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Welcome to the Jungle

In college admissions, college application, college essay, common application, personal statement, university application information on August 30, 2011 at 10:29 pm

College Advising and Essay Development, from Singapore to San Francisco.

The College App Jungle is my blog devoted to the  world of college applications.  The pursuit of college admissions can seem increasingly Darwinian, but my hope is that this blog will provide you with the context and means to have a fulfilling and successful transition into college.  In that spirit, you can scroll through my archives to find over 100 posts covering all aspects of the college search–a clickable table of contents for a selection of popular topics can be found below.

I work with clients from as close as the high school down the road from me and as far away as international schools in Singapore and Europe.  Last year, my clients were admitted to all top Ivies, Stanford, the University of California, U Texas, Johns Hopkins, NYU and many more, with all of my college advising clients receiving multiple admissions.    Read on for detailed information on college applications, data, and how to write your essays.

This site is an old-school informational service, short on gauzy pictures and long on detailed and dense analysis and information.  In addition to maintaining this blog as a public service, I offer a full slate of  college advising and application services, ranging from self-assessment and college selection to the best essay development and editing service in the field.

Upcoming Events and News

College Application Essay and College Advising

Contact me for personal essay coaching and college advising appointments in June and July.  I work one-one-one, in person and via Skype, to help you begin your college essays, and if you need college advising and target school help, the sooner you get started, the better.  The Common Application Prompts have already been released, and early applications are in full swing by early November.   You don’t want to be working out where to apply and what essays are required as you also juggle  new projects, classwork and school essays as the new school year begins.  Enjoy your senior year more by starting the application process early. To inquire about my college application and editing services,  you can reach me directly via e-mail here:  Contact Me.

(One Warning--while the 2017-2018 Common App prompts were released this spring, so that you can choose and write your single Common App essay as of now, please do not set up your Common App account yet–all existing accounts will be deleted in late July, 2017,  when the portal goes offline before reopening for the  2017-2018 application year.  This has happened in previous years in the last half of July, with the portal reopening  between July 31 and August 1st, as a rule.  In addition, individual colleges will be making any official changes to their essays and other requirements at that time, so check with me on this site and with university websites for additional changes for this year–and don’t be alarmed if your college of choice does not have its essay prompts ready when the Common App does go live.  Some of the most elite schools have been late to the game in recent years.  Harvard, for example, posted their essay prompts in mid-August last year.)

You can also visit my business portal at: UniversityGatesAdvising to quickly review some basic information on the college application scene (like the sometimes odd terminology used in admissions) and to see client testimonials.

College App Jungle Contents and Links

The Secret of College Admissions:  How College Applications Are Evaluated

Common Application and Common Application Essays

Common Application Update 

College Application Trends, Statistics and Advice

Ivy League Admissions Data for 2016-2017–See the most recent data available on admissions

Advice on the College Application Rat Race

Researching And Selecting Colleges:  Go West, Young Person–an old post, but still so true, for those looking to get great bang for their tuition buck.

College Application Success:  The Seven Rules–timeless advice on how the system works

The Stanford Supplemental Essay Prompts (These have  been unchanged since 2011)

More on the Stanford Supplement Prompts

University of Chicago

I have a soft spot for The University of Chicago Essay Prompts, because they are often so brazenly weird and even when they seem a little too-cute pretentious, they are interesting.  Because  U Chi allows applicants to choose and write an essay addressing any of their old prompts, I keep all of my old posts on them up–for example, have a look at:   Prompts for 2015-2016. Or just click below for old prompts that you may still write about.

The Mantis Shrimp Prompt:  How to Write About It

The Chicago History Prompt:  There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

Those Chuckleheads:  The Chicago Joke Prompt–How to Write About It

Writing About Books- Part 2 (2011)

How to Persuade: The Rhetorical Situation

The above is not a comprehensive list of posts but gives you a representative sample.  You may browse further using the Archive link.  

