Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University

Rethinking Admissions

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Posts Tagged ‘Wake Forest University’

Web Profiles Haunt Students

Monday, October 8th, 2012

From The Wall Street JournalMBA1

By Douglas Belkin and Caroline Porter

A growing number of top-ranked U.S. colleges say they are finding objectionable material online that hurts the chances of prospective freshmen.
About a quarter of admissions officers at the nation’s top 500 colleges have used websites such as Facebook and Google to vet applicants, according to an annual Kaplan Test Prep survey. Of those, more than one-third say they have found something that has hurt a student’s chance of admission, up from 12% last year.

“We have seen students that have been involved in bullying behavior or alcohol or drugs,” said Martha Blevins Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest University. “We never use it as a single indicator and we don’t search blindly, but if we have other suspicions, we will look.”
Vetting by using social-media sites including Facebook and Twitter still hovers in a gray zone at most college admissions offices. Just 15% of the schools in the survey had an official policy about whether to do so, and more than two-thirds of those schools said they won’t use the technique.
Among schools without a policy, more than a quarter say they have checked out a student’s online persona, up slightly from last year, said Jeff Olson, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, who conducted the survey this summer. Kaplan has included questions about social media in its annual survey for four years.

“The trend line is there,” Mr. Olson said. “My advice to students is to be smart and think twice about what you post online.”
Most colleges don’t have the time, resources or inclination to vet every candidate’s social-media presence. The amount of information that students provide—between essays, transcripts and recommendations—can be overwhelming. But several admissions officers interviewed said they occasionally Google students to learn more about a project in which they were involved, or because a red flag was raised in an interview, recommendation or somewhere else.

“We leave it up to the individual admissions officers, and if something gives them cause to scratch their head, then they do it,” said Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “But it’s a very small number. Among the 15,000 applications we get, it would be well under 100 times.”

Mr. Marthers said his school has turned up cases of plagiarism and accusations of sexual assault. It also has found behavior that resulted in school disciplinary action but didn’t rise to the level of a suspension and didn’t show up on the student’s transcript.

One applicant Mr. Marthers said he encountered at his previous job at Reed College was asked to leave a private high school for bullying. Mr. Marthers called the counselor at that school who said, “It’s not something I would ever put in writing but, yes, that’s what happened,” Mr. Marthers said. The student was denied admission.

At Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said a student who had been accepted for the class of 2015 and was at the university for a summer session ahead of his freshman year posted “inappropriate comments” on the school’s Facebook page for the freshman class.

“We sat him down and told him that was not the right way to communicate,” Ms. Saxton said. “He removed his comments.”

Today’s prospective freshmen have come of age using Facebook and are increasingly savvy about its use, but many still said the idea of college admissions officers reading their posts seemed weird.

Naomi Wiener, an 18-year-old freshman engineering student at Cornell University, said the issue’s fairness comes down to the amount of disclosure on colleges’ part.

“Everything you present to a college you prepare for,” she said. “To blindside someone by looking at some side of them without them knowing is different from every other part of the college process.”

Marilyn Scholze, a volunteer college counselor at Lowell High School in San Francisco, said that while she reminds students to monitor their online behavior, it isn’t part of the counseling curriculum in a systematic way.

“I would prefer that colleges didn’t use online profiles that way,” said the 61-year-old, who has volunteered at the public school for 14 years. “I guess if someone was on the margin and they were really concerned about a student’s character, they might take a look. It’s a personal thing and a little bit unfair.”

An Increasingly Test-Optional Landscape

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Today in high schools throughout America, there is arguably more emphasis than ever on the [perceived] importance of college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. A number of schools – private and public – offer test prep as part of their curriculum. The College Board, the SAT’s parent company, also offers a slew of preparatory experiences including the PSAT, study guides, and online resources. And yet, all the while, as the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, college admissions is becoming increasingly supportive of the test-optional movement.

Take, for instance, the fact that more than 25 percent of the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges employed test-optional policies in 2007,  a statistic that now stands at roughly 30 percent. In all, 875 – or 38 percent of all accredited 4-year colleges – now make submitting test scores optional for applicants. Even top ranking officials at some of the country’s most elite colleges have hinted at continued examination of the role of testing in admissions. Here’s why:

Evidence shows that the SAT is not the strongest predictor of students’ college performance; rather, it most strongly correlates with students’ family income. Assessment of a student’s course load and classroom performance across the duration of high school best demonstrates a student’s potential for college success. Test-optional policies hold college admissions officers accountable for delving into the essence of students (via thought-provoking essays or personal interviews), necessitating that they be seen as individuals – not test scores. It is a tall task to ask, but well worth the payoff.

