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Rethinking Admissions

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Posts Tagged ‘admissions’

Attention Helicopter Parents

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

helicopter-parentsNext month, thousands of college freshmen will be heading off for school and venturing out on their own for the very first time. But if the college admissions process is any indication, it may be all they can do to make sure their parents stay behind.

According to anecdotal reports, super-involved helicopter parents are so enmeshed in the college admissions process that they may be doing their children more harm than good. In one of the most egregious examples, one mother admitted 15 years later that she had thrown away her son’s acceptance letter to Harvard without telling him. Her excuse? “Oh, I just love you so much that I didn’t want you to be that far away.”

With that in mind, here’s a list of don’ts for super-involved parents courtesy of nationally syndicated columnist and independent college advisor Lee Bierer.

Don’t write their essays. You might feel tempted to edit their essays because you think you know best about what admissions officers would want to read. Guess what, you’re probably wrong.

Don’t talk too much on the campus visit. Let your child have their say, and keep your own questions to a minimum. Whatever you do, don’t introduce your child to school officials. Let them introduce you!

 Don’t ever refer to this as being “our” college admissions process.  Comments like “we’re applying” or “we interviewed,” are all taboo. This is your child’s life, not yours. Not to mention, their essay, their application, and their interview.

For more tips, visit Bierer’s Countdown to College page.

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?”

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


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: 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

“Conscientious Objector” Opts Out of SAT

Friday, October 29th, 2010

lawrence_fullWhen admissions officers at Lawrence University met high school senior Sylvie Baldwin, they realized that she was a perfect example of why the school decided to enact a test-optional policy back in 2005. So they came up with the idea of producing a video with Sylvie and posting it on YouTube. In the 5-minute clip, Sylvie explains why she has decided not to take standardized tests ever again and plans to apply to both test-optional colleges and those that still require SAT or ACT scores.

Entitled “Standardized Testing in College Admissions: Profile of a Conscientious Objector,” the video begins Steve Syverson, Lawrence’s dean of admissions. Syverson explains that the school’s decision to go test-optional was driven in part by the fact that test-prep has become a $1 billion per year industry.  After Lawrence went test-optional, he added, even some students with very high test scores opted not to submit them as part of the admissions process because “they resonate so strongly with the attitude that these tests don’t represent who I am as a person.”

Enter Sylvie, a student at the Northwest School in Seattle. She made her decision to opt out of standardized tests after receiving notice that she would soon be “represented” by her test scores. “I don’t want that. I’m more than a number.” While she realizes that some universities might not consider her application without the scores, she is hoping to have conversations with admissions officers.  “I hope I’ve at least put the idea in their brain that there could be a ton of students out there who would say, ‘I don’t want to take this test. I don’t think this test is fair. I don’t think this test represents me or who I am.’”

Baldwin has calculated that she would have spent 50 to 60 hours preparing for the exams. She will invest that time instead in writing proposed legislation for the state of Washington that would require drivers ed courses to add a unit on the environmental impact of driving. She adds that her conscientious objector status has nothing to do with fear of not doing well on the SAT. “I don’t believe in (standardized tests). I don’t support this. And I’m one of those people that say if I don’t believe in this, I’m not going to do it.”

Two More Colleges Go Test-Optional

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Two more colleges have made the decision to go test-optional in recent days.  Virginia Wesleyan College limited its decision to prospective freshman with a grade point average of 3.5 in a college prep curriculum, but Sage Colleges of New York included all applicants in its new policy. In announcing the decision, Sage’s provost Terry Weiner said that high school grades and class rank are the best predictors of college success. “The SAT continues to be a less reliable predictor of first-year performance or success in college compared to high school GPA and class rank. Our own studies at Sage have confirmed this. We continue to rely on our assessment of the whole record as the best way to assess students ready for Sage,” Weiner said in a statement. But he added that there were other reasons why the policy makes sense. “In this time of economic distress students should not have to choose between expensive cram courses or tutoring for these tests, or worry about losing ground in the competition for college admission.”

 Virginia Wesleyan, which describes itself as the only private, liberal arts institution in the Hampton Roads area, is focusing its new test-optional policy on classroom “stars” who do not perform well on standardized tests. “These are some of the best students we see – superb in the classroom, but not necessarily super test takers,” Dean of Admissions Patty Patten said in a statement.  “We want to welcome those students into the college community and offer them financial aid and scholarships. Students with a strong track record in high school know how to study, and that allows them to be successful in the college arena as well.”

A Kaleidoscope Approach to Admissions

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

sternberg bookBack in the day when standardized college admissions tests were created, most applicants were white males in the middle- to upper-middle-class. Today, applicants are from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. That’s one of the reasons why Robert J. Sternberg, the new provost of Oklahoma State University, is urging college admissions deans to go beyond standardized test scores and high school GPA and consider a wide range of qualities when ranking applicants.

The admissions strategy Sternberg is espousing is called the “Kaledioscope” system, and it has been used successfully at Tufts University where he served as dean of arts and science for the last five years. We first wrote about the system on this blog last year.  Now Sternberg has outlined the details of the experiment in a new book called College Admissions for the 21st Century (Harvard University Press)

In an interview with Inside Higher Education , Sternberg said the Kaleidoscope system is based on the view that a college education should produce leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. That’s why questions are based on a theory of leadership called WICS, which stands for wisdom, intelligence, creativity, synthesized.

In a nutshell, the system entails assessing applicants’ creative, analytical, practical and wisdom-based skills. For example, applicants might be asked creative questions like “write a story with a title such as ‘The End of MTV’ or submit a creative video via YouTube. Or in assessing analytical thinking, the question might be: ‘What is your favorite book and why?’ An example of a practical item would be to explain how you would convince a friend to change their viewpoint on an issue. A wisdom-based question could be to explain how you would take a current passion and transform it later to serve the common good.

While the responses are rated holistically, they also are based on rubrics. In addition, the system’s ability to predict college success has been validated statistically, Sternberg said. Furthermore, while traditional standardized tests show “substantial ethnic-group differences, Kaldeidoscope measures do not,” Sternberg said, adding that the measures are designed to supplement traditional assessments, not replace them.

Measurements like the ones in the Kaleidoscope system reflect 21st century thinking, in contrast to standardized tests, which have remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years, Sternberg said.

“Those who work for testing organizations might see this constancy of measurement as a positive thing. But imagine if other technologies, such as in telecommunications or medicine, were largely stuck a century in the past!” he said. “The problem, as I see it, is that the skills measured by traditional tests are quite narrow and do not adequately reflect the full range of skills needed for college and life success.”

New SAT Scores Reflect Growing Disparities

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

New figures released this week by the College Board  showed that overall SAT scores remained essentially unchanged from last year. But a closer look reveals growing racial, ethnic and income gaps that have some observers worried. 
After gaining 13 points this year across all three parts of the SAT, Asian Americans now outscore African Americans by 163 points on math, 90 points on reading and 106 points on writing, according to Inside Higher Education. In addition, the 2010 scores showed a correlation between SAT scores and family income. Simply put, those with higher family incomes scored higher on all three parts of the SAT than their lower-income counterparts. Higher levels of parental education also were associated with higher scores.
The growing disparities did not go unnoticed by critics of standardized testing. FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, released a statement saying that the test scores show education reform is not leading to more equity as proponents claim. “Fortunately, more and more colleges have recognized the folly of fixating on the narrow, often biased, information provided by standardized tests and moved toward test-optional admissions,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test.
FairTest, which maintains a database of test-optional schools, says the number of colleges and universities that make SAT or ACT scores optional for applicants now stands at more than 840.

Salve Regina University Goes Test-Optional

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Salve ReginaSalve Regina, a Catholic liberal arts university in Rhode Island, is the latest to announce it is making SAT and ACT standardized test scores optional for most students applying for admission. The university announced its decision, which is effective immediately, as it was welcoming the largest freshman class in its history.

 Salve Regina joins more than 800 colleges and universities that also have gone test-optional in recent years. The decision to become test optional is the result of a long process of research and discussion,” Laura McPhie Oliveira, vice president for enrollment said in a statement. “Our research shows that the best predictor of academic success at Salve Regina is strong performance in a rigorous college preparatory program. The goal is to stay true to the inclusive spirit of our mission and focus on what really matters, which is a student’s ability to succeed and thrive in our community.”

 The statement pointed out that there is increasing concern that standardized test scores are not good predictors of academic success because they can be influenced by environmental, cultural and economic factors. By adopting the new policy, Salve Regina hopes to enhance its commitment to a high-performing and diverse student body.

“Our staff will continue to review applications as thoroughly as we have done in the past,” said Colleen Emerson, dean of undergraduate admissions. “The most important part of our application review process has always been and will continue to be a student’s day-to-day performance in a strong curriculum. Our best applicants have always been those who have challenged themselves to go beyond the minimum requirements.”