In the twenty years that I have been helping students navigate the application and essay process, the essay itself has become much more important. The reasons are clear. Over the last decade, we have seen increasing numbers of qualified high school students face decreasing numbers of seats available in our universities.

The facts are stark–educators across the country have faced funding cuts that predate the Great Recession, and the ivied walls of academia are no longer impregnable to assault.  Pair that with the awareness that an education at a good college is increasingly a bottom line item for a decent job and quality of life, and you have a supply and demand problem:  If you present a 4.0 GPA to most competitive universities, you are essentially in the middle of the pack.  The result:  your application essays can be vital to your chance of being admitted.  But I have to add something here: it is as bad as it looks if you apply to the same 12-15 colleges that everybody else applies to, but once you widen your list a bit, it looks much better.  See below for links related to statistics and to finding more options than the Ivies, Stanford, Cal and whatever two or three regional favorites dominate the application lists in your area.

The information available on this blog is for the free use of college applicants and essay writers.  Use it to help you get started before you send your work to me.  Topics range from general discussions about the craft of writing to specific discussion of college essay topics and the changing world of college applications. I also review trends in admissions and changes occurring in the world of academia.

The contents of this blog are intended for the use of college applicants and their parents to assist them in the college application process and in developing quality application essays. Please refrain from using this blog for your own commercial purposes. If you wish to duplicate any of this information, please contact me to explain and request the right to do so.  Full access to sample content is available via a subscription.  Contact wordguild@gmail.com to subscribe.

Ivy League and Stanford Application Data for 2018/2019–How to Triple Your Chances for Admission

In Ivy League Admission Statistics, Ivy League Admissions, Ivy League Admissions Data, Ivy League Admissions Data, 2018-2019, Stanford Admissions, Stanford Admissions Data 2018-2019, Uncategorized on June 8, 2018 at 11:50 pm

Actually, you can more than triple your chances, on a purely mathematical basis. 

But First:  Who should read this post–Anybody interested in applying to the Ivy League or to Stanford this year. 

How to read this post:  Below you will find a (long) preface that gives some context to  the data and offers and analogy for applying to the most competitive colleges–things are not necessarily what they seem.  After that is a comparison of early and regular app results for some of the Ivies and Stanford. If you hate prefaces and prefer to avoid context, then just scroll on down to the numbers. But I think you would be well advised to consider what I say in the preface before going on to the data.

Preface:  Welcome to the Casino

Most people look at college admissions data as a probabilities thing.

This is not really a good way to look at the averages offered in the various data sets, because the average applies only to any group within a data set but not necessarily to any specific person in that group.  A college application is highly specific to you–or it should be.  Added to that, the colleges adjust what they are looking for year-to-year and even within the same application cycle as they go.

Add to that the fact that, with few exceptions, your application will be evaluated by a general purpose reader or committee of application officers, not by professors or people running specific majors and programs (a direct application to the U Michigan Business school would be one example of an exception to this rule, as are pretty much all graduate applications. Our focus here is on undergrads).  Your app readers will be rating your stuff against your peers, and there is a sliding scale:  Factors that are not known to you will shape the value of the elements of your application, on the margins for the most part, but this is a game of margins.  This is less true but still applies to some extent to so-called objective application schools, like the Cal State system, which “only” look at data–I have discussed this at length multiple times elsewhere.

Of course, there are probabilities to be found in the data–if you have a 3.68 unweighted G.P.A.  and are a nice person with wide interests but are not developing your grand theory to unit the physical laws of the universe and are not a heavily recruited athlete or prodigy cello player, you are not going to get into Harvard.  Period.

Other than that, the data on the most competitive schools can only tell if you have a seat at the table, not what your results will be, and  and let’s face it:  when it comes to the Ivy League and Stanford, for most of the best students, the game is more like rolling dice at a craps table than it is like playing Blackjack.

