Wake Forest University

October 2009

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for October, 2009

WSJ On Campus Offers Insider’s View on College Admissions

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Most of us look to the Wall Street Journal for the latest financial news and analysis. But now, it also is a source for college admissions information. The venerable daily has joined with Unigo, an online college resource guide, to create WSJ On Campus . The site provides information on how to choose the right school and what steps to take to get admitted. It also offers a behind-the-scenes look at college campuses provided by the students themselves. Candid student videos are available for dozens of colleges and universities. The site also has articles on topics ranging from “Are the Ivies Worth the Price” to “Mastering the Admissions Essay.” As might be expected from the WSJ, the site also has a section devoted to paying for college. “WSJ On Campus will combine the Journal’s credibility and insight with Unigo’s impressive network of student experts and insiders at colleges across America to create an unmatched resource for students and parents on how to get into and succeed in college,” said Paul Bascobert, a spokesman for the WSJ’s parent company. The new partnership represents a significant step forward for Unigo, which was launched just one year ago by a team of 18 new college graduates. Unigo founder Jordan Goldman came up with the idea for the site after writing his own best-selling book, The Students’ Guide to Colleges, while still a student at Wesleyan University. For the WSJ, which was founded in 1889, the alliance represents the kind of innovation that print media outlets are finding is necessary to survive in the changing marketplace. WSJ On Campus joins a crowded field of online blogs and other sites providing admissions advice and insight. Earlier this month we told you about MIT’s new admissions blog that features unedited contributions from student bloggers (link to previous blog post). Other popular admissions sites include the New York Times’ The Choice blog, the University of Chicago’s Uncommon Blog and the NACAC’s Admitted Blog.

State of College Admission Report: Enrollment and Economic Uncertainty Both on the Rise

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

College applications continue to rise and enrollment has reached an all-time high, but the recent economic uncertainty is forcing a change in plans for many students. These are just a few of the findings in the 2009 State of College Admission report released this week by the National Association for Admission Counseling. The report, based on surveys of colleges and universities and counselors nationwide, examined both recent trends and long-term changes in college admissions. Here are some of the other key figures in this year’s report:

  • College enrollment reached 17.8 million students in 2006, an all-time high, and the number is expected to keep increasing until at least 2017.
  • Four-year colleges accepted an average of 67 percent of applicants in 2007, down from 71 percent in 2001, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. But the report also noted a four percent decrease in the yield rate, or the proportion of accepted students who actually enroll. On the average, 45 percent of students who are accepted ultimately enroll in a college or university.
  • Grades in college prep courses, the strength of the high school curriculum, standardized test scores, and high school grade point average (in that order) were the top four factors that admissions offices considered in making their decisions. Other factors that played into the decision process, and were ranked similarly, included the personal essay, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and the student’s interest.
  • A survey that the NACAC conducted in 2009 found that the weak economy is forcing changes in college plans. High school counselors report that more students are opting against their “dream schools” and choosing more affordable options instead. In addition, secondary schools are offering additional financial aid sessions and making other program changes to help students cope with the economic setbacks.

See a list of other key findings in the report.

Generational Labels and Institutional Identity

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

By Martha Allman

Wake Forest StudentsIn reading last week’s Chronicle article, “The Millennial Muddle,”   I found myself thinking about the many “millennials” I have interviewed over the past year as well as my own teenage daughters. Yes, I admit: most any of them can do things on the iPhone that I can’t even fathom; they get their news from a source other than the newspaper; and doubtlessly the world they live in is different from the one I inhabited in the 60’s. But can we really lump them together and assign a “generational label?”

I think not.

An aspect of “rethinking admissions” for us has been making the process more individualized. Personal interviews and expanded writing requirements on the admissions application have helped us differentiate between students, but it has also given students the opportunity to think about their individuality and how that translates into the college “fit.” I am amazed at the differences in the students I interview each day. Musicians, activists, Francophiles, inventors, liberals, conservatives, futurists — they may all be wearing the same Abercrombie shirts but I am profoundly struck by their differences of philosophy and viewpoint, interests and insights. My 9:00 interview often sees the world profoundly differently than my 11:00 interview.

