Wake Forest University

February 2012

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for February, 2012

College admissions: When high school courses matter most

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

From The Washington Post

By Martha Allman, Dean of Admissions at Wake Forest University

College admissions officers around the country are submerged in applications. At this time of year, we are faced with the nearly impossible task of finding the best mix of students for our institutions based on some combination of grade point average (GPA), class rank, written essays, personal interviews, extracurricular activities and, at some schools, test scores.

Since Wake Forest University dropped its SAT requirement and became test-optional with the entering class of 2009, I have found myself frequently cornered in the grocery store, the dentist’s office and the hair salon. My voice and e-mail boxes are filled with urgent questions from prospective students and parents about how to boost their chances of admission. Chief among them: “How can you measure academic performance without the SAT?”

It’s a valid question. I’ve often referred to the admissions selection process as “more art than science.” Colleges must select students who are academically qualified but from that point, it is about class building and adding a variety of individuals that will further the college’s mission and enrich its campus, which is at times a subjective process. However, there are a few gold standards we regard as strong measuring sticks and ways students can help themselves.

Research has shown high school GPA to be the number one predictor of success in college. But, let me be clear that all 4.0s are not created equal. It is all about academic rigor in high school course selection. And realistically, not all high schools are created equal either. There are great students at not so good schools and there are marginal students at superb schools. The students whom we seek are those who have “bloomed where they are planted,” demonstrating academic excellence, character and motivation wherever they are.

That is why selective colleges expect students to successfully pursue the most challenging curricula offered to them. In some high schools, that is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, for others it is Advanced Placement (AP), while other schools offer a different curriculum for their most advanced students. Pursuing the most rigorous curriculum signals academic motivation and intellectually curiosity. Excelling in that curriculum suggests that the student is well prepared for academically strenuous college classes and is likely to be a successful member of the campus community..

While considering academic rigor, Supertest: How the International Baccalaureate Can Strengthen Our Schools, written by Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews, is an excellent read . In Supertest, Mathews explains how the IB program has helped transform some of the nation’s most troubled schools, signaling the importance of a rigorous curriculum to prepare students for the challenges of college.The combination of academic rigor, global perspective and a serious emphasis on community and service make the IB program a compelling roadmap to excellence in education.

However, it is important to note that students without IB or AP programs available to them have options, too. Summer enrichment programs in areas such as writing, science and mathematics, many of which offer financial aid and scholarships are wonderful ways for students to expand their minds and their experiences. As a result, they also demonstrate their commitment to investing time and effort into educational pursuit. And of course, reading remains the very best (and the least expensive) way to push one’s intellectual capacity.

From the moment the flood of applications begins in December to the moment we mail acceptance letters in March, admissions counselors evaluate students in the context of where their education is taking place, the rigor of the curriculum, the competition in the classroom and the opportunities presented. We search for self-motivation, self-awareness and a visible love of learning.

It is, however, in the end, an individual evaluation. Taking the most challenging curricula afforded to them, going beyond expectations and exhibiting intellectual curiosity and character speak volumes about students’ determination, motivation and future success. After all, that’s what selective schools really want.

Have Viewbooks Lost Their Luster?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

For decades, glossy viewbooks have served as a focal point for many college recruitment efforts. They encapsulate the best that colleges have to offer – endless lists of academic majors and minors, multitudes of extracurricular activities, countless accounts of student experiences, and lots of beautiful photos that all make you wish you were there. In recent years, the effectiveness of these recruitment materials has come in to question as costs of producing, printing, and delivering these pieces have risen, all the while prospective students have found other means of retrieving much of the same information. As a result, many colleges nationwide are looking into alternatives method of reaching students that are more focused on factors such as students’ bio-demographic information and unique interests. Additionally, universities are now ‘going to where the students are,’ employing technologies like social-media while continuing to make their websites more appealing to students. Still, colleges must walk the fine line of retaining tradition while transforming with the times. So where does the future of the viewbook stand amidst this instant-information age?

AP Test Takers and Scores Increase, but Minority Participation Still Lags

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

This week in the 8th Annual AP Report to the Nation, the College Board revealed that while the number of AP test takers has risen during the last decade, minority participation continues to lag behind. African-American students remain the most underrepresented demographic. Of the number of African-American students determined to be AP-ready (based on PSAT scores), a mere 80 percent did not attempt an AP course.  The report is unable to determined the cause of the discrepancy; however, Trevor Packer, executive director of the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, made several assertions about the social and psychological  dilemmas African-Americans face with regard to this decision. Whatever the reasons, it’s important that the conversation be continues to ensure that the disparity does not continue to grow.

SAT Misreporting

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

This week, Claremont McKenna College came under spotlight as its dean of admissions and financial aid admitted to falsely reporting SAT statistics for a period dating back 6 years.  The primary reason, it appears – college rankings. Though SAT scores account for a mere 7.5 percent of the U.S. News college ranking system, more schools (and test-takers, alike) are feeling an increased pressure to strive for better scores.  Unfortunately, this instance highlights the extreme lengths to which even the most respected college officials believe they must travel in attempting to game the system.

College Counseling Could Be Better

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Just Ask Your School Counselor.

In two recent reports from the College Board’s Annual Survey of School Counselors and the Education Trust, a startling percentage of high school counselors surveyed revealed that they felt under-trained and often unable to adequately advocate for their students. The cause may be due to the fact that there is little direct training in the area of college counseling, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of high school counselors’ time on the job.  Recommendations from both reports place the onus on colleges to provide more training in these areas, a process that may take anywhere from 5 to 10 years to produce market results.  Perhaps more startling is that this isn’t the first time that these findings have surfaced.  In fact, counselor educators have known of similar reports for years but have denied their credibility, given the strong ratings its programs have received from the Council for Accreditation (CACREP).  Regardless of the findings, trends show a greater number of students applying to college, creating more work for high school counselors.  A greater depth of education at all levels can only be a positive factor in helping students strive toward a brighter future.