Wake Forest University

January 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for January, 2010

Is it Harder to Get into College? Not Necessarily

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

While news headlines and anxious parent may tell you otherwise, the fact is it is no more difficult for most students to get into college today than 10 years ago. That’s the message in a new report from the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

The report, titled “Chasing the College Acceptance Letter,”  concludes that if students are well prepared in high school and earn the right credentials, they will most likely get into a competitive university. What qualifies as the right credentials? Not necessarily straight A’s. The report suggests “decent grades,” college prep courses, and good scores on college entrance exams will get most students into a competitive university even if it is not the school of their dreams.

But the report also points out that minority and low-income students are less likely to get the credentials necessary for admission into a competitive university. And even those low-income students who are well prepared are less likely to get accepted to a competitive school than their high-income counterparts (67 percent vs. 80 percent).

As for all the news headlines about colleges being flooded with applications and having to turn away more students, it’s important to keep the facts in perspective. Just because the number of applications are up, it doesn’t mean there are fewer spots for qualified students. As the report says: “Does a C student sending an application to Harvard decrease the school’s acceptance rate? Yes. But does it decrease the chances of a straight-A student getting admitted? Doubtful.”

Now for the fine print. The authors of the report stress that their conclusions are based on the “average” applicants’ chances of getting into a competitive or somewhat selective college. That means universities that admit between 75 and 85 percent of their applicants. So what does an average high school student look like? The criteria used in the report was a GPA of 3.1, a score of 21 on the ACT and a passing grade in math and science courses up through chemistry and trigonometry (or the equivalents, Algebra III and Analytic Geometry.)

No More Admissions Creep

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

“Admissions creep” is the term the National Association for College Counseling has coined for the tendency that universities have to admit students earlier and earlier in their senior year. The result is that high school seniors often use their admissions letters as an excuse to blow off rigorous courses. That’s why the NACAC is now requiring its 1,600 member schools to give applicants until May 1 to respond to admissions offers. “More and more colleges are admitting students earlier, so their senior year kind of goes away,” Joyce E. Smith, chief executive of the association, told the New York Times. Known as National Candidates’ Reply Date, the May 1st deadline will be more strictly adhered to beginning this year.

In another policy change, NACAC is also asking its members not to offer extra incentives to students who state a particular university is their “first choice.”  Perks have often included the first choice of housing or classes. “Colleges were putting far too much emphasis on students’ responses,” Smith says. “A 17- or 18-year-old may not have a strong preference for No. 1 over No. 3.”  For students who have no doubts, they still have the option of early decision.

College Admissions: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Your essays are written, your recommendation letters are mailed, and your college applications are submitted. Now what? Well, college admissions counselors suggest there are some things you can be doing while you’re waiting for the fat envelope. U.S. News & World Report talked to a few of them, and here’s what they suggest:

  •  Follow up with your high school: You requested your transcripts, but were they actually sent? This is a busy time of year for high school counseling offices, and it’s important to check so you don’t accidently fall through the cracks.
  • Market yourself to colleges: Now is the time to visit to the school of your choice and see if you can get an interview with someone from the admissions office. But once you’re there, be considerate of people’s time.
  • Consider your options: If you really like a school, but are undecided about your major, consider choosing a program with lower enrollments.
  • Think about finances: Now is the time to complete those lengthy financial aid forms, and talk to your parents about your options. Don’t wait until you’re accepted to apply for financial aid.

Those are some do’s, and you can find more tips here.  What about the don’ts? Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, says that’s pretty simple. Don’t “send mountains of unessential supplemental information, or e-mail or continually contact the admission representative during the time when they are reading applications 60 hours per week.”

Are College Rankings Based on Circular Logic?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

students_in_conversationWhen students are making the all-important decision of where to apply to college, they often turn to U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of colleges and universities. According to one study, more than half of incoming college freshmen surveyed said the rankings were important when making their decision about which school to attend.

But a new study calls into question the methodology used to rank the schools. Specifically, it examines the “reputational” survey that makes up 25 percent of the score that the magazine uses for its rankings. The research shows that reputational scores are based on the previous year’s rankings, and rankings, in turn, are based on the reputational scores. In other words, the scores are circular.

