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Admissions staff, Anna Cox ’22 and Stephanie Ruckel, talk with student, Elsy Cruz Parra ’26 in the Augsburg Admissions office. (Photo by Courtney Perry)

Augsburg Applies to You is changing the game

Augsburg’s shift to direct admissions eliminates barriers and shows the nation the power of more equitable enrollment policies.

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<strong>Elsy Cruz Parra</strong> (center) with classmates inside Hagfors Center (Courtesy photo)
Elsy Cruz Parra ’26 (center) with classmates inside Hagfors Center (Courtesy photo)

Elsy Cruz Parra ’26 had planned to attend college for as long as she can remember. After neither of her parents were able to complete school through the middle school level in Mexico, they instilled the importance of education in Cruz Parra and her two younger siblings as they raised their family in Richfield, Minnesota. 

With her high school graduation approaching in 2022, Cruz Parra was fully prepared to go through a rigorous process to get accepted to a higher education institution that would keep her close to home and help her grow academically and professionally. Imagine her surprise and delight, then, when she received a letter that said she had been accepted to Augsburg University without even applying. She just had to fill out a short form, and she knew her future education was secure. 

“I felt so relieved,” said Cruz Parra, who is now studying biology as a sophomore at Augsburg with the intention of attending medical school. “It was delightful to be able to just make sure I was getting prepared and ready for my first semester at college.” 

Cruz Parra’s experience has been shared by thousands of high school students since the fall of 2022, when Augsburg became one of the first institutions in the country to completely shift to direct admissions, a frictionless process that offers automatic college admission for students who meet certain academic criteria. 

At Augsburg, it’s known as Augsburg Applies to You. Any graduating high school student with a 3.0 GPA qualifies for direct admission. With the lengthy admissions process out of the way, students have much more time to plan for their futures, including connecting with Augsburg’s financial and support services to prepare for success in their first year and beyond. 

<strong>Robert Gould</strong> (Photo by Courtney Perry)
Robert Gould (Photo by Courtney Perry)

“It’s a paradigm shift from you applying to the college to the college applying to you,” said Robert Gould, vice president for strategic enrollment management. “We’ve changed the way students experience the admissions process, the way counselors experience the admissions process, and, really, what the admissions process means.”

‘The next big step’

One year in, the early returns are more than encouraging: Augsburg welcomed its largest and most diverse first-year class in history last fall. While some critics of direct admissions have argued the policy leads to more accepted students who don’t actually enroll, Augsburg hasn’t seen this negative impact on enrollment yield with direct admissions. (Ninety-nine percent of students offered direct admission would have still been admitted under Augsburg’s previous admissions criteria.)

“This initiative has the potential to be really transformative nationally,” said Rachel Farris, director of public relations and internal communications. “It’s a very powerful change.” 

To understand the decision to move to direct admissions, it’s useful to back up well before 2022. Driven by the university’s mission of intentional diversity, the past 15 years have seen a series of steps toward removing barriers in admissions and ensuring traditionally underserved communities have access to an Augsburg education. That includes programs such as Auggie Basics, which provides a range of assistance for housing, textbooks, and food. There have also been policy changes such as removing standardized test scores and letters of recommendation from the undergraduate application process and providing more need-based financial aid. 

“We’ve been working to remove barriers for students for many years and understanding the impacts of those changes we’ve made,” said Stephanie Ruckel, director of strategic enrollment management, who partnered closely with Gould to plan out the move to direct admissions. “Direct admissions is just the next big step as we’ve built momentum. Every step along the way we were seeing benefits for students, the process, and the effectiveness of admissions counselors.”

<strong>Robert Gould</strong> (Photo by Courtney Perry)
Stephanie Ruckel (Photo by Courtney Perry)

As was the case for Cruz Parra, the immediate benefit for students is the shift in being accepted to Augsburg much earlier (by October 1 in their senior year of high school) and feeling secure knowing a college education is available to them. 

“With earlier acceptance, direct admissions supports the goal of having more students feeling like they have more choices, and that they’re making well-informed decisions and are choosing the right school for them,” Ruckel said.

