Newsletter 2/12: Hot topics🔥 in college admissions
Plus: Mecklenburg home sales; Review of Three Bone Theatre's 'Confederates'; 'Unfundable' project wins $10,000; Join us tonight for candidate reception; Panthers are Super Bowl long shots
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A disastrous student-aid form rollout. A new digital SAT. A rise in deferrals. Here are some of the big issues on the minds of Charlotte college counselors.
Applications are up in recent years at big Southern schools with large football programs, like the University of Tennessee. (Steve DiMatteo/Unsplash)
by Cristina Bolling
College admissions, like the weather and fashion styles, are ever-changing, often-fraught and require mind-bending levels of patience and savvy.
This year is no different. For example:
Schools are adjusting to a U.S. Supreme Court decision barring them from using race as a factor in admissions.
Students are for the first time using computers to take a shortened version of the SAT — which more schools are re-instituting as a requirement.
And a disastrous delay in the rollout of a new federal student aid program form is causing students to have to mull their choices without the knowledge of how much they’ll have to pay.
We asked three local college counselors — Anna Davis of College Guidance LLC, Elizabeth West of EWC Consulting and Kim Stodghill of Stodghill College Consulting — to share some insights on some of the biggest issues they’re seeing in college admissions this year.
1. Massive FAFSA headaches causing ‘extra stress’
This year, the U.S. Department of Education released a new form for the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which millions of students rely on to afford college.
But the rollout has been a disaster.
First, there were delays in opening the form to students to fill out. (Typically, students have access to the upcoming year’s form on Oct. 1; last year, the form soft-launched on Dec. 30, and it’s been available only for limited periods of time as the education department had to resolve issues.)
That’s resulted in lengthy delays getting information to schools, which in turn will be delayed in telling students how much financial aid they can receive.
The ultimate victims are the students, who are left awaiting one of the most critical criteria in making a college decision: the price tag.
Anna Davis says a many questions still need answers:
Will colleges push back their typical enrollment deadline (National College Decision Day) of May 1? A few, like Ohio State, already have, and it seems like others will have to do the same. This penalizes lower- and middle-income families who need this important piece of information before enrolling. If families are unable to commit to a college until later, will the student miss out on orientation and housing registration? Have less time to find a roommate? This is causing extra stress in an already stressful process.
Elizabeth West says she’s seeing the stress firsthand and worries it’ll push some students away:
One of my students is completely independent from her parents and needs to know the amount of her financial aid package to be able to estimate if she can even attend college, let alone figure out how she will live next year. Low-income students nationwide will be facing this issue, and my fear is that the deadlines will keep shifting, which will cause more hardship, and perhaps force these students not to persist.
Kim Stodghill says she’s seeing some of the efforts colleges are making:
To alleviate part of the anxiety, some colleges are working to try to provide estimated award packages and moving back their deposit deadline in order to give families a bit more time to review award offers before making a commitment to enroll. Colleges, however, are struggling to manage yield in these circumstances; nothing about this situation is ideal.
2. The new digital SAT: shorter test, quicker results, no need to remember calculator
The SAT exam, which has traditionally been taken with paper and pencil, is going digital this year, which means students will use a tablet or laptop, and the test will slim down from three hours to two hours. College counselors say the change is welcome for this generation of students who are plenty comfortable with taking tests on computers.
Some colleges are once again requiring students to submit SAT or ACT scores (rules that were dropped during Covid), and there are rumblings that more will follow suit, including the UNC system. College admissions counselors (and many high schoolers) are watching this closely.
Kim Stodghill says the switch to the digital SAT is a positive one for students:
Based on the feedback from the PSAT from the fall, the digital SAT will likely be popular with most students. The shorter test is certainly appealing, and this generation is quite comfortable with digital format exams. And they rave about the built-in calculator feature — no more having to remember their own device and those extra batteries.
