Why Colleges Can Be Nosy

Before I left for St. Louis, my hometown, to attend the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, I asked my blog readers to pose questions that I could ask to college experts here.

Here was one of my reader’s questions:

Why do schools ask applicants where else they are applying? Are students obligated to answer?

I’m happy to say that I’ve bagged my first answer.

I posed this question to the Kristine R. Tichenor, the senior vice president for enrollment and institutional strategy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Tichenor became quite animated when I asked about why admission officers will often ask an applicant what other colleges are on his or her list.

The colleges aren’t being nosy, she said. Admission officers are interested in discovering whether teenagers have done their homework and know what they are looking for in college. If a teen, who is interested in WPI, a science and engineering school, also has schools like Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Harvey Mudd College on his or her life, an admission officer can assume that the child is focused on small engineering institutions.

In contrast, Tichenor said, she’d have to wonder about a kid who is interested in WPI and Hampshire College, which is big on self-designed majors and interdisciplinary studies.

Okay so let’s assume that a kid is not being thoughtful with his or her college process or frankly doesn’t know what the heck she wants. Will this hurt a teenager?

Usually not. There is one time, however, when an unfocused list of schools could sabotage a teen’s admission chances. If a college is on the fence about a student, Tichenor said, this might kill his or her chances.

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