-enroll," Olson says. Many colleges have switched from rolling admissions to admissions deadlines. I think we'll continue to see more and more colleges do that to get a better handle on enrollment numbers."
Indeed, the trend has come full cycle, according to John Carroll, director of admissions at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. It used to be that most colleges were on deadline, he says. Then, many went to rolling admissions when the student pool shrunk, and now as the pool has enlarged once again, colleges can afford to tighten their admissions rules. "The most prestigious schools in the country have always had deadlines and always will, but the other 85 percent of us are at the whim of the marketplace," he says.
Kalamazoo recently switched from rolling admissions to a Nov. 15 deadline for early decision and Feb. 15 for others.
"We had too many students walking in the door in September," Mr. Carroll says. "We needed a way to better control our class size."
By enforcing a deadline, his office was able to pool applications, which in turn has allowed the college to become more selective. "We've gone from admitting about 94 percent of our applicants to about 70 percent. We're very happy with the change," Carroll says.
Even as the number of colleges with available slots after May 1 is apparently shrinking, the Internet is making availability of information on openings that do exist more readily accessible. To check the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers listing beginning May 7, go to www.aacrao.com and navigate to "What's New."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor