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The Brave New World Of College Applications

In college admissions, college application, Researching Colleges, Tuition Costs, University of California Application, university rankings on May 31, 2012 at 11:19 am

Back in the old days, say in the year 2005, the only worry you really had when applying to college in California was whether or not you would get in.  Now, not only is it harder to get into college, you also have to worry about  how politics (and the economy) are impacting the universities to which you want to apply.  Most of the problems you will face, from finding a school to paying the ever-increasing tuition to getting into the more and more crowded classes have a common cause: funding.  And funding is a function of political priorities as much as it is a result of economic swings.

Bear with me while I explain,  and then I will offer a simple strategic proposal after I  outline the current situation.

We could start with the fact that Cal State students launched a hunger strike earlier this month in response to tuition increases and cuts in courses and enrollment.  Their solution is focused on administrative pay, which is a satisfying target, but won’t solve the problem.  The problem is much bigger.

In March, the Cal State system announced that it is planning to cut up to 3,000 staff members for the 2012-2013 academic year, as well as slashing enrollment–this seems assured if the tax initiatives on the ballot for November, 2012, do not pass.  Even if the initiatives do  pass, Cal State schools will not be accepting transfers next Spring, meaning the twenty-five or so thousand community college students who are ready to move on to a CSU will have to wait half a year.  This means that the current best-case scenario amounts to a freeze in enrollment while services are cut.

If this outrages you, put it into perspective:  the system has experienced increasingly severe cuts for the last decade, and at this point it has the same amount of money as it did in 1997, but it has 90,000 more students to serve. Decades of cuts have accelerated in the last four years, and something has to give, so plan not only on paying more tuition per term at a CSU, plan also on spending more time in school because you can’t get the classes you need to graduate.

More time in school means spending more money, so factor an extra term or two in as an additional cost when you set up your application list.

Moving on to the University of California system,  the regents are proposing a 6% tuition increase for this fall–this is on top of the increases already planned and implemented–and this increase is almost certain since the U.C. regents say it is based on whether or not funding will be increased for 2012-2013 (hint:  it almost certainly won’t be.)  This will put the total tuition for 2012-2013 at 12,923, plus other fees.   As a result, students attending a U.C. this fall can expect to pay about twice what a student paid in 2007.  Worse yet, if the tax measure on the ballot for November fails to pass, U.C. regents will meet to “consider” an additional  double-digit increase effective for the next term.    Yes, at least 10% will be added on to the planned 6% in the same academic year.  The sky is indeed cracked and it will start falling in 2012 if more revenue is not generated.

The focus of rage at this point is misguided but understandable–the hunger strikers I referenced above are upset about administrative salaries, and I agree that it is unfair for admins to get raises while students are hit in the wallet, but saving even tens of millions dollars by freezing or cutting admin pay is the proverbial drop in the bucket relative to cuts of at least 750 million dollars  for U.C. and Cal State for this year alone.  It might help a little to cut admin pay, and I don’t think any administrator anywhere should be getting a raise when profs and students are taking a beating, but it’s a symbolic act to cut admin pay, not a solution.

Keep in mind that increased tuition accompanied by fewer class offerings are not the only effects of budget cuts.  Instructors are increasingly hired as adjuncts and lecturers, which means you increasingly have part-time teachers who are paid less and don’t get the benefits of full-time professors and who teach larger and larger classes. Everything from research to maintaining quality of instruction is compromised as the system cuts costs.

Meanwhile, understanding what is going on is more difficult due to the economic troubles of an entirely different industry–journalism.  Local reporting is mixed in its quality, with ABC 7 in L.A., for example, putting out reports like this one, in which the reporter writes about how the U.C. system still has “pricey” constructions projects going “gangbusters.”  The reporter finally explains that these projects were funded through bonds, often seven or more years ago, but the headline and focus of articles like this one–which doesn’t really explain anything until the article is halfway through–creates confusion about what the real problems are.  Construction which is currently underway has nothing to do with the  budget crisis we have right now, but it’s hard to tell that if you are scanning articles like this one.

And the problem is clear, if you step back a bit:  the collapse of the housing bubble and deep recession of the last four years have not so much caused  university funding to collapse as they have revealed the deep structural problems in education funding in California, problems which go back to the year 1978 and Proposition 13.  And speaking of going back to future, Jerry Brown was governor when Prop 13 passed, and while he opposed it strenuously and publicly, he also bowed to the will of the people and implemented it to the letter after it passed.

Governor Brown is nothing if not forthright, and just as he did in 1978, he is presenting the citizens of the state with a clear alternative:  vote in November to raise taxes or the budget will be cut even more severely. If you understand state budgets, you know this means big cuts for next Spring, but even bigger cuts for the fall of 2013.  And I mean the kinds of cuts that are causing me to tell my college advising clients who live in California  to apply to multiple universities outside of California.

And I am going further than that:  I am telling my clients who are planning to go to college in the fall of 2013  that, if the ballot initiatives fail in November 2012, they should plan on going to college out-of-state and even outside of the United States.  Going out of state or out of the country can be close to the cost of going to school in California now,   and in many places outside of the (formerly) Golden State, students will be more easily able to get the classes they need and so to graduate on schedule, which also saves money.

With current U.C. increases planned to push tuition above 18,000 dollars over the next four years, and with the potential for that to increase  to over 20,ooo dollars a year by 2017 if the tax initatives fail, going out of state is looking like a good bet to be on par in tuition and expenses or an even cheaper alternative, if you search widely and well.

As an example, out of state tuition at the University of Oregon  is currently in the 25,000 range for out-of-state students, but cost of living is lower than at many U.C. schools, and if the November tax initiative fails, tuition in California will race to catch up or pass out-of-state tuition in many states, including Oregon.  Oregon has its own severe budget problems, but they do not currently have the catastrophic potential of  those in California, and with U of O looking at an endowment  and other strategies to boost funding, along with tuition breaks at smaller schools like Southern and Western Oregon, I expect costs in Oregon to be significantly more stable and potentially cheaper than in-state California tuition by 2018, and if you go to a WUE school, it could be cheaper within a year or two. Add to that the fact that U of O is seeking more out-of-state students, and you also have a comparative advantage in being admitted in the first place.

Before moving on, I want to reinforce that Oregon and Washington have serious budget problems and face continuing increases in tuition, which is why you should be looking internationally as well, but relative to California, Oregon and Washington schools are becoming more attractive.  See this report for a breakdown of what is happening in the sunny west.

So that’s the takeaway:  if you live in California, apply to universities in at least two or three states, and you should also be looking at universities beyond U.S. borders.  In fact, nobody should be applying only to California or even solely to West Coast universities.  But don’t assume that leaving California means everything will be hunky-dory.    Do your homework in assessing the budgets for all universities in all states in which you plan to apply.  Most places are suffering.  It’s just far worse in California than anywhere else.

In the near future, I will be writing in more detail about the situation outside of California and outside of the United States, with analysis on specific schools in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Canada and Great Britain as well as Ireland, but this content will only be available in full to my  subscribers and clients.

Good luck and Godspeed in researching colleges, and be sure to look up budget matters–or hire me to help you with that.

College Application Success: The Seven Rules

In college admissions, college application, common application, Common Application Essays, Harvard Application Essay, Researching Colleges, Stanford Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California Application, university rankings on March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

College App Jungle’s  Rules of College Admissions:

1. There are no secrets to admissions though each university does have priorities which shape admissions. Beyond looking at the information colleges provide about how they evaluate applications, spending time trying to figure out if there is a “secret handshake” which will give you admittance is a waste of time.

This doesn’t mean that all things are equal and no strategy is necessary.  I strongly recommend that you carefully research universities and craft your application to match the schools which you want to attend–more about this below.  But those who spend hour after hour on the chat threads on College Confidential, hoping to find something guaranteeing them an acceptance letter from their favorite school,  should instead spend the time working on their essays.

Maybe you know a guy who knows a guy who knows that U.C. Berkeley is looking for engineering students who are the first in their families to go to college, but . . . so what?   Even if this is true (and it was recently) this kind of “fact” changes each year. Every university has dozens of priorities for admissions, priorities which are revised both before and during the admissions process each year; as students are admitted and categories fill, numbers  like the SAT average and ethnicity  for applications and admits also change.  Early on, the college may be looking for students who fit a particular profile, but once that fills or starts to fill, they can shift the priority to a different category .

Why?  The universities have one eye on you and another eye on things like their ranking in the U.S. News and World Report.  The take away is that you can’t spend time worrying about things which will change even as apps arrive at the college.

As an example of an admissions priority which is changing, San Jose State is currently embroiled in a controversy over giving preference to students coming from Santa Clara County, where the university is located.  For this year, they have backed off from eliminating this preference, but facing 60 million dollars in budget cuts right now, they are likely, within another year or so, to eliminate it.  Why? You could say that,  to be fair to all applicants in a statewide university system,  they can’t act like a local school, but more realistically  this move seems designed to allow more space for students who will pay more–foreign and out-of-state students, for example.  This will also increase their selectivity and so tend to improve their national ranking.

And this is only one of many preferences facing evaluation and possible revision this year for San Jose State alone, which like the rest of the Cal State schools  uses the supposedly simple objective admissions process; add to this the priorities assigned to various schools and majors within the university,  and you have some idea of how complex the calculus is for every school.  Do the same for a holistic admissions university and it’s even more complex.

See my last post for more information on how universities assess applications and what a holistic versus objective evaluation entails, and look below for my link to the U.C. Santa Cruz evaluation to see a detailed list of factors considered–keep in mind that these vary to some degree from school to school, even within the U.C. system.

2. Grades and test scores are the most important factors in evaluations of college applicants.

You can count on grades and scores to be the first but not only consideration as your application is evaluated.   If you are a top student in a good school, if you have excellent SAT/ACT scores, a broad set of activities and a clear area of specific excellence  and passion, you will be admitted to most schools you apply to.  If you do not fit this description, you may have fewer options, but fear not:  there is a college with a spot for every student in the country with decent grades and test scores.  You may have to go further afield, of course, but you are not forever doomed by a few C’s and B’s.  As for GPA, it’s your unweighted average that is directly compared and which is used in the averages the universities publish with their profiles of admitted students; your weighted average does matter as it establishes your class rank, and can be used as an additional factor in direct comparisons, but the unweighted GPA is the first thing assessed, along with SAT/ACT test scores.

3. Some things do trump grades and test scores, but these tend to be very specific and very obvious exceptions.

Your favorite university is, in fact, looking for you if  you show a clear ability or potential to excel at something of value to the institution– if you are a recognized musical talent with decent grades or a mathematical prodigy or a 6’4″ All-CIF high school linebacker running a 4.5 second 40 yard dash and bench pressing 350 lbs, for example.  But even with exceptional skills in some area, such as tackling other large, fast people, you must still show that you have the academic chops to survive as a student at the specific school, though some entities, like athletic departments, may supply assistance in the form of tutoring.

If you want this quantified further, a 2008 study showed that players on top 25 football and basketball teams had SAT scores 220 points below the average for the rest of the student body at these schools.  Obviously elite athletic programs get priority at many schools.

Unfair, you say?  Not from the institution’s point of view.  It has its own priorities, with money and reputation near or at the top of the list, and sports are important both to boosters and to most students.   So are many other talents.  If you doubt my claims, see my entry about admissions stats for early 2012 and scroll down to my discussion of Stanford for further details on the importance of athletics.  It seems that the football team is important even at an intellectual paragon like Stanford.

The next rule is for the vast majority who  do not fit the exceptional niches that most universities set aside and who do not have a perfect academic record.

4. It’s okay to be human.  A few B’s and a  C will not kill your chances of admission to any but the most competitive universities, especially if you show a desire to push your limits by taking challenging classes in which you are not always perfect.  As you create your application portfolio, your  essays and extracurriculars can  reveal important and valuable aspects of you that can offset relative weaknesses in your grades or test scores.  Good recommendations are also important.  For an example of a the kinds of additional factors, see the U.C. Santa Cruz website, where they list fourteen factors used in making evaluations–they are, for example, giving  California residents preference (at least as of this year’s applicants), something that other U.C.’s  are moving away from (as I pointed out above, they get more money from a nonresident. . . )

My advice:  Try to keep things in perspective as you prepare for college.  I have known a few Valedictorians who were really living miserable lives in order to “win” academic honors.  I think it’s better to be less than perfect and to enjoy your life rather than to live in torment over every grade point.  There are many schools you have not heard of where you could be perfectly happy and be well educated.  If you are a resident of a western state, see my post here for more information on finding a good university in the West and potentially saving a lot of money as an extra boon.

5. The college application process starts early.  In fact, it should begin no later than the Sophomore year in high school.  Even the Freshman year in high school is increasingly important, if not as part of your GPA, then as part of your overall academic trajectory (they want to see increasing difficulty and challenge in your class selection from year to year). I think this is unfair and unwise–many people struggle to adjust in the first year or two of high school, and there are myriad examples of successful people who did not excel early–but this is the way things are going as competition for admission to selective universities increases.