Let me explain by developing my casino analogy further:  if you are playing a card game like Blackjack,  you have a pretty decent idea of what your cards mean.  21, for example, and you probably win.  The cards are what they are, and their specific values never change.  Not so in college admissions, where perfect data may be trumped by other factors.

A college admissions portfolio, with its data, its essays, its activities and descriptions, its personal and family history, is not some set of cards randomly dealt out to you, and the payoff does not come by simply having a  an ace and a ten.  It’s true that having an unweighted 4.0 G.P.A. and perfect SAT score should get you some kind of Ivy admit, and hopefully more than one, but it’s also possible that if you took perfect numbers and applied to, say, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, that you would bust–get no admissions at all.  Yet if you get that ace and a ten in Blackjack, you have 21 and you win.

In college admissions, each of the top universities not only turn down hundreds of students with the equivalent of 21, they also accept quite a few students who have something like an 18, because there is something in the information that suggest some other value to the university.  In the case of that athlete who will looks very promising, maybe a hand of 16 is good enough. Again, I have discussed this elsewhere, but in just keeping alumni involved and happy, sports is big money to many colleges, and the return on investment an athlete can be huge–as it can for a prodigy who goes on to wealth and fame and returns some of that to a school.

What colleges are looking for–the relative value of any information in your application, the cards you bring to the table, changes not just year to year, but week to week during the application process.  Usually these changes are marginal, but if a school sees that their admitted students have been 70% female in the early applications, they will make an adjustment to get some kind of gender balance–not 50/50, but not 70/30 either.  For a coed school, that would not be a healthy balance.  So they stack the deck–in a way that, on average, is actually more fair than it might seem.

Colleges for the most part look to have some kind of balance in the community of scholars that they build with each application year.  Continuing our casino analogy for the most elite schools, the players sitting at the Blackjack table of college admissions are not coming with the same advantages, and many people build up their cards through paying for services and having access to good schools, while others just get the cards dealt to them and start with a relatively weak hand on any deal they take.

A good college app reader can see that, and they evaluate with a range of factors in mind, including the resilience and drive of a person who overcame a lot to get to that application.

Continuing my analogy, the casino owners, in this case the colleges and their admissions officers, change the value of the hand of a person who is a first-generation high-achiever as opposed to that of a high-achiever going to a good high school on the Peninsula in the Bay Area or in the Tri-Valley area (sorry to be a regionalist here, but the same applies to, say, kids in Princeton-area schools vs. Newark, etc).  This is not always a factor, but it often is.

But of the people I helped this year who got into Harvard, all had solid upper and middle-class backgrounds along with a range of accomplishments, some of which were clearly part of playing the game.  On the other hand, two years ago, I had a number who were first-gen to college and came from relatively poor backgrounds and borderline schools.  I see a lot of flux in my own clients every year, which is why you always want to tier your apps and be a bit zen about it, if you can.

This seems unfair and frustrating to many people when I explain it, but I don’t think it is, or it is at least more fair than it seems.  What is unfair is the fact that this country has by and large stopped building new universities, thus creating an inelastic supply (Econ!) and making my casino analogy apt.  And in this increasingly hyper-competitive college application game, social factors already rig college admissions long before any college application reader gets involved.  What kind of money your family has and where they are from generally  determines what kind of high school you go to and what kind of resources are available to you outside of school.  This is why housing values are so high in suburbs with good schools.

There are, of course, reasons that being in one of these excellent school districts is a huge advantage, and being able to pay your way can help at times, as well, so don’t be sorry if you are in one of these places.  But plan well, following some of the tips I offer in various posts in my blog.  Even if you have a 4.0. and perfect S.A. T.

And  if your data is on the low end of the range, you need to have something special for that doorman or bouncer or whatever image you prefer to open the door for you so you can even get a seat at the table.  If you are a rising senior, that means it’s time to start considering your essays as well as possibly retaking an SAT or ACT.

Okay, sermon over.

But please keep these things in mind when you look at the data I provide below, and build a list of colleges in which you include at least three schools in which 75% or more of the people with your data are admitted.

