We Need To Talk About March

I know, I know — we’re fresh off winter break, most high school counselors are breathing easier with senior applications submitted, and many college admission officers are cozy on their couches reading applications. Why am I fast-forwarding to March?

For context, before serving as a high school college counselor I worked for almost two decades in college admission. On the college side, March meant wrapping up admission committees, making final decisions, and having a singular focus on our individual release date — hopefully in advance of our competitors. We then were engaged with yielding students until early summer. The end.

But on the secondary school side, March is experienced much differently. Regular decisions start rolling out with the new year, but eventually come full force every single day in March. And if you reside anywhere other than Eastern Standard Time, decisions will land at all hours. Students are raw nerves for an entire month, because tiny bombs are constantly going off around them. Four weeks of instructional time are consistently interrupted by emotional college news. For 31 straight days, college counselors are required to give out round-the-clock high-fives, Kleenex, and their best resilience advice, often all at once (self-awareness is hard for teenagers — one student may be weeping in our office while another is simultaneously crowing about their success). It’s a roller coaster. It’s exhausting. And it feels so unnecessary.

I’m not naïve. I understand that colleges have a class to yield — especially in our new ethical landscape — and they don’t want to feel beholden to any other institution’s timeline. Everyone has their own enrollment goals to meet, and this steady creep to release earlier and earlier is perceived as giving some kind of advantage. Maybe some students will deposit before hearing from a competitor! But my college advising elders tell me that it wasn’t always this way, and I can’t help but believe we can do better — both for our kids and for our colleagues.

Imagine a world in which at least systems released on the same day. As a California resident, for example, I wonder why the nine University of California campuses and the California State University system share an application and a deadline, but not a release day? What if there was one, uniform release day for the Claremont Colleges, the Five College Consortium, and/or the Colleges That Change Lives schools? The Ivy League institutions have managed to make a coordinated release time happen, so this is not without precedent.

I know that enrollment pressures are driving this behavior. But the more our profession runs like a business, the more the social/emotional wellness of our students takes a back seat. And I know that many colleges and universities find their counseling and wellness services stretched as increasing numbers of students seek out assistance with their mental health. So I would challenge my college-side colleagues to consider the long view: Even some minor changes to the decision release system might bring healthier, better educated, and more intact human beings to your campus in the fall. And then don’t we all win?


NACAC member Lauren Cook is dean of college and gap-year advising at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay (CA).

7 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About March”

  1. Lauren, thank you! I work in a non-traditional, transfer high school where our students’ college lists range from all local community colleges to highly competitive institutions with single digit acceptance rates. We don’t have just 31 days of “round-the-clock high-fives, Kleenex, and their best resilience advice, often all at once”; for us, it’s more like 90. An established release date for everyone who submitted to the State University system by Feb 1, for example would make life so much easier.

    1. An established release date for every school would be even better! Let’s dream big. Let’s think about colleges stating when a student will hear back (yay, nay, not yet, maybe later) so that bit of suspense is over.

  2. This is a needed conversation with our OUA Directors, especially at the UC and CSU campuses. Counselors know that decision days for first gen families is also magnified as families eagerly await the news and painfully struggle with deciding on how they can/cannot financially support their child. They debate for days on waiting for the acceptance letter and financial aid offers. Counselors comfort and cheer on students and parents during this long “roller coaster” and there surely has to be a better way to release acceptance notices by college system.

  3. Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention. March is a very tough month for all. What a sensible and ethical way to consider releasing decisions. We are sharing your words with our entire school community.

  4. Exactly! Even more frustrating are colleges that release in batches, often sending out waitlist and denials a week or more after the first batch of acceptances. It is brutal and so unnecessary. Just make everyone wait until you are ready to release them all – another week or two won’t hurt those in the first round, but will make life so much better for those in the 4th

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