Just as there is a danger in lumping young people today in categories and defining them by broad brush characteristics, there is also a danger in colleges abandoning their own individuality in the name of admissions marketing. Every university has a website filled with beautiful photography of impressive buildings and smiling faces, promises of student faculty interaction, opportunities for study abroad, service, and research, not to mention fun and friendships. Eye-catching websites, with high tech bells and whistles, wow the audience but do they succeed in differentiating one college from another? Are we abandoning our quirkiness, our distinctiveness, and our institutional personalities because we believe the market research that tells us “what students today really want?” Are we afraid if we show the world who we really are that we will no longer attract a class? Are students then in turn led to believe that all colleges of a certain “tier” are alike, and thus after applying to 20 or so, they struggle mightily with making their enrollment choice?.

As we seek to embrace diversity and inclusion in education, let us first take time to listen, to discern and to appreciate the individuality of young people. Stereotyping is dangerous and it is unfair. Then let us look closely at our own institutional identity, at the heritage and character of our individual institutions, and be courageous enough to show the world who we really are. Surely then we will attract those that share our mission and who will thrive in our diverse collegiate communities.

A young man remarked to me last week, “Once I read the questions you asked me on the admissions application, I knew this was the school for me. You obviously think about the same things I think about.” Young people are individuals. So are institutions. By recognizing and celebrating that truth, we can make our college campuses (and the world we live in) a richer place.

Martha Allman is director of admissions at Wake Forest University.

The Green Factor in Admissions

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event every October 15 when bloggers around the world unite in writing about the same issue on the same day. This year’s topic is climate change. We are pleased to join with more than 7,000 other blogs in 136 nations in writing about this very important issue from the university perspective.

When the Princeton Review develops a new rating system for its college guide, it’s a sure sign that the issue is important to students (and their parents) who are making decisions about where to apply for college. In 2007, the Green Rating criteria made its debut. It covers three broad areas: 1) whether a school’s students have a campus quality of life that is healthy and sustainable 2) how well the school is preparing its students for employment and citizenship in a world defined by environmental challenges, and 3) the school’s overall commitment to environmental issues. This year, 15 colleges made the 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll, which means they received the highest possible score of 99.

But the Princeton Review is not the only organization looking at universities’ environmental practices. Peterson’s recently issued its Green Guide to Colleges, which it calls the “ultimate guide to colleges’ sustainability efforts.” The new guide features 600 colleges and universities that it says are leading the way in defining sustainability solutions on their campuses and, in turn, providing ideas and resources for communities around the nation.

Now the commitment to sustainability has reached the very top echelons of higher education. The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment is an effort to address climate change by encouraging schools to go climate neutral and step up research aimed at finding solutions to global warming. The program already has 650 signatory schools, but it reached a new milestone last month when 87 colleges and universities announced their Climate Action Plans. This reportedly was the largest group to simultaneously make a commitment to specific activities that address global warming.

The University of North Carolina was among those submitting its Climate Action Plan outlining a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, and plans a 2009 Campus Sustainability Day to showcase its efforts on October 27.  Wake Forest University also is taking action and established its own Office of Sustainability earlier this year.

It is fitting that universities should lead the way not only in researching solutions to climate change, but also in taking measures to address sustainability on their own campuses. And as the new college guides show, prospective students and their parents are taking the issue very seriously too.

Cybervisits Allow Universities to Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Tough economic times have forced many Americans to curtail their travel, and university administrators are no exception. But admissions officers are coming up with creative alternatives to keep the lines of communication open with high school students. An admissions officer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted a cybervisit to a Fredericksburg, Virginia private school without ever leaving her office. She used a webcam to communicate with 15 students via Skype.

