Not too late to find a college for this fall, counselors say

Saturday, April 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

For high school seniors who feel down after finding college rejection letters in the mailbox, guidance counselors have some good news: It's not too late to find a school.

In fact, it hardly ever is nowadays, when many four-year colleges and universities keep their welcome mat out all year.

Menlo College, a school of 550 students south of San Francisco, sets no deadline for applicants. Binghamton University, a respected institution of 9,800 students in New York's state system, will find places for worthy prospects next spring if fall programs are full.

Such accommodations reflect a shift in higher education, said Barmak Nissirian, policy analyst at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Today, schools are catering more to the college-bound student, rather than the other way around, he said.

Now there's room for someone who may have aimed too high and been rejected, or has had a change of heart, or simply hasn't applied to college yet.

``In the vast majority of instances, higher education has become lots more customer-oriented,'' Nissirian said.

During the week of May 7, the National Association for College Admission Counseling plans to post a list on its Web site of member schools still seeking freshmen, based on an annual survey.

More than 400 colleges out of its 1,600 member schools had spaces available last year after the traditional end-of-admissions season, said research director Zina Evans. The association, based in Alexandria, Va., includes college admissions and high school guidance officials.

One member is Gunnar Olson, a guidance counselor at a San Antonio prep school, Saint Mary's Hall. He spent a recent weekend combing college guidebooks and found 865 four-year institutions with rolling admissions or applicant deadlines as late as September.

Hundreds of schools, like Binghamton, offer rolling admissions. That means there's no absolute deadline for students to apply to a school, which usually decides on a student's application within weeks of receiving it.

If a student applies to a rolling admissions school in July and there's room for the fall term, the student can attend the college then. If not, the spring term is a possibility.

Other schools, including many of the nation's most selective colleges, offer early decisions in addition to the customary February-to-April admissions window, officials say.

For instance, by mid-December of last year Harvard had accepted more than half its freshmen for fall 2001 _ 1,102 out of 1,650 spots. The final batch of acceptance letters was mailed Wednesday.

Regardless of a school's admissions calendar, Evans said, May 1 is commonly the deadline when institutions want to know if students already accepted intend to enroll come fall.

Admissions officers call this ``melt,'' when students who said they were coming to a school change their minds.

``You do have this opportunity after that May first deadline,'' Evans said, ``where institutions do find they do have unexpected spaces,''

The melt results in some schools receiving another bunch of applicants. Sometimes students accepted to the top private schools ``find they don't get the kind of financial package that they anticipated,'' said Harolyn Pasquale, Binghamton's associate director of admissions.

Suddenly, a good and more affordable school in upstate New York looks attractive, and students finish their application to Binghamton, she said.