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Direct Admission at Colleges: What to Know and How to Get Instantly Accepted

Direct admission is the latest movement in making college more accessible to all. If you're thinking of pursuing this option, here's what you need to know.

Move over, college applications. There’s a new kid in town—and it’s called direct admission. Over the past several years, some colleges have been experimenting with this process to simplify applications and the admission process for students. It’s picking up speed and popularity with new direct admission platforms jumping on board just last year. Here’s what to know about this change in college admission and how it could benefit you.

How direct admission works

With direct admit, instead of a student filling out multiple applications to individual colleges and waiting to hear whether they’ve been accepted, colleges and universities send non-binding admission offers to students. It starts with the interested student creating a free profile on a direct admission platform and including things like grades, interests, and what they want in a college. Colleges then screen the profiles and make offers of admission to those deemed a good fit, academically and otherwise. On some platforms, profiles even remain anonymous until the student expresses interest in an offer.

“This is one way institutions can scout out good students,” says Tracey Sheetz, Vice President of Enrollment at Washington & Jefferson College, which participated in Niche’s Direct Admissions program last fall. Sheetz sees direct admission as the academic equivalent of coaches scouting athletes. Students don’t need 4.0 GPAs, however. So far, participating colleges aren’t the highly selective types. Washington & Jefferson is happy with its experiment. “We’ve been quite pleased with the students who committed through direct admission,” Sheetz says.

To participate in direct admit, colleges partner with various online platforms, sometimes more than one. Some states are building their own systems, and even individual colleges are creating their own methods on a local level. But the wider-reaching platforms each work a bit differently. Niche, for example, has a 30-question direct admission form to fill out. (If you fill out this profile, you can still apply to other colleges with traditional applications.) Direct admission offers then come in on a rolling basis—starting in October or November, according to Inside Higher Ed—so students may find out early senior year if they were accepted somewhere. Usually offers require a detailed follow-up after admission is granted, so the process can still be involved—but at least you know you’re already in.

Related: How to Choose a College Once You're Accepted

How direct admission started

The higher education world recognizes that applications are a barrier for many students, particularly those without college support at home. Many students worry about being rejected, think they don’t have what it takes, or assume they can’t afford college, so they don’t apply at all.  “Direct admission disproportionately supports disadvantaged students by eliminating common barriers to college admission, including early application deadlines, time-consuming applications, and expensive fees,” says Niche COO Athena Meyers.

Direct admission platforms

Each direct admission platform has its own flavor and group of college partners. Some platforms are only available to students in a specific region or by college counselor invitation. But the list of interested colleges is growing, so keep an eye in this space of college admission. Here are the primary platforms you can use right now.

Niche

Originating in February 2022 with just two colleges, Niche’s pilot program is now up to 25 colleges with more planned to join for the 2023–2024 admission cycle. Niche’s program is open to all students, and with more colleges being added, “there’s likely a great-fit college for every individual student,” Meyers says. Because the platform is still in the pilot phase, the information isn’t yet available on their home page.

Common App

Common App Direct Admissions has partnered with 14 colleges so far. Eligible students must meet a college’s minimum GPA requirement and be a resident of the college’s state. For example, Mercy University only accepts direct admit students from New York. If you receive an offer, you’ll then be prompted to fill out the College’s application (for free) with a Common App Direct Admissions code.

Greenlight Match  

Originally a platform for international students, Concourse Global partnered with EAB in 2021 to create Greenlight Match, a domestic platform targeting low-income and first-generation students. Greenlight Match collaborates with colleges and community-based college-access organizations in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, and Philadelphia. College access counselors help students with the process by inviting them to the platform. Kathy Rose, Executive Director of College Community Career, says Greenlight has been fantastic for student confidence with some receiving multiple offers to four-year colleges. If you live in one of these areas, ask your high school counselor if Greenlight Match is available to you.

SAGE Scholars FastTrak®

SAGE Scholars is a tuition rewards program for private colleges that partners with more than 450 institutions nationwide. Now member students can sign up for its FastTrak admission program for free. Students create a profile and list their favorite colleges. All it takes to get admitted is a current email, GPA, transcripts, major or academic interests, sports and activities, and for you to “favorite” your colleges and universities of interest.

Minnesota and Idaho

Some residents have their own state-based direct admit programs to take advantage of. In 2022–2023, more than 50 public and private technical, two-year, four-year colleges in Minnesota participated in a pilot program with 40+ Minnesota high schools. In the fall, the program sent letters to students listing which in-state institutions they were admitted to. From there, students filled out a free application for any participating college they were interested in attending. 

Meanwhile, Idaho is credited with being the founder of direct admission with its state program that launched in 2015. Resident students register on the Apply Idaho website then receive a letter letting them know which Idaho universities they’ve been accepted to. After that, they simply fill out individual university applications.

Related: Top 8 College Search Resources Students Need to Know About

How direct admit affects financial aid and other things

Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean affordability. Many direct admit colleges offer institutional scholarships along with admission, but even combined with other financial aid, it may not be enough. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA to ensure you receive all the aid you’re eligible for, such as Pell Grants or other need-based grants. “When you’re looking at that financial aid letter, look at the bottom line,” Sheetz says. Don’t get distracted by the size of a scholarship—look at the final cost to you. At Washington & Jefferson, students can schedule a meeting with the financial aid team to go through their award letter line by line to understand what it means. According to Rose, scholarship offers on the Greenlight Match platform have been mixed. “Some schools have been extremely generous,” she says. “Students are more excited about the schools that offer generous financial aid, and that might spur other colleges to do the same.”

Sheetz also cautions students to be honest about the GPAs they post on their direct admit profiles. Schools can retract scholarships and even admission offers if your final transcript doesn’t match your reported grades. She also recommends students be careful not to delete email offers as possible spam.

Related: How to Appeal Your College Financial Aid Package

Overall, direct admission appears to be a great new way to access colleges you’ve maybe never heard of before. “These colleges aren’t going to be playing the national basketball championship, but they have some tremendous programs,” Rose says. “And for colleges, it’s a less expensive way to get students to notice your campus.” Because it’s so new, many high school counselors don’t know what direct admission is, so you’ll likely need to do your own research. But stay informed, because direct admission is likely to keep expanding.

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