The study, published in the American Journal of Education, was conducted by Michael N. Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, and Nicholas A. Bowman, a postdoctoral research associate in the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Bastedo said that the study raises serious questions about the validity of the reputational survey. The findings suggest that reputational rankings won’t change, even as the quality of colleges does change. But Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, says it’s not surprising that reputational scores are “relatively stable from one year to another,” adding that “schools themselves say they change slowly, not rapidly.”

Failure Insurance for Students? Why Economists Think it May Work

Monday, January 11th, 2010

What if students applying to college knew that they could enroll in the school of their choice, and receive a tuition reimbursement if they later discovered it wasn’t a good fit? That might be possible some day if the insurance industry adopts a type of policy that two economists have outlined in a working paper. In Insuring College Failure Risk, Satyajit Chatterjee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and A. Felicia Ionescu, an assistant professor of economics at Colgate University, explain why such a policy makes sense.

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the economists presented mathematical models, which show that “failure insurance” might be a useful component of the federal student loan program. The models theorize that students’ college decisions are driven by their finances, their views on future earnings, and the amount of “disutility” that they expect from the academic work. If structured correctly, the failure insurance would ease student anxieties over debt, while giving them an incentive to stay in school. The economists explained how it would work in a Q & A with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The SAT Question: No — Subjectivity eclipses objectivity

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

This opinion piece by Jill Tiefenthaler, Wake Forest’s provost and professor of economics, first appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.


There are no objective inputs to the college admissions process. We crave clear tests that offer a fair chance to prove merit. The SAT was conceived for this purpose, but that objectivity has eroded.

We want to believe that, irrespective of our different backgrounds or experiences in life, we are judged based on our work ethic and achievements. At Wake Forest University, this premise has been woven into the fabric of our institution since its founding. We have always sought to provide opportunities to those willing to earn them, without regard to advantages in life or the lack thereof. In order to preserve this important heritage, we have taken a bold stand to acknowledge the absence of objectivity in college admissions and redirect emphasis to the subjective measures that work.

The race for spots at the most competitive national colleges and universities has reached a fever pitch, and families have responded by trying to maximize every input. Standardized test scores provide a great example. These scores generally improve with guidance and repetition, and so the tests have encouraged an industry of test training that takes advantage of the ambitions of students and their families. Test preparation courses have become commonplace, and students take tests over and over to improve their scores. At the extreme, consultants whose fees reach tens of thousands of dollars contribute to an escalating craze.

The goal of evaluating standardized test scores and measures like GPA is to find the applicants with the brightest minds who are motivated to excel and offer meaningful contributions to the learning of their peers. Admissions professionals try to determine which students will be academically successful and make important contributions to the learning community. There is some correlation between standardized test scores and first-year college grades, but high school grades — even with the differences in curriculum across schools — are by far the best predictors of college success. When a predictive model accounts for high school grades, adding in standardized test scores does not significantly improve the accuracy of the model. In fact, the SAT is correlated more closely with socioeconomic background than with college success. More

You’re Accepted, and So Are You, You and You!

Monday, January 4th, 2010

One acceptance letter to an Ivy League school is enough to get any family excited. But imagine receiving four acceptance letters all in the same day. That’s what happened to Ray, Kenny, Carol and Martina Crouch, quadruplets at Danbury High School in Connecticut. All four had applied to Yale under its early admission guidelines. The New York Times reported in an article (http://bit.ly/5g5h8X ) that each one received news that they had been accepted on the same day, a quadruple first for Yale.  None of the Crouch sibling has decided yet if they will be attending Yale since they have until May 1 to make up their minds. Plus they have yet to hear from the nearly 30 schools that they have applied to collectively. As for Yale, they are hoping to see all four Crouches on their campus next year.  “Their applications were terrific, and we simply hope that they will all decide to come!” Jeffrey Brenzel, the dean of admissions at Yale, told the Times in an email. Asked if Yale had any policy on admitting members of the same family as a package, Brenzel said, “We don’t feel an obligation to render the same decision on siblings in the same year.”