Wake Forest University

August 2009

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for August, 2009

Is Alumni Giving Tied to Admissions Prospects? It’s Complicated

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Research has shown that alumni are more likely to give money to their alma mater if they can expect something in return. Specifically, they tend to step up their donations if they think it will improve their own child’s chances of being admitted to the university. In a study published in the February 2009 issue of the American Economic Journal, Jonathan Meer and Harvey S. Rosen show that graduates of the selective university they studied followed what they called a “child-cycle pattern” of giving. Donations went up as their child neared high school graduation and went down if their son or daughter was not accepted to the university, according to the article entitled “Altruism and the Child Cycle of Alumni Donations.” Now a new study by the same authors suggests that donations patterns are also influenced by family bonds. In a working paper entitled “Family Bonding with Universities,” the researchers report that giving to the selective university that they studied also depends on the extent of families ties to the school. Does the alumnus have a spouse, parent or other relative who also attended the university? Then they are more likely to donate and donate big.  Read more about Meer and Rosen’s latest findings.

Are you working to make yourself a better person or just a better applicant?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

In a new study released this week, researchers found evidence that it is indeed more difficult for students to get into selective universities today than it was for previous generations. But the study also delves into what students are doing about this heightened competition.

In their working paper, entitled Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition, John Bound and Brad Hershbein of University of Michigan and Bridget Terry Long of Harvard University, report that some students are responding by taking more advanced placement courses. But others are simply focusing more attention on test- preparation courses and other strategies for improving their scores on the SAT or ACT. Read more about their findings in Inside Higher Ed or access the study online.

The working paper is available from NBER at a cost of $5.

More diversity among SAT test-takers

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The class of 2009 was the most diverse group ever to take the SAT, according to the College Board, which administers the standardized test. The percentage of minority students taking the SAT increased to 40 percent this year, up from 29.2 percent in 1999. Hispanic test-takers represented the group showing the fastest growth, but there was also a significant increase in the number of students who reported that English was not their only first language. “We are tremendously encouraged by the increasing diversity of participation in the SAT,” Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said in a statement. “The College Board will continue working together with educators nationwide to ensure all students have the opportunity to confidently pursue their college dreams.” Click here to see state-by-state reports and college attendance patterns.

College Rankings: Looking Beyond the Numbers

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

U.S. News & World Report has released its latest rankings of the American’s Best Colleges 2010, and Harvard and Princeton are once again tied for number one. Several other universities also maintained their top rankings including Wake Forest, which tied for 28 with Tufts University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While we are pleased to be part of such esteemed company, it’s important to look beyond the numbers when evaluating the quality of a university. The magazine’s director of data research, Robert J. Morse, acknowledges as much in an article explaining how the rankings are calculated. “Certainly, the college experience consists of a host of intangibles that cannot be reduced to numbers,” Morse writes along with co-author Samuel Flanigan.

In our society of rankings, everything from vacuum sweepers to health care to universities, there is a tendency to think that we are all the same. That we all offer the same basic features, but that there is a linear progression of best to worst. That is, like vacuum sweepers, they all suck up the dirt – the goal – but some are better than others and you should buy the best that you can afford! But the truth is that universities and colleges have different missions and values, different strengths and different characters and cultures, and while they all provide an education and a college degree, they don’t all do it for the same function.

For example, some require that you apply to a particular school and focus pretty intensively in that area. Others, like Wake Forest, ask all students to enter a college and learn from all areas of the liberal arts before – less intensively – focusing on a major. Some large universities have huge curriculums from which to sample, but also large classes. Others have smaller classes but not as many choices. Some offer residential experiences. At others, the campus is dead after 5 p.m. Some have big-time athletics and intense school spirit. At others, many students can play but usually there are few fans watching.

Given all these differences, what’s the best way to decide which university you should attend? Take time to know yourself first. What is important to you? What are your interests (general – not too specific)? How are you motivated? Where are you comfortable? What makes you happy? Then go visit some college campuses, read the guides, talk to people and listen. Collect the information on the schools and find the right fit. Don‘t simply reduce one of the most important decisions of your life to the best school that you can get into as defined by U.S. News & World Report.

U.S News and World Report – Best Colleges 2010

U.S. News & World Report Heats Up Debate on Test-Optional Policies

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Are the SATs necessary for college admissions? Or is high school performance just as good an indicator of a student’s likely success? Those are the two questions that U.S. News & World Report is inviting its readers to discuss online as its September issue hits newsstands. The newest issue of the magazine includes a debate between Wake Forest Provost Jill Tiefenthaler and Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. In her opinion column, Dr. Tiefenthaler argues that standardized test scores have only marginal predictive value for a student’s college performance, and offer no insight into other traits that universities consider important, such as work ethic, open-mindedness, integrity and a passion for learning. As the head of the organization that administers the SAT and other standardized tests, Caperton has a very different view. Click here to join in the debate.

American University Makes SAT/ACT Optional for Early-Decision Applicants

Friday, August 21st, 2009

American University in Washington D. C. has joined the ranks of other universities that have decided to make standardized testing optional for some applicants. In this case, the option is only open to students who are applying under the school’s early-decision plan. Incoming freshmen who apply under this plan can receive their admission decision early only if they agree to enroll in the school if accepted. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that if the university decides to adopt this same policy for all of its 15,000 applicants, it would be one of the biggest of the “more selective colleges” in the nation to adopt this approach. In an interview with the Chronicle, AU spokeswoman Maralee B. Csellar described the policy as a “pilot program.” Click here to read more about the AU’s decision and the other universities that have already opted to adopt a test-optional policy.

