Wake Forest University

November 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for November, 2010

Rethinking Admissions Travel

Monday, November 29th, 2010

By Kevin Pittard

Kevin Pittard is associate director of admissions at Wake Forest University. Here he shares his insights on the 2010 fall travel season, when admissions counselors travel to high schools and college fairs across the country and around the world.

The admissions office at Wake Forest University recently finished its 2010 fall travel season.  We have put away our overnight bags, itemized our expenses, and counted up all our college fair inquiry cards.  We have survived an eight-week sprint that both saps our energy and re-energizes us as we go out to spread the word about our school.  Thankfully, travel season concludes just in time for us to interview more students here in our offices and mentally prepare to read the thousands of applications soon to be headed our way.

For a small liberal arts university, travel is thought to be a critical element in getting our name out to students who might not know who we are.   Even in the internet age, when our carefully crafted web image can be viewed by people the world over, staffers in this office have spent the past two months driving and flying to every corner of the country.  We visited schools in Miami, went to college fairs in New Hampshire, interviewed students in Seattle, and gave talks in San Diego. One of our more adventurous staffers visited three continents between September and October and is currently traveling in Toronto.  We put over 12,000 miles on our office vehicles just in driving around North Carolina.

Now as we make the transition from travel season to reading season, we will once again rethink the admissions travel process.  We will ask ourselves if all those miles were worth the effort.  Do students, parents, and counselors really use the information they get at college fairs?  After all, websites and admissions advice books include all the information we give out while on the road.  Do visits to schools and conversations with counselors who already know us well help in the application process or does it foster an ‘insiders club” that hurts the students at more geographically or economically remote schools?  Do applicants view the brief meetings with us more as a way of demonstrating interest in us or as a way of deciding which school is the best fit for them?  Should we visit the schools that always send us applicants or seek out schools we have never visited?  We know we will never be able to visit every school we need to visit; there are simply too many destinations and travel budgets can’t keep up with the demand.  Is there a simple answer?

If you talk to veteran admissions travelers, you will hear opinions stressing the absolute necessity of visiting individual high schools every year, while others will say that most travel these days is a relic since students and parents are now savvy enough to travel to the college campuses themselves. So why spend the money? Why generate the big carbon travel footprints or endure the sore feet from standing at all those fairs? Why lure students to miss valuable class time in order to sit and listen to one more pitch from one more school?  Does all this travel exacerbate the problem of application overload?

It seems that now is the time to argue for a broader definition of what constitutes “admissions travel”.  If schools and applicants are truly interested in finding out more about each other, we need to realize that travel not only works both ways but in new ways altogether.  In addition to the tried and true travel schedule, it is clear that the internet, Skype, and podcasts all can and should play a role in helping students and colleges get to know each other better. The bottom line is that every school (and every student) wants to show off what makes them special. So regardless of where student and school encounter one another, whether it is on each other’s campus or on-line via a virtual campus tour,  it is to accept that in this new world of college admissions it is more about the contact than about the travel itself.

College Applications: “Less is More” Movement Picks Up Steam

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

This blog has been dedicated in part to spreading the message that less can be more when it comes to college applications. (“College Applications: More Isn’t Better”   and “College Applications: More Isn’t Better – Part II”). Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Huffington Post characterized Wake Forest University as “one of the few schools trying to calm the admissions water” in its article headlined “Can Less Mean More in College Application Race?”

After the decision was made to make the SAT and ACT optional for applicants, Wake Forest did see a 16 percent increase in the number of application. But applications then plateaued at 10,500 – well below the 40,000 applications that some other universities receive. “We began saying to anyone who would listen that the number of applications do not really denote the quality of the school,” Martha Allman, Wake Forest’s dean of admissions told the Huffington Post. “We want serious applications.”

The Wake Forest admissions process is designed to tap into the student’s practicality, creativity and wisdom. It is modeled after the Kaleidoscope Approach pioneered by Robert Sternberg, former arts and sciences dean at Tufts University. Interestingly, Tufts applications have also plateaued at around 15,000 but more of those students who are accepted are actually enrolling.

Despite these promising trends, the article notes that there other universities are making it easier for students to apply. For example, Trinity, Colby and Middlebury have all dropped essay questions from their supplement to the Common Application. “It feels like we are at a moment where colleges could say, ‘You know, we need a little bit more of you in this folder,'” Lee Coffin, admissions dean at Tufts said in the article. “There are very few places saying that, though.”