The richness of perspective in test-optional learning environments is undeniable. Students come from many backgrounds and walks of life and facilitate deeper, more comprehensive [and necessary] dialogue both inside and outside of the classroom. Ongoing research has also shown that students who chose to withhold test scores during admission perform on par with – or better than – students who submitted scores.

Faculty Role in Admissions

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

From Inside Higher Ed

By Joseph Soares

Following my presentation last year at “The Case for Change in College Admissions” conference at the University of Southern California, a dean from one of America’s most prestigious universities said, “We know the SAT and ACT are not good predictors of college grades, but our faculty resist going test-optional. They are worried about standards.”

While the debate over standardized tests and college admissions began 20 years ago, the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room is faculty complacency and ignorance. Nearly all of the 870 colleges that are test-optional today have gone that way due to leadership from administrators or admissions deans. It’s a harsh reality, but as winners at the testing game many faculty are oblivious to the damage done by a test that is statistically redundant and socially discriminatory. It’s time to set the record straight.

Faculty members need to know that college admissions remain more art than science. As documented in my new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, our best statistical models predicting first-year college grades explain only about 30 percent of what’s going on, leaving 70 percent of what matters unknown. In those models, the academic variable carrying the most weight is always high school grades, while the unique statistical contribution of test scores is marginal: for example, at Johns Hopkins it adds two percentage points; at the University of Georgia one percent; and at DePaul one percent.

In my book, the president emeritus of the University of California Richard Atkinson and Berkeley statistician Saul Geiser stress, “[i]rrespective of the quality or type of school attended, cumulative grade point average (GPA) in academic subjects in high school has proved to be the best overall predictor of student performance in college. This finding has been confirmed in the great majority of ‘predictive-validity’ studies conducted over the years, including studies conducted by the testing agencies themselves.”

When not being “truth-optional” in their public relations spin, even the tests’ sponsors concede that the single variable that most highly correlates with college grades is high school grades earned over four years, not test scores derived from four hours of stress on a Saturday morning.

Rather than leveling the playing field, standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT perpetuate social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity. Whereas high school GPA and class rank do not correlate with family income, the SAT and ACT can’t say that. Defenders of the tests say they are fair and the social disparities expressed in scores sadly reflect the unfairness of life, but the reality is that family income, gender, and race predict test scores more powerfully than test scores predict college grades.

As a result, the tests create a costly, anxiety-ridden and time-consuming distraction from real learning. They undermine the high school curriculum, sending the wrong signal to youth that test prep – which typically costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – will get you further than hard work in class. Would standardized testing have such a powerful and distorting impact on the whole of the K-12 experience if the SAT or ACT were not required by colleges for admissions?

Faculty need to know that rather than lowering standards, test-optional admissions raise them, and there’s new data to prove it. Wake Forest University went test-optional three years ago, and since then we’ve seen first-year students from the top 10 percent of their high school class jump from 65 percent in 2008 to 83 percent this year. Pell Grant recipients have doubled. Our student body is more racially and socioeconomically diverse than ever before. Library usage is up, and classroom discussions are reportedly livelier than before.

It’s just as Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade predicts in SAT Wars: going test-optional increases the social diversity and academic strength of students at private colleges, and being “don’t ask, don’t tell” at public universities does the same. We expect to see universities that drop the requirement, including most recently Clark University and DePaul University, rewarded with stronger and more diverse applicant pools in the near future. Test-optional enriches the campus experience. So what would it take to end this farce?

Charles Murray, a contributor to SAT Wars, believes that action by top colleges such as Harvard or Stanford would push us past the tipping point. “If just those two schools took such a step, many other schools would follow suit immediately, and the rest within a few years.” He adds, “Admissions officers at elite schools are already familiar with the statistical story … They know that dropping the SAT would not hinder their selection decisions.”

The aforementioned dean asked me to send a copy of SAT Wars for an overdue discussion amongst faculty at that prominent institution. With data from Wake Forest and other schools that have removed the requirement on the table, it’s time for professors at America’s most prestigious colleges to set the myths aside and take their position of academic leadership seriously. It’s time to do your own research, hold a discussion, contribute to the national debate, and vote. Don’t be part of the problem when you hold the solution in your hands.

Going Against the SAT (cont.)

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Last Sunday, Wake Forest University dean of admissions Martha Allman made a guest appearance in the Washington Post in an article that discusses the merits of the SAT, as well as Joseph A. Soares’ new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional Admissions. Considering all of the pieces that comprise a student’s admissions profile,  the article asks the question: “Is the SAT the best way to spend a Saturday?”

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.