Wall Street Journal, Colleges Mine Data on Their Applicants:
Some colleges, in an effort to sort through a growing number of applications, are quietly tracking prospective students’ online interaction with the schools and considering it in deciding whom to admit.
Enrollment officers at institutions including Seton Hall University, Quinnipiac University and Dickinson College know down to the second when prospective students opened an email from the school, how long they spent reading it and whether they clicked through to any links. Boston University knows if prospective students RSVP’d online to an event—and then didn’t show.
Schools use this information to help determine what they call “demonstrated interest,” or how much consideration an applicant is giving their school. Demonstrated interest is becoming increasingly important as colleges face a rising number of applications and want to protect or improve their yields—the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll.
Demonstrated interest started becoming important about a decade ago with the growth of the common application, which allows students to apply to more schools with little additional effort. Schools saw a rise in applicants but a drop in yield among accepted students. Yield fell among four-year, private, not-for-profit colleges to 34.5% in 2017 from 49% in 2003, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data. A drop can hurt a school’s reputation and make filling its class a challenge.
In 2017, 37% of 493 schools surveyed by the National Association of College Admission Counseling said they consider demonstrated interest to be of moderate importance—on par with teacher recommendations, class rank and extracurricular activities. It carried less weight than grades, class rigor or board scores.
Admissions officers say information on demonstrated interest is generally used to decide on borderline candidates. Some schools explain on their websites or during information sessions that demonstrated interest is considered part of the admissions process. ...
Privacy advocates voiced concern that students were being taken advantage of. “This feels pretty creepy to me. It raises very significant privacy concerns. It feels like surveillance and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for schools to do,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, a California-based nonprofit group that advocates for privacy online. “Universities should not take privacy rights for granted. This seems like something Facebook would do, not a university.”
Mary Ethington, an independent college admissions counselor outside of Chicago, tells students to relax, assume their web traffic with the school is being monitored and to open every email from a college as if it were homework.