Wake Forest University

May 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for May, 2010

Test-Optional Movement Picks Up Steam

Friday, May 28th, 2010

As two New Hampshire schools join the growing list of colleges and universities to make the SAT and ACT tests optional for applicants, they are being applauded for their foresight. Both St. Anselm College and Southern New Hampshire University announced their decision to go test-optional this month. “The national movement among schools to place more emphasis on a student’s academic and extracurricular contributions in high school and less on standardized tests is a welcome trend in education,” wrote the Nashua Telegraph,  in an editorial. In explaining the Saint Anselm decision, the dean of admission said it was based on empirical evidience. “Six years of data show that, at Saint Anselm, the best predictor of academic success is a record of academic achievement in rigorous high school coursework,” Nancy Davis Griffin said in a statement . “By becoming test optional, we hope to reach qualified students who may not have considered Saint Anselm.” At Southern New Hampshire University, the president said the decision is in keeping with the school’s philosophy. “We have built an admissions process around knowing students personally and holistically. Standardized tests offer one vantage point and we’re happy to add the results into the mix, but we know so much more about a student by the time we accept or deny, including their academic abilities, that not having the test scores means very little,” said SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. FairTest, a Boston-based group, is among those praising the trend after conducting research on colleges and universities that have gone test-optional. In its report on the issue, the group said: “The successful experience of schools included in these case studies, and those of the hundreds of other institutions that have de-emphasized standardized tests in admissions, make it abundantly clear that there is ‘life after the SAT’ (or ACT).”

An Imaginary Commencement Speech from an Admissions Dean

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Jeff BrenzelThe job of college admissions officers is more art than science, and it can be difficult to describe all the elements that go into the evaluation of applicants. After all, they must base their decisions on the accomplishments of 17 or 18 year olds, while trying to envision what they might become in just four short years. It would no doubt be gratifying to be able to go back and reevaluate those decisions on graduation day. Were they the right ones? How did the students turn out?

Jeffrey Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, was able to do just that with the graduating class of 2010 – in his imagination. In a poignant column for the Huffington Post, he writes the commencement speech he would have given had he been asked. (Bill Clinton will speak in his stead). Among the first questions Brenzel would pose to graduates are: What do you know now that you did not know four years ago? What can you do now that you could not do four years ago? Could you, as they say in the exam question, support your answer with specific examples?

Brenzel points out that the ability to make good grades would not be much of an accomplishment since most students knew how to do that before arriving at Yale. Instead, he urges students to ask themselves some hard questions by doing a self assessment.  He even offers a few suggestions on the kinds of questions they should ask.”Four years ago, I took a stab at guessing your potential. Now only you can determine to what degree you yourself will recognize and fulfill it,” Brenzel writes. “God speed. Good luck. Be sure to write. “

Do College Reputations Drive Rankings or Is it the Other Way Around?

Monday, May 17th, 2010

There’s no doubt that some students are unduly influenced by college rankings published by national magazines, regardless of the criteria used to come up with the lists. But new research suggests that faculty can also be heavily influenced by rankings, even when it comes to opinions on academic offerings in their own field. Nicholas A. Bowman, a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and Michael N. Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, examined the effects of The Times World University Rankings after they were introduced in 2004. The first year, faculty members and administrators were asked to list up to 30 universities around the world that they considered leaders in their areas of study – science, technology, social science, medicine and arts and the humanities. In analyzing responses in subsequent years, the researchers found that the widely publicized rankings helped form a consensus about the perceived prestige of certain universities. In other words, institutions that fared well in the first year did significantly better in the second year as well.  Based on their findings, Bastedo and Bowman conclude that  “clearly, rankings drive reputation, and not the other way around,” with the reputations of institutions appearing to change “in concert with the introduction and widespread use of a particular rankings system.” This is not the first time research on college rankings has led to this type of conclusion. In a paper published in February in the American Journal of Education, the same researchers examined the U.S. News & World Report rankings and similarly concluded that colleges’ reputations are influenced by rankings.  Read more about the faculty study in the Chronicle of Higher Education.