Wake Forest University

January 2012

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for January, 2012

Rethinking the Culture of Praise

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

With the stakes for college admissions getting higher by the day, it’s no surprise that students are going to extreme lengths in an attempt to make themselves stand out from the crowd. However, in today’s culture of praise, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish one [insert superlative here] student from all the others. Is every student truly as great as his or her recommendation suggests? Do students benefit from receiving “empty praise” rather than critical feedback that might aid in necessary development? Examining this culture may provide us insights into the reasons young people so often feel entitled and furthermore, allow us to determine  who is truly is different.

SAT scores don't tell the entire story

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Editorial from the Winston-Salem Journal.

It never hurts to prove the boss right, but that wasn’t Professor Joseph Soares’ motive with a new book blasting college-entrance exams.

The Wake Forest University sociologist’s book “SAT Wars” highlights the wisdom his employer showed in 2008 when it dropped the SAT as a requirement for admission. Since then, WFU has admitted stronger and more diverse classes.

Critics of the SAT, which is owned by the College Board, say it is biased toward the affluent, ethnic majorities, those with a particular form of intelligence, and that it is a poor predictor of student performance in college.

Since dropping its SAT requirement and becoming a “test-optional” school, WFU has become more racially and socio-economically diverse and seen an increase in the number of applicants with stellar high-school transcripts.

High-school students with strong academic records can be scared away from schools with high-achieving student bodies. They have competitive grades but see that average SAT scores are above theirs. So they apply elsewhere. In such cases, the SAT harms both the university and the intimidated student. Wake Forest was wise to opt out of that disadvantaged position.

Most university admissions departments consider many factors beyond the SAT. They know that it does not measure student creativity, drive or character. Nonetheless, it is a required criterion, and low scores can severely hamper a student’s chances of admission even though a student’s high-school record is the best indicator of how he or she will do in college.

The College Board has tried to accommodate its serious critics and improve the test, but this effort is fruitless because the basic concept behind such tests is flawed. Some excellent students do poorly on standardized tests, while some poor students do very well.

More colleges should follow WFU’s lead. Students who do well on standardized-admissions tests can be allowed to submit their scores and help themselves. But students who prefer to skip the tests and rely on their much more important school records should have that option, too.

Doubts About the SAT

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

A new twist has been added to the conversation surrounding the use of standardized tests as a measure of academic preparedness for college-bound high schoolers.  In March, North Carolina will begin requiring all high school students to sit for three different diagnostic tests, chief among which is the ACT.  Said to be more content-based than the SAT, the ACT is expected to be a better identifier of weaknesses in academics content areas.  With its announcement, North Carolina begins a new era of testing that further reinforces the cultural significance placed on standardized tests.  Furthermore, the announcement draws a clear distinction between what the state feels are the benefits of the ACT and the shortcomings of its counterpart. Jane Stancill of the News Observer writes about the ongoing debate and the changes that are set to take place.

While you are Waiting

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Admissions applications are submitted and April 1 notification seems like years away…Suggestions for that long winter wait…

The holidays are over. The frantic rush to collect recommendations and write admissions essays has culminated in the ceremonial push of the “submit” button. The adrenaline rush has subsided. Your admissions application has now passed from your hands to those of various admissions committee members. The wait has begun.

Even though I have spent thirty years in the admissions profession, I can’t give you the panacea for your nervous stomach, your anxious thoughts or the nightmare in which you realize you have submitted Wake Forest’s essay in your Duke application. I can however offer a few common sense pointers which may indeed make April a less cruel month.

  1. Stay focused. Don’t spoil a wonderful high school transcript with senioritis. Many colleges consider mid-year grade reports before making final decisions. Keep a full head of steam as you prepare to enter the rigors of college academics and strive to make your senior year your strongest yet.
  2. Get your financial aid documents in order. Financial aid deadlines for submitting the CSS Profile and FASFA are often February 15 with tax returns due shortly thereafter. Don’t wait until you are admitted to start thinking about finances, by then you could have missed the boat.
  3. Continue your College Research. Continue to explore the websites of the schools to which you have applied. Familiarize yourself with the faculty, their research, the lectures, concerts and campus events . Imagine yourself at each of your college choices. Talk with your college counselor, alumni and others who are knowledgeable about the institutions. Having a strong sense of each of your college choices will make decision making time much less stressful in April.
  4. Visit if you can. If you have not visited the colleges to which you have applied, try to do so. Many colleges have open house programs in April but visiting in the winter, attending classes and talking with students may help you to prioritize your college list.
  5. Behave. Foolish acts of irresponsibility in the senior year could rob you of admission to your dream school. Channel your energy in a positive ways-academics(See #1) extra-curricular activities, community service, and READING.
  6. Be positive and realistic. Finally, hope for your dream school but have solid plans B and C. Remember, there is more than one school out there for you and sometimes admissions officers really do know what’s best.

Martha Allman, Dean of Admissions at Wake Forest University