Quintessential Questions: Wake Forest’s Admission Director Gives Insight into the Interview Process

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

By Martha Allman

During the winter months in the Admissions Office, Fridays are dedicated to “Committee.” We gather with stacks of applications, discuss them, argue about them, eat lunch over them, plead for them, and then eventually vote as to whether or not they should be offered invitations to join our academic community.

Summer Fridays are different. With the incoming class already set and next year’s applications yet to arrive (except for the most zealous of the early decision) we have time to plan, to look ahead and to discuss the activity which consumes the bulk of our summer days—interviewing. We share insights, interview questions that have proven effective and yes, I admit, stories that are shared with us by interviewees about alien abductions the ability to communicate with animals, or details of the plot of the Transformer movie.

Since the decision to make SAT scores optional at Wake Forest, we have strongly encouraged our applicants to interview with us, either on campus, via webcam through Skype or if all else fails, through an on-line interview format. The interviews have proven invaluable as we evaluate applicants and have sometimes been so revealing that we have questioned how we ever made admissions decisions before the interview!

It’s important to note that the Admissions Officers who conduct interviews are not all the same. Some of us are fresh from the commencement line while others have just sent our own children away to college. We are musicians, historians, science geeks and bibliophiles. Some of us are the first in our families to have graduated from college. Others have descended from generations of academics. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, our faces resemble those of the community around us. It is our happy task to spend thirty minutes with prospective students and in that time to draw from them information to help us decide whether or no they are a “fit” for our institution.

Do we have a common set of questions that can be rehearsed and prepared for? No.  Do we often delve into areas of current events, high school classes, reading, or extra-curricular talents? Yes. Are there expected responses that we hope each question will elicit? Absolutely not. We like to be surprised. What we hope for most of all with the interview is insight into who the applicant really is at age 17, what ideas interest her, what experiences have shaped him, what are her hopes for the future and his concerns about the present. How open is her mind, how curious is his spirit? Is there kindness and humanity somewhere in there?

We seek a class of debaters and dancers, African drummers, mathematicians, zoologists and poets. The questions that we ask of our prospective students are thus broad and provocative. “Who are you?” asked with a warm smile is often how I begin my interview. ‘How do you hope your college years will be different from high school?”  “What’s the best class you’ve ever taken?”  “If you had a ‘do over button’ when would you have used it?”” Do you think your life will be easier than your parents’?”  “Tell me about a book that everyone should read.” “If you had a day all to yourself, how would you spend it?”  “Where do you get your news and what news has been most concerning to you of late?” Depending on the student the conversation can drift into European politics, techno music, sustainability, or conflicted teenage vampires.  I love the drift.  Just in case I have missed something critical I always conclude with, “Is there something which you hoped I would ask you that I have not?” Well, yes, there was the alien abduction.

We are admissions officers because we love college , we love college aged people and we love conversation. We don’t expect interviewees to be professional conversationalists, or mini-50 year olds, we want to talk with fresh, edgy, interesting teenagers. Theirs is the energy that makes a college campus a crucible of ideas.  Come as you are to the interview and be ready to share. That’s how the match is made.

Business as Usual?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

There was plenty of righteous indignation to go around when the Chicago Tribune broke the story of the University of Illinois’ track record of showing favoritism to applicants with friends in high places, The school reacted quickly, promising to change its policies and accepting the resignation of two trustees while a special investigative commission urged the other seven to step down. Yet even still, the firestorm continues unabated. Even the fiercest critics concede, though, that the University of Illinois is not alone in showing favoritism to certain applicants and there are certainly other documented cases that call into question the fairness of some college admissions procedures. How do schools justify these practices? Kevin Carey thinks he knows. Read his insightful opinion piece on the topic in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Food for Thought from the Supreme Court’s Newest Justice

Friday, August 14th, 2009

When the Senate confirmed federal Judge Sonja Sotamayor last week as the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, it marked the biggest milestone in a life already filled with remarkable achievements. But would Sotomayor ever have reached the nation’s highest court if her SAT scores had been the determining factor in her Ivy League college admission? Sotomayor herself thinks not. In a video circulated widely on the Internet, Sotomayor describes herself as a “product of Affirmative Action” and concedes that she never would have been admitted to Princeton and Yale based solely on her standardized test scores. Why? According to Sotomayor, there are “cultural biases” built into the tests that work against someone like her — a Puerto Rican woman raised in a “socioeconomically poor” family in the South Bronx. Click here to watch the video. Whether we agree with Sotomayor or not, her historic Supreme Court nomination gives us all food for thought. Are those of us in higher education turning away highly qualified applicants strictly based on test scores that may or may not reflect their true ability?

Let’s Continue the Conversation

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Welcome back to our Rethinking Admissions blog. The national conference Wake Forest hosted on the topic may have ended last spring, but the issues we discussed over those two days keep making their way back into the public consciousness. Since this blog proved to be a popular forum for the exchange of ideas, we’ve decided to keep it going. Please check in often to find noteworthy articles on admissions topics, insight into the latest research, and practical tips for students and counselors. You can also follow us on Twitter. We welcome your news and views on what’s happening in the field as well. Send us your comments and ideas, and let’s continue the conversation.