Wake Forest University also used Skype to conduct personal interviews with applicants after it became the first top-30 national university to adopt a test-optional policy. Knowing that some applicants would opt not to submit standardized test scores, the university admissions committee decided to be more individualized and deliberate about their decisions. While they interviewed many applicants the old-fashioned way — in person —- they invited others to interview via webcam or through a written, on-line interview. “We anticipated growth in the applicant pool, but remained committed to using personal interviews to ensure that we retained our high standards,” said Martha Allman, director of admissions at Wake Forest. “We found that the interviews truly helped us differentiate among applicants, and we began to wonder how we chose a class without interviews.”

Thanks to technology, it now doesn’t matter whether an applicant is around the corner or around the world. Dartmouth College’s admissions office recently used Skype to communicate with students in South Africa, according to the campus newspaper.

Read more about one cybervisit

The Logistics of Opting Out of the SAT

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

More than 10,000 applicants, about 8,000 personal interviews, over 7,000 standardized test scores, and 1201 freshman enrolled. That’s how the numbers stack up for the first freshman class admitted under Wake Forest University’s new test-optional policy. Last year, Wake Forest became the first top-30 national university to announce it was making the SAT and ACT optional for applicants. The first year of sorting through 10,555 applications under the new policy was admittedly more time consuming than in the past, but also more rewarding, says the university’s director of admissions Martha Allman The majority of applicants, or 72 percent, did submit their standardized test scores. But by taking the time to conduct so many personal interviews, admissions officers were able to get a better feel for how the prospective students would fit in at Wake Forest. “We’re looking for intellectual curiosity. What are your outside activities? How do you spend your time? What do you read? We’re really trying to learn about the students and have a less rehearsed introduction to them,” Allman told the Winston-Salem Journal. Read more about the process.

Prospective Applicants Get The Real Story at MIT

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Campus visits have become a ritual for college-bound high school juniors and seniors who are making decisions about which school they want to attend. But some of the best insights can come not from taking a tour, but from talking to students who are already enrolled. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is using social media to make it easier for prospective applicants to get the inside scoop from students. The admissions office has a blog maintained by 12 students along with several admissions and financial aid officers, and it has has hundreds of uncut, unedited posts on the site. According to media reports, the university pays the student bloggers up to $10 per hour for their writing, but is committed to avoiding censorship of views. A quick review of the posts makes it clear that the views expressed are strictly those of the students. But since other students are free to post their own responses, the blog has become a forum for all kinds of views on life at MIT. Click here to read it.

Reflections on this year’s NACAC Conference

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

As the National Association for College Admission Counseling wrapped up its 2009 conference last weekend, it was time to reflect on this year’s major themes. Everyone remembers the buzz the NACAC created at last year’s conference when it issued a report questioning the use of the SAT and ACT in the college admissions process. More than 800 college and universities responded by making the standardized tests optional for applicants.

At the Baltimore conference, several of the trail blazers shared their experiences including Wake Forest University’s Martha Allman, Tufts University’s Robert J. Sternberg, and George Mason University’s Andrew Flagel. The consensus was that a revamped admissions process, which places less emphasis on standardized testing, brings generally positive results. You can read more about their experiences and their reflections at the NACAC conference in this article that appeared in Inside Higher Ed.

New “Score Choice” Policy Leads to More Questions

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

As they begin applying to college, high school students have myriad decisions to make. Which university will be their “safety school?” How many other applications should they submit? What should they write in their essay? And the list of questions goes on. Now there’s one more question to add to the list. Thanks to the new Score Choice policy introduced recently by the College Board, students also need to decide which SAT score to submit along with their application.

For the more than 800 colleges and universities that have made standardized tests optional for their applicants, the decision is simple. Applicants do not have to submit an SAT score at all, and if they choose to, they can send in their highest score. But what to do at the many selective universities that require submission of each and every SAT score? Well, it’s complicated. Read the thorough overview of the new Score Choice policy in The Choice blog.