 

The Data:  Some Ivy League examples and Stanford

 

Princeton:  Early Admissions–15.4%; Regular Admissions–5.5% (6.1% last year)

Harvard:  Early Admissions–14.539%; Regular Admissions–4.59% (5.2% last year)

Yale:  Early Admissions–14.68%; Regular Admissions–6.3% (6.9% last year)

Columbia–5.5% admit rate; not data supplied for early admissions admit rate.

UPenn–Early Admissions–18.5%; Regular Admissions–8.39% (9.15% last year)

Brown: Early Admissions–21.7%*; Regular Admissions–7.2%

Cornell:  Early Admissions–24.3%; Regular Admissions–10.3%

Dartmouth–Early Admissions–24.9%; Regular Admissions–8.7%

Saving the toughest nut for last:

Stanford;  Regular Admissions–4.3%; Stanford has not released early application information, or not released it until the following year, for some time, but about 33% of the new class was admitted early.

*Oh, and The Brown early admissions asterisk is due to this data being released indirectly via a presentation, rather than through a press release.

On the face of it, it looks like you can triple your chances of admissions by applying early.  But look again at some more information–After you adjust for students already admitted in the early round, the actual admissions rate for regular-decision applications was 2.43%.  Ouch.

So if two things are true, burn an early app on one of these schools:

  1.  You know the school well and are totally committed to it. Even it they will let you look around after an early app admit, like Stanford, be committed.
  2.  Your data is in the range that suggests success (middle third or higher)

And hopefully you have a wide range of activities and can write some good essays.  I do have space for some new clients for editing, if you need help, so contact me if so:

College Application and Essay Editing Help

It it’s your turn to make a run at college this year, try to enjoy the ride, and come back soon.  I will be looking at some alternatives to the most competitive schools, starting with the unorthodox and moving to the more common.  See you soon.

 

 

 

 

Now That You Have Your College Acceptances: Last Minute Advice for Which College to Choose

In college admission, Getting Into College, Ivy League Admissions, Tuition Costs, Uncategorized on April 30, 2018 at 1:33 pm

And my advice is:  follow the money.  Or at least consider if going to, say, Cornell, is going to offer enough bang for your bucks.  Paradoxically, there is evidence that, if you are a “First-Gen” college student, or your family has limited financial means, the extra money is more likely to pay off in the kind of social capital that upper-middle class and wealthy students take for granted.  I will link some evidence for my claims below.  For now I am just going to outline some basic truths, both in general and from my own experience:

