Wake Forest University

February 2011

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for February, 2011

DePaul Goes Test-Optional

Friday, February 18th, 2011

depaul-logoDePaul University in Chicago became the largest private non-profit university to go test-optional when it announced that applicants for the 2012 freshman class will no longer be required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their application. DePaul joins a growing number of colleges and universities, including Wake Forest, that have opted to make standardized test scores optional for applicants.

In a statement, DePaul officials said the new policy will further enhance the university’s student-centered approach to admission, supporting the conviction that four years of performance and learning in high school are far more important than performance on a four-hour test.

“Standardized test scores are strongly correlated with income, and scores vary dramatically across ethnic groups, raising questions about their fairness to all member of our society,” the university said in the statement. “The prevalence of the ‘test preparation industry’ and the ability of wealthier students to take the test repeated times contribute to the debate about equity.”

DePaul said it expects the vast majority of applicants will continue to submit test scores as part of the application process. However, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, added that he expects to see more applicants with high GPAs and low ACT and SAT scores.

Student who choose not to submit standardized test scores will be asked to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure non-cognitive traits, such as leadership, ability to meet long-term goals, and commitment to service.

“Admissions officers have often said that you can’t measure heart,” Boeckenstedt told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “This, in some sense, is an attempt to measure that heart.”

The groundwork for the new policy was put in place several years ago when DePaul introduced four short essay questions to its freshman application.

One question prompted applicants to describe a goal they had set for themselves and how they planned to accomplish it: “How would you compare your educational interests and goals with other students in your high school?” Another question said: “Describe a personal challenge you have faced, or a situation in which you or others were treated unfairly. How did you react to the situation and what conclusions did you draw from the experience? Were you able to turn to others for support?”

DePaul has not yet announced how many questions applicants will be asked to complete if they do not submit test scores.

A Rare Behind-the-Scenes Look at the College Admissions Process

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

College applications are in, but decision letters are still weeks away. It’s reading season at colleges and universities across the country, as admissions offices sift through stacks of applications to craft next year’s freshman class.

 Many a high school senior and their parents have wondered just how admissions decisions are made. Now they have a chance to find out. The admissions office at Grinnell College, a selective liberal arts school in Iowa, gave the Today Show a rare inside look at the process.

 Grinnell allowed cameras into the room while admissions officers reviewed applications and voted on which students to admit and which to reject.

 “I would love to say the admission process is a very straightforward process where every student is considered on their own merits, but that simply isn’t true,” Seth Allen, dean of admissions and financial aid, told the Today Show. “The process is highly subjective.”

 Here are some highlights of the behind-the-scenes action.

  •  Two admissions officers read each application, including the essay.
  • Grades, test scores and extracurricular activities are then parsed to provide insight into the applicant’s potential.
  • Each applicant is put to a vote, with majority rule determining who’s in, who’s out, and who’s wait listed.
  • A student’s future is usually decided in 15 minutes or less.

Jacques Steinberg, moderator of New York Times’ The Choice blog on admissions, said Grinnell’s process is typical of the template used at the 50 or so highly selective schools around the nation.

 In each case, the process is highly subjective, Steinberg said. “Kids and parents should never read this process as a referendum on how they did as students or how they did as parents.”

 The rigor of the student’s curriculum, involvement in extracurricular activities, and the quality of the essay are all important and within a student’s control. But gender, socioeconomic level, and race are also important and obviously beyond the applicant’s control.

 With so much beyond control, Steinberg has advice for all those nervous high school seniors. “If you can’t control this process, and you can’t out-strategize it, can’t you relax a little bit and be yourself, and let the chips fall where they may?”

Think Twice Before Buying a College Admissions Essay

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

With the college admissions race getting ever more competitive, Internet sites that sell ready-made application essays are doing a brisk business. For $15 a pop, or $7.50 for bulk orders, would-be Ivy Leaguers can purchase an essay written by someone who successfully made it to the Ivory Tower.

But­­ as Scott Anderson points out in a column for Inside Higher Ed, the quality of some of those essays underscores what every academician knows all too well: correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just because the essay writer gained admission to an Ivy League school, does not mean that the essay itself is quality work.

By way of example, Anderson points to his own essay that he submitted to the University of Virginia back in the 1980s. Reading it again as an adult, he had a revelation that should sound a cautionary note to anyone considering buying one: Anderson was admitted to UVA in spite of his writing, not because of it.

So Anderson cautions would-be applicants that before buying an essay, they should stop and consider that while essays play an important role in admissions, they are not generally the deciding factor. He also calls on student leaders to convince their peers to help spread the message that their campus is “not for sale.” But the final onus, he says, is on admissions counselors who should address the issue of essay trafficking with would-be applicants and current students. Anderson suggests they could buy essays themselves and deconstruct them to prove an important point: “that elusive fat envelope contains an offer of admission, not a conferral of perfection.”

Student Urges Others to ACT Out Against SAT

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

allie kauffmanA few months ago, we introduced you to Sylvie Baldwin, a high school senior who worked with Lawrence University to produce a video explaining why she would only be applying to test-optional colleges.

Now meet Allie Kauffmann, the daughter of a film professor at Boston University, who also has gone public with her views about the SAT. Her video was inspired by the fact that an $800 test-prep course improved her score by 300 points. “What if you don’t have the money? Too bad,” Allie explains in the film. “You’re competing against kids who do. It’s like playing basketball against kids on ladders.”

 Allie and her father have taken their cause one step further. They have started a website and a petition called  — “ACT Out Against SAT”  — urging college and universities to stop requiring the  tests as a condition for admission. Their goal is to gather 10,000 signatures and submit the final document to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars.

 “We have put this petition together to call your attention to how unfair and biased these tests are. The tests are unfair to females, minorities, students whose second language is English and students who can’t afford quality test prep classes or tutors,” they write. “Too many students are at a disadvantage when taking these tests.

 “Therefore, we respectfully ask that you no longer use ACT or SAT scores when evaluating whether a student qualifies for admission to college or when determining scholarships.”

 At last count, the petition had a little over 200 signatures, but Allie has at least one strong ally on her side. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, FairTest a testing watchdog group, worked closely with the Kauffmanns on the film.

The Case for Change in College Admissions

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This month marks two years since we started the conversation about the college admissions process by hosting the Rethinking Admissions conference at Wake Forest.  Since then, we have continued the conversation here on this blog, and many others have joined in the debate.

The latest example took place at the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP). At a three-day meeting, “The Case for Change in College Admissions,”  a host of experts weighed in on what’s wrong with the current system and how it might be improved. Here are some views from a cross-section of participants:

“The admissions arms race we were talking about a decade ago continues to accelerate relentlessly and it’s possibly unstoppable…we’ve gotten to the point where we define the quality of an educational institution by how many applicants it turns away, which, when you think about it, is pretty weird.”

Andrew Delbanco, Director of American Studies, Columbia University

“If we want to craft a class that is as diverse as we will be in 2023, we need to make big changes.”

William G. Tierney, Professor of Higher Education, University of Southern California

“The battle for America is going to be fought in the public schools of the world. America either rises or falls to the extent we’re able to tap the talents of students in all of society rather than just the white, the privileged, the few.”

William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions, Harvard University

“We are looking for diversity in the presence of equity, and opportunity in the presence of excellence.”

John Slaughter, Former President, Occidental College

“This meeting gives me hope that we might work together to develop different tools and practices to help colleges manage enrollment in the public interest.”

Lloyd Thacker, Executive Director, Education Conservancy