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Fast-track college applications ... Too good to be true?

Just when you thought you understood all the college application choices, yet another option, "fast-track" or V.I.P. applications have sprung up.

First, let me explain how they work. Many of these applications are mailed to students inviting them to apply to College X, using an abbreviated application. Usually these applications arrive with some of the student's information already filled in like name, school, etc. Often application fees and essay requirements are waived. Many of these colleges request a graded paper in lieu of a personal essay. If that isn't reason enough to apply, they also promise quick admissions decisions.

Why would colleges extend this type of offer in light of the increasingly competitive application process? It's not out of the goodness of their hearts, I promise you that. Increasingly, institutions use "fast-track" applications as a recruitment tool. Some schools use this vehicle to cherry pick students they are interested in. Others, anxious to expand their application pool send out tens of thousands of these marketing tools in hopes of increasing their college's application stats (i.e. number of applicants, % accepted.) However, the most competitive colleges and universities, already overwhelmed with applicants, do not offer similar expedited applications. That is not to say that institutions offering V.I.P. applications are less good schools. At a recent NACAC meeting, college admissions officers defended using fast-track" applications to encourage particularly promising applicants to apply to their institutions.

So what's the hitch? College applications are incomplete without transcripts, teacher and counselor recommendations and standardized test scores, largely sent electronically. If the student selects to mail in one of the "fast track" applications, high schools cannot electronically submit student's supporting documents to colleges, and colleges are not able to download these documents until the student submits their application through the Common Application website, for which, of course, students pay a fee per application. Robert Killion, Executive Director of Common Application, admits that money is one reason (the nonprofit association receives approximately a $4 fee from member colleges) that they do not process free "fast track" applications. More importantly, Killion argues that the existing pay for electronic service also prevents colleges from being inundated with documents from students who might list many institutions on their "My College" list, then not end up applying.

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