Ann Wright, the College Board’s vice president for the Southwest region, believes a tipping point may be in store.  “I do think there’s always a tipping point,” she told the Huffington Post, “where it’s just too much and you begin to see not just a few people but a lot of people recognizing things have gone too far.”

Huffington Post Spotlights 11 Test-Optional Schools

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The Huffington Post turned its lens on the test-optional movement this week, focusing in particular on 11 competitive institutions where most if not all standardized tests are no longer required for admission. Among them was Wake Forest University, which announced its decision to go test-optional in 2008. Also among the ranks of colleges and universities highlighted in the piece are New York University, Bryn Mawr, Middlebury College and American University. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Test, more than 800 American four-year colleges and universities are now test optional.

The article points out that the SAT was initially intended to give all applicants an equal chance of being accepted to the university of their choice. But the “democratic goals” have gone awry as those who can afford it enroll in expensive prep courses or hire private tutors. The Huffington Post then asked its readers to weigh in the issue by asking whether they think the SAT be phased out. The opinions came pouring in, and at last count, there were more than 135 comments – both for and against the test-optional movement. Which way do you lean on this issue? Let’s continue the conversation.

College Applications: More Isn’t Better–Part II

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently started collaborating with The New York Times, and the result is in-depth, high-quality reporting on issues of interest to the academic community. In the first article stemming from the team effort, Chronicle reporter Eric Hoover tackled the topic of application inflation. In his comprehensive and thorough overview of the reasons behind the spike in college applications nationwide, Hoover acknowledges that some increase in applications was inevitable as the number of college-bound students has grown. However, he also points to aggressive marketing and recruiting on the part of universities as a contributing factor.

“Admissions officers are chasing not so much a more perfect student as a more perfect class,” Hoover writes. “In a given year, this elusive ideal might require more violinists, goalies, aspiring engineers, or students who can pay the full cost of attendance. Colleges everywhere want more minority students, more out-of-state students, and more students from overseas.

“The pursuit reveals the duality of the modern college. It’s a place that serves the public interest, and a business with a bottom line. Although the tension between mission and marketing has long defined admissions, many believe the balance has tilted too far toward marketing. “

The article also includes interviews with some of the key players in the admissions world. Here’s an overview of what they had to say on the topic of application inflation:

 “It’s a classic arms race—escalation for not a whole lot of gain. I don’t think these larger applicant pools are materially improving the quality of their classes. Now what’s driving it is the institutional self-interest factor, where bigger pools mean you’re more popular, you’re better.”

Karl M. Furstenberg, former dean of admissions and financial aid, Dartmouth College

“Don’t kid yourselves, the presidents and trustees want you to have more applications. If you don’t think that’s the case, I don’t know what schools you’re working at, but it’s true.”

James G. Nondorf, dean of college admissions and financial aid, University of Chicago

“The pressure for more applications isn’t offset by an equal pressure for less, and no college wants to consciously put itself in a weaker competitive position.”

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, Duke

 “Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days, when getting into America’s top colleges was like knowing a secret handshake. If we started cutting back, applications would go down from the students who need real outreach.”

William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions, Harvard

What Happens After a University Goes Test-Optional?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

FairTest reports that more than 830 four-year colleges and universities have gone test-optional in recent years. That means that applicants are not required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications, however they may do so if they wish. But that bodes the question of how admissions officers decide who is qualified and who is not in the absence of standardized test scores? The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the views of admissions officers at test-optional colleges and universities. Here’s an overview of what they had to say (we’ve also added a few of our own):

  • Muhlenberg College requires applicants who don’t submit standardized test scores to participate in a personal interview — either by phone or in person – and submit a copy of a graded paper.
  • Goucher College looks closely at applicants’ level of interest in the college.  Included in their application are questions about what other institutions they are applying to, and why they are interested in attending Goucher.
  • After deciding to go test-optional in Fall 2010, Fairfield University also added supplemental questions to the Common Application. They ask applicants to reflect on the school’s missions and vision and how they see themselves as members of the community. Applicants also are encouraged to schedule a campus interview or arrange for one with an alumnus.
  • Salisbury University only allows applicants who have earned a high school GPA of 3.5 to go test-optional, but those applicants must also provide a personal statement to support  their individual achievements.

Despite this wide array of admissions requirements many parents are still confused when it comes to test-optional schools. Jennifer Gayles, assistant director of admissions at Sarah Lawrence College, told the Chronicle that parents are sometimes surprised when they hear the college is test-optional and ask, “Well, what do you look at?”