Beyond giving students more time to interact with the university after being accepted, Augsburg has tied direct admissions to financial aid. The Augsburg Promise Scholarship offers students who have been directly admitted to Augsburg full tuition if they are Pell Grant eligible (or have a family gross adjusted income of $80,000 or less) and are a Minnesota resident graduating from a Minnesota high school. This aligns with the requirements of the state of Minnesota’s North Star Promise program, which starts later this year and will cover all tuition and fees at public institutions for resident students whose families make $80,000 or less. 

Augsburg's Admissions Office (Photo by Courtney Perry)
Augsburg’s admissions office (Photo by Courtney Perry)

“Our model is to have a student receive a letter without applying by October 1. By November 1, they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and by December 1, they have a financial aid package in hand,” Gould said. (The high school senior class of 2024’s timeline will be delayed by a change in FAFSA policy, so financial aid packages won’t be available until spring, Gould added, but the federal policy should return to normal next year.)

Augsburg Applies to You has led to invitations for the university to participate in direct admissions pilot programs with Common Application, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, and the Chicago Public Schools. 

[Augsburg] has really anticipated the way of the future,” said Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s Direct Admissions Coordinator Aaron Salasek, who has partnered closely with Gould and Ruckel. “The institution is really prioritizing equity before enrollment, but that’s sort of a false dichotomy. The two can go hand in hand, and that’s what direct admissions is all about. It’s student-centered, family-centered, and higher education institutions will all benefit from this effort as we scale across the state.”

‘Much more meaningful work’

Anna Cox ’22 remembers well the experience of applying to Augsburg as a high school senior in Indiana. Now an admissions counselor at her alma mater, she’s on the other side of the process, but her work looks drastically different than that of the counselors who read her application in 2018. 

“I get to do so much more meaningful work with students after this direct admissions change,” Cox said. “I absolutely love it.”

<strong>Anna Cox</strong> participates in a marketing shoot during her time as a student worker for Admissions. (Photo by Courtney Perry)
Anna Cox ’22 during her time as a student worker for admissions (Photo by Courtney Perry)

Traditionally, the bulk of admissions counselors’ work in higher education has been tied to recruitment, reviewing applications, and supporting students through the logistics of applying, such as submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores. In removing hundreds of hours spent in “essay review season” and application review time, counselors at Augsburg have shifted to more of a coaching role. That means intentionally supporting students to make the right school choice for them, helping guide them through the financial aid process, and preparing them for success should they choose Augsburg. 

That increased support also extends to students who fall below the direct admissions threshold. A new success coaching program at Augsburg has admissions counselors providing a range of support for students coming in with high school GPAs lower than 3.0. 

“It really starts to break down the model of admissions counselors being gatekeepers,” Cox said. “Instead of interactions with students of, ‘Turn this in, do this,’ it’s more, ‘You’re already in, what are you interested in? What do you need from me? What are your goals and how can I help?’ It’s more intentional relationship building and supporting students before they even get here, but also once they’re here.”

Ready to replicate

<strong>Cruz Parra</strong> outside the Admissions office (Photo by Courtney Perry)
Cruz Parra outside the admissions office (Photo by Courtney Perry)

Among those working to drive Augsburg’s move to direct admissions, there is genuine belief in the policy’s power to shift a paradigm around college admissions. The goal, they say, is to fundamentally change a decades-old system that has driven inequities across American education, which Gould points out “hasn’t structurally changed since its origins of enabling the children of wealthy white merchants to get a higher education.”

“Augsburg wants every institution to copy what we’re doing,” Gould added. “We’re willing to share how we’re doing it. Each institution will have to adapt it to their profile, but we want the concept of direct admissions and success coaching copied.”

As with any pioneering effort, there are many eyes on Augsburg, evidenced by several national media outlets recently covering the change, including Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Inside Higher Ed. While Gould acknowledged that paradigm shifts often take a long time, Ruckel said evidence of success will hopefully continue to come as students are retained and work toward graduation, buoying the case for direct admissions for other schools considering it. 

“Other institutions around the country are trying to achieve these same goals around access and equity. This is a powerful example we can point to and show how we’re stepping forward as a leader in higher education,” Farris said. “Admissions is one place where the rubber really meets the road in terms of thinking about how our systems work and how our processes either continue or disrupt inequities.”

“Direct admissions,” she added, “is the Augsburg mission through and through.”

Top image: Admissions staff Anna Cox ’22 and Stephanie Ruckel talk with student Elsy Cruz Parra ’26 in the Augsburg admissions office. (Photo by Courtney Perry)

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