  1.  Selecting a college these days is a lot like buying a house.  Money should be as important as the amenities and location in choosing a college, just as it is when buying a house.  And like buying a house has the basic function of providing shelter, so the purpose of college is to provide you an education.  Connections are great and all, and I will get to those later, as promised, but don’t get blinded by the future promise of the connections you think you will make, or by the present promise of a really cool gym and dorm room, or all that tradition and ivy-covered walls.  When I have worked with groups of students who ended up going to different colleges, they have come back to me and confirmed that the basic product–a good education–is remarkably similar, campus-by-campus.  Continuing my house analogy, I just looked up foreclosures in the wealthy enclave of Alamo, CA, and opened up a house going into foreclosure that has 8,000 square feet and seven bathrooms.  The ego benefit of having a Harvard sticker may not outweigh paying five hundred bucks a month for student loans for seven or ten years, or handing on debt to your children, just as the ego benefit of having 8k square feet with a view from the side of Mount Diablo is meaningless when you cannot pay for it, or are trapped by the payments.  Keep in mind that financial aid packages can be adjusted upward or downward every year.  Don’t get buyers remorse next year, or the year you graduate and get your first loan payment letter.
  2. The most important thing about a college education is not the name of the school.  It is the degree itself.  I know this sounds like what I just argued, but bear with me for the details.  The social connections made at an elite college provide a boost that is notable mostly for low-income and First Gen students.  Most solidly middle class (and up) students already have connections; for them, brand name and social considerations should not be at the top of the list, if money will be a problem.  But studies show that the degree is the main thing–if you have 100,00 dollars in debt after going to an elite school, versus say 20k after going to a state school, you are not likely to see enough of a difference in income to make that a good payoff.  To repeat, with feeling:  Getting a degree is the most important thing, not which college it is from, in terms of incomes after college, and  doubly not so for any technical major (engineering, et al) or finance or business . . . The takeaway is put the degree itself and the cost at the top of your considerations. If you are from a family that will not get good financial aid, and tuition, et al,  will be hard to carry–especially if private student loans are going to be needed–and you have other options, I suggest really considering those cheaper options.  Also note how long the latest financial expansion is and plan on a recession starting anywhere from next month to, at the latest, your junior year in college.  Still feeling good about the financials?
  3. If you want to  major in something like Art History or English, but feel you cannot because of cost, you should look for a cheaper school.  If you do well in any major, and plug in the right minor that gives you some skills, you can get a good job.  A recent client, for example, majored in lit, with a Comp Sci minor and is not doing animation and web design, with all kinds of things opening up for him.
  4. You should ignore people like Peter Thiel, who claim college is somehow not necessary, and go, if you can.  Notice that Thiel has not one, but two Stanford degrees.  But I do agree with Thiel on one thing:  too many people are leveraging and taking on debt to go to college.  So go to a community college with a clear university target to follow, if money is an issue.  And make that university a public, in-state school for the best bang for your buck.

And now, here is some evidence for my claims:

From the Brookings Institute, the positive impact of college on earnings for students from backgrounds of poverty:

As the figure shows, however, without a college degree a child born into a family in the lowest quintile has a 45 percent chance of remaining in that quintile as an adult and only a 5 percent chance of moving into the highest quintile. On the other hand, children born into the lowest quintile who do earn a college degree have only a 16 percent chance of remaining in the lowest quintile and a 19 percent chance of breaking into the top quintile. In other words, a low-income individual without a college degree will very likely remain in the lower part of the earnings distribution, whereas a low-income individual with a college degree could just as easily land in any income quintile—including the highest.

Also from Brookings, the effect of a college degree, categorically, without reference to college pedigree:

For more on that Brookings study, which shows that the poor still don’t get as good a deal as the rich (but still:  get the degree):  Brookings.

And more evidence on the effect of college on earnings:

So what role do U.S. colleges play in promoting upward mobility? According to the authors, their analysis of the data yielded four main findings.

First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top one percent of the income distribution are seventy-seven times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile. Contrary to public perception, colleges in America are just as socioeconomically segregated as the neighborhoods where children grow up.

Second, within a given college, children from low- and high-income families end up earning very similar amounts. In other words, colleges are successfully “leveling the playing field” for the students they admit, and poor students don’t appear to be “overmatched” at selective colleges as some observers have suggested. On average—and regardless of socioeconomic background—the subsequent earnings of students who attend “elite” schools put them in roughly the eightieth income percentile versus the seventieth percentile for students at other four-year colleges and the sixtieth percentile for students at two-year colleges.

Third, upward mobility rates vary substantially across colleges. For example, California State University–Los Angeles catapults a whopping 10 percent of its student body from the bottom quintile to the top, and some campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the University of Texas system have mobility rates above 6 percent. Yet one in ten colleges has a mobility rate of less than 1 percent. (More on these variations below.)

Finally, although the fraction of low income kids attending college increased from 38 to 46 percent during the 2000s, the number attending colleges with high mobility rates fell sharply, while the fraction of low-income students at four-year colleges and selective schools was unchanged—even at Ivy League colleges, which enacted substantial tuition reductions and other outreach policies. Most of the increase in low-income enrollment occurred at two-year colleges and for-profit institutions.

 

For more on that last study, go here:  College Effect on Upward Mobility