Anna Davis says to expect a smooth rollout (unlike the FAFSA):
Because the College Board has been administering the digital test at international test centers for several months, I believe the rollout will be smooth. What came as a surprise to me is how many colleges are planning to superscore between the paper and digital tests. (That is when colleges take the students’ best scores for the math and reading components and combine them for an overall score.) I did not predict that decision, but that is especially good news for the class of 2025, who will likely take both paper and digital formats.
Elizabeth West says one benefit is faster scoring:
I have high hopes for the Digital SAT, as it is a shorter, revised test. For example, the reading passages are shorter. I think that’s a good thing because our students have different attention spans than we did at their age. … There are more advantages to the Digital SAT such as students getting their scores faster. This is significant because students will be able to take the SAT closer to the application deadlines. Historically, these students would have to wait weeks to get their scores back. Now, it will take a matter of days.
3. A surge in applications is leading to more deferred admissions decisions
In recent years, more college admissions offices have spread out their workloads by inviting students to apply early, in the fall, and in return receive an early response, typically in January or even before.
But a rise in applications at many schools means they’re telling more students who applied early that they need to wait to find out whether they’re in or out. (This article on LinkedIn by college admissions expert Jeff Selingo explains the rise in applications and what it means.)
Elizabeth West said college admissions officers have told her they were so overloaded with applicants that they admitted the top tier and need more time to review the rest:
We saw a record number of deferred decisions from colleges in this admissions cycle. Most were deferring from early action to regular decision timelines. I got in touch with a number of our admissions colleagues, and they talked about the sheer volume of applications they received. One college received 60,000 applications for 6,000 seats! In these cases, most colleges choose their top applicants and then defer students to take more time to read their applications.
(West said she advises students to read the deferral message on the college’s application portal closely, to see if they’re advised to take more action — like sending updated transcripts or test scores, or even getting additional letters of recommendation to boost their chances.)
Anna Davis explains how it’s playing out at Clemson and the University of Virginia:
More applications also means more deferrals. For the high school class of 2023 students who applied to Clemson, 60% were deferred. More applications can also mean it takes a college longer to release decisions. Here's a quote from the UVa admission blog: “The last time we were able to release in January, we had 25,000 early action applications. We have over 36,000 this season. Of course, we’ve added staff over the years, but reviewing the number of applications we’re getting these days takes time.”
4. Big Southern schools are hot — and getting harder to get into
The number of students applying to colleges rose nationwide in the 2024-25 academic year, but Southern schools experienced particularly big jumps. The states whose schools had some of the biggest surges in applications included South Carolina (+116%) and Alabama (+79%), which were both in the top five, according to a Common App Research Brief released in November.
Anna Davis said that could be chalked up to several reasons:
It seems like students from all over the country want to come to Southern, public universities. Schools like Auburn, the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee, the University of South Carolina and Clemson have seen tremendous growth in their applicant pools the last few years.
For the high school class of 2023, UGa was up 8% in early action applications. This year, the increase was only 3.5%, but that is 11.5% over two years. It’s hard to know if it’s related to fewer Covid restrictions, merit scholarships, weather, football success, politics or other factors, but the result is that it’s harder than ever to get into some of these schools.
Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today’s supporting sponsor is Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews:
Are Mecklenburg home sales about to increase after 2+ years of drops? Sales declines slowed in January, data says
After two years of steep declines in local home sales, new data shows that the Charlotte area’s housing market could be bottoming out.
The number of homes sold in January in Mecklenburg County fell just 6% compared with a year earlier, following 22 consecutive months of double-digit year-over-year declines. Figures from the Canopy Realtor Association show that there were 793 home sales that closed in January, down from a January peak of nearly 1,400 homes sold in 2021 and 2022.
The last time the number of closings fell by mere single digits year-over-year was in February 2022, according to Canopy data. The last year-over-year increase in closings was in November 2021.
