Wake Forest University

December 2009

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for December, 2009

What do Hogwarts and Harvard Have in Common?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Since the publication of J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter mania has taken the nation by storm.  And as it turns out, college campuses are no exception. In a light-hearted opinion piece for the New York Times, Oregon high school senior Lauren Edelson recounts her recent experiences while on a college tour of legendary institutions like Harvard, Dartmouth, and Middlebury College. “It turns out, they’re all a little bit like Hogwarts — the school for witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books and movies,” she writes. “Or at least, that’s what the tour guides kept telling me.” She goes on to explain how the Harvard tour guide compared the freshman dining hall to Hogwarts’s Great Hall. At Middlebury, Edelson discovers that students play a flightless version of the Quidditch game, complete with broomsticks. And the list goes on. What to make of all this Harry Potter talk? Edelson contends that colleges are trying too hard to convince students that their campuses will fulfill student fantasies. “I care about diversity and need-blind financial aid — and, of course, the social life. But I don’t care about what percentage of the student body runs around on broomsticks,” she writes, and then adds. “They’re selling the wrong thing. And my friends and I won’t be fooled. After all, Harry Potter is frozen in high school, and we’re growing up.”

GRE to Undergo Overhaul

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Changes are in store for the Graduate Record Examination. Beginning in fall 2011, the Educational Testing Service will begin scoring the test on a 130-170 point scale, with score increments of one point. The new system will replace the current 200-800 scale with score increments of 10 points.  (The writing test will keep its 1-6 scale.)

David Payne, an ETS spokesman, said the scoring change was designed to discourage graduate programs from viewing 10-point increments as representing big differences among applicants. Payne pointed out that students who score a few points higher than others do not necessary have significantly different abilities.

The other major change will affect students who take the computer-based GRE. They will have the option of moving around between questions in each section instead of providing a final answer before receiving the next question. These and other changes to content and format will make the exam “much friendlier” to test takers and will represent “the very best” option for graduate programs, Payne said.

But Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, questions whether graduate schools even need the GRE at all. Given that graduate programs admit from “a much smaller universe” (of colleges) than do undergraduate programs (with many more high schools), “the argument that you need testing” to compare candidates “is weaker,” Schaeffer told Inside Higher Ed.

One of Year’s Biggest Admissions Stories is at Cal State

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

At last count, California State University had received more than 600,000 applications for admission next fall, with more than 70,000 of those arriving the day before the November 30 deadline. Most of Cal State’s 23 campuses are no longer accepting applications, but a few are placing late applicants on a waiting list.

The sheer volume of applicants means that this year, admission at Cal State is far from guaranteed. While in theory, almost all of the applicants meet the school’s qualifications, the proportion of students actually admitted is expected to go down significantly. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed , Cal State’s transition from a non-competitive to a competitive institution is one of the biggest admissions stories of the year.

One of the reasons for the shift is California’s budget cuts, which is forcing the university to reduce enrollment in spite of higher demand. “Philosophically, most of us who work at the university are devoted to the access we’ve had throughout our existence,” James Blackburn,  director of enrollment for the system, told Inside Higher Ed. “To turn away so many students who have the potential, to turn away someone who meets the requirements, it’s very sad.”

There is some good news however. Blackburn said he was hopeful that the system would maintain its diversity since applications from Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans were all up more than 35 percent this year.

An Undeclared War between the SAT and ACT?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Some would argue that there has always been a friendly competition between the makers of the SAT and the ACT. But Fortune Magazine reports the rivalry has escalated to an “undeclared war.” In his article headlined, “The Standardized-Test Smackdown,” reporter David A. Kaplan says the College Board, owner of the SAT, and American College Testing, owner of the ACT, are vigorously vying for both market share and mind share. Kaplan points out that the SAT has lost market share to the ACT in recent years and the two tests reached virtual parity for the class of 2009. That parity may have prompted the College Board to launch its new Score Choice policy, which allows students to avoid submitting bad scores to universities and presumably means more repeated tests, Kaplan says. But with millions of students taking both tests each year, both organizations are doing just fine in what has become a billion dollar industry, according to the article. Perhaps the biggest threat to market share may be the 800-plus colleges and universities that have opted to make standardized tests optional for applicants.