Higher-than-usual interest rates have put a chill on the housing market in Charlotte and around the country, with fewer homeowners selling than a few years ago. Mecklenburg home sales fell 20% in 2023 compared with 2022, The Ledger reported last month.
Realtors say that there’s still demand for new housing but that supplies remain tight, which is mostly keeping home prices from dropping. The median Mecklenburg sales price in January rose 2% compared with a year earlier, to nearly $414,000. Median sales prices rose in the low single digits last year, after double-digit increases for most of 2022. —TM
Related Ledger article:
“Mecklenburg home sales fell 20% in 2023” (Jan. 22)
🎭 Theater review: Three Bone Theatre’s thought-provoking ‘Confederates’ shines with solid cast
Arts critic Lawrence Toppman reviewed Three Bones Theatre’s Saturday performance of Dominique Morisseau’s “Confederates,” which centers on two Black women living in totally different eras.
“Confederates” begins with a small mystery: Who tacked an image of an enslaved woman suckling a white baby on a black professor’s door, with the professor’s head photoshopped onto the woman?
The play at Three Bone Theatre ends with a larger mystery: What, if anything, can be done to uproot racism from American culture and relieve both black and white people from the pressures it applies?
The first mystery never gets solved. The second may be insoluble. But Dominque Morisseau’s play shows us why we can’t quit trying.
A charity’s ‘unfundable’ project wins $10,000: paying off credit card debt for mold remediation
A south Charlotte nonprofit dance studio won $10,000 last week in an unusual competition that sought to support projects that are the least likely to be funded by traditional philanthropy.
The winning charity, Charlotte Cirque & Dance Center, said the money would be used to pay off credit card debt stemming from its efforts to fix damage caused by mold under its dance floor. A dance floor, as you might imagine, is pretty crucial for a dance studio, yet paying off credit card debt for such an expense wouldn’t interest typical funders, whose money tends to go toward scholarships, performances or tickets for low-income families.
The project was described as a “retroactive grant request to fund the sealing and sprung dance floor repair that is needed for our studio to fulfill its programming,” according to the application.
“It’s the most unsexy project, period,” said Caroline Calouche, the director of the dance center on Monroe Road near Matthews. “It’s also retroactive. Nobody wants to fund things that happened in the past. … Problems pop up. Stuff happens. It’s super helpful to have somebody just trust your mission and trust what you’re doing.”
Caroline Calouche of the nonprofit Charlotte Cirque & Dance Center accepted the $10,000 award from Next Stage CEO Josh Jacobson at a celebration Thursday in Plaza Midwood. (Photo by Daniel Coston Photography)
The grant was awarded by Next Stage, a Charlotte-based social impact consulting firm that works with nonprofits. It was part of an initiative by Next Stage called “The UnFundable Project,” which seeks to raise awareness of a trend called “trust-based philanthropy.” The movement encourages nonprofit funders to support charities with no strings attached, which gives nonprofit leaders more freedom in figuring out how to fulfill their missions.
The Ledger served as a media partner of The UnFundable Project because we believe local nonprofits play a vital role in improving the quality of life in the Charlotte region.
Charlotte Cirque & Dance Center’s proposal was chosen out of more than 40 applications. —TM
Related Ledger article and podcast:
“New twist on charitable giving: trust” (Nov. 27, 2023)
🎧 “Strengthening Charlotte's nonprofit sector, with Josh Jacobson of Next Stage” (Jan. 12, 2024)
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
TODAY: 2024 Primary Candidate Reception, 6-7:30 p.m., Innovation Barn, 932 Seigle Ave. Join The Charlotte Area Chamber of Commerce, CLT Public Relations and The Charlotte Ledger for a candidate reception for the 2024 primary election. Come meet candidates running for office in Charlotte at an informal drop-in mix and mingle from 6:00 to 7:30 with candidate introductions at 6:45. All the candidates who will be listed on a 2024 Charlotte ballot have been invited to attend, including Congressional candidates, gubernatorial, county commissioner, General Assembly and N.C. Supreme Court. Free. Registration required.
FEBRUARY 27: The Plaza Midwood Social District Pre-Launch Event, 5:30-7 p.m., Dish, 1220 Thomas Ave. Join The Charlotte Ledger, the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association and CLT Public Relations for an exclusive preview event offering an inside look at how Charlotte’s first social district will work and what it means for local businesses and the public. Food, drinks and official social district reusable steel cup. $60. Registration required.
Quotable: That time an actor from ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ walked into Charlotte’s Levine Jewish Community Center
From a video posted online last week by the Levine Jewish Community Center in south Charlotte, in which membership associate Robin Stier remembers an encounter with a well-known actor:
A gentleman entered the membership office. He was wearing a baseball cap [and] looked a little scruffy. He looked down and said, “I’d like to take out a membership out for about 6 months, 8 months perhaps. I’m here on temporarily on business.”
I said, “Fabulous! What do you do, sir?’
[He said] “I am in theater.”
[I said] “You are? That’s even more wonderful! We are having auditions this upcoming weekend. Perhaps you’d like to check out our fine arts department.” I gave him a tour. Members were suddenly flying off the treadmills.
I looked to see what was going on, and it turned out it was Mandy Patinkin.
Afterwards, I realized who he was, and he gave me a giant hug, and he just appreciated the fact that I gave him the red-carpet tour without even knowing what a celebrity he was. …
He was a pleasure to have as one of our members — but he didn’t try out for our plays.
Patinkin played the character Saul Berenson in the HBO hit “Homeland,” the first three seasons of which were filmed in Charlotte between 2011-2013. In addition to other roles on Broadway and in TV, he played swordsman Inigo Montoya in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride.”
Westside brewery to close after 8 years: Blue Blaze Brewing in west Charlotte is closing next month “with a heavy heart and a profound sense of disappointment,” according to a letter posted on Facebook and Instagram on Saturday. The letter didn’t provide a reason, but the brewery, which is in the Seversville neighborhood near FreeMoreWest, had been in a legal dispute with landlord Portman Holdings over rent and a lease extension. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)
Council to vote on criminal penalties: The City Council is expected to vote tonight on reimposing criminal penalties for possessing open containers of alcohol, public urination and defecation, public masturbation, soliciting money while in a street or median and several other offenses. Proponents say treating those as crimes is needed to give police more tools to improve residents’ quality of life, while opponents say the punishments will fall heavily on the homeless population.
Fire closes 2 South End Korean restaurants: Two Korean restaurants in South End are temporarily closed after a fire on Saturday. Let’s Meat Korean BBQ and its sister restaurant next door, Seoul Food, said on social media that they would be closed until further notice. Firefighters said it was an accidental fire that started in Let’s Meat’s ventilation duct. (WCNC)
Unspecified plans for uptown parking deck: Developer Daniel Levine says there are plans for the parking deck in First Ward that has been stalled for years, but he’s not saying what those plans are. In an interview with the Charlotte Business Journal, Levine said: “I acknowledge it’s a hot topic all over our community. … I can confidently tell you there’s a promising plan in the works and that it should satisfy all the inquiring minds. There’s more to come.” (Levine told The Ledger’s April Fools Day edition last year that it would become part of a casino complex with a massive lazy river, but that was an April Fools joke. He didn’t address that issue with the Business Journal.)
Most romantic restaurants: With Valentine’s Day coming up on Wednesday, Charlotte magazine assembled a list of 17 of Charlotte’s most romantic restaurants.
Maybe next year: Of 32 NFL teams, the Carolina Panthers have the longest odds of winning next year’s Super Bowl. Oddsmakers have the team at +25000, which means a $100 bet would win $25,000. The San Francisco 49ers have the best odds, at +600. (Sports Illustrated)
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Business manager: Brie Chrisman, BC Creative