On the other hand . . . a student who stumbled early should not give up.  The holistic schools will look at other aspects of your application that may explain or offset some academic    shortcomings.

You should make a serious effort to establish relationships with counselors and cultivate relationships with teachers, for you will need recommendations.  Try to develop these relationships early and in a sincere way, which requires something from you as well as from them.  When dealing with teachers, show interest and be helpful when possible–and show an interest in the academic subject of the teacher,  not just in yourself and your opinions.

By your Junior year, you want your counselor to know your face, your name and your important interests.  If you are a Junior and haven’t talked to your counselor, there is no time like the present.

Be straightforward about your desire to work with your counselor as part of your application process.  Ask them for their advice–they are usually knowledgeable  if not expert, and people like to share what they know, so let your counselor talk.  If your counselor seems less than eager, on the other hand, it might have to do with budget cuts that have loaded them with 500–or more–students.  Be polite and persistent.

6. Essays are Important and can separate you from your competitors.  And in the essays, as in your activities, authenticity matters.  Your application self and your real self need to have a clear relationship.  If your verbal score on the SAT was 550 but your essays read like Zadie Smith wrote them,  your app will not do well, even if your SAT math score was perfect.  Most experienced admissions readers can predict your SAT verbal from reading your essays, and if you farmed your essays out to one of the ghost writers offering their services on the internet, you are most likely doomed,  not just for a lack of academic skill, but more importantly because you lack integrity.  Getting editing help and reader input on your essay is fine; faking it is not.

This can be a gray area when you seek editing–as an example, I do detailed, line-by-line editing and suggest better phrasing as well as offering more holistic evaluations of essays, but ultimately my client’s essays are theirs.  My job as an editor is to give them ways to reshape the clay that they provide, but the essays are and must be student material.  Any editing help provided must be both sensible and sensitive as well as honest.

For a holistic school, like all of the Common Application schools, authenticity means more than your test scores and class rank.  In general, the admissions readers genuinely try to construct a full picture of you from your materials, from grades through essays.  Many students try to create a false self in their essays, just as these same students may be dabbling in many activities just to get them on the “resume.” Find a way to say something authentic in your essays–this can take time and will involve reading for some of the recent prompts for supplemental essays.

7. Activities are important, especially those that show a long-term interest and commitment, but for authentic intellectual development, reading widely is the best approach.     Reading is one of the best ways to add authentically to your general knowledge and to deepen your understanding of the world, and many college applications recognize this in their essay prompts, which either ask for or allow books as topics.  This does not mean that you should start reading the most serious possible literature immediately.  In fact,  I link you here to an excellent essay by Michael Chabon, one of our best contemporary writers,  on his love for comic books, with a vigorous defense of their value. Yes, reading comic books is –oh, excuse me, I mean reading graphic novels– is intellectually respectable, or at least it can be.    So go ahead and start with the supposedly lightweight, but be sure to move onward and outward from there.  You might try going from comics to Chabon’s The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, for example, or from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels to his, well, novels, like American Gods.

In addition to being generally useful, a good reading program will pay off in the application essays.  Your life will most likely have a few important episodes that might work in an autobiographical essay, but the number of experiences available to you through books is relatively limitless.  With the Common App and most holistic universities using essay prompts which directly address books or for which books are a good topic, reading is a good place to put in some time.

I have previously discussed writing about books, and will be addressing this again in future posts, but you can’t do a good job writing about books if you do not start reading early.

If you are already a Junior, and don’t read  beyond what is assigned in school, it’s a bit late but not too late.  I will have some suggestions for reading programs over the summer for all types of students in a later post.

Those are my rules, or guidelines, if you will.  Look for more posts in the near future on writing about books and other application matters.

Early College Admissions Data For 2012: What It Means For You

In college admissions, college application, college essay, university rankings on February 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Who should read this post:  parents and students considering applying to a university in California; parents and students who are beginning to investigate or just jumping into the college applications process; parents and students interested in application trends in California universities; those who want to explode the myth that a good football team is vital to a university; and anybody who wants evidence that Stanford students are bigger tailgaters than Cal students.

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

It’s the best of times if you are running one of the elite universities; it’s the worst of times if you are applying to one of these schools.  But never fear, Reader, I will offer you some suggestions for dealing with the rapidly increasing demand for the insufficient supply of seats for qualified applicants.  Let’s begin by looking at some of the numbers that are out for this year.

The early signs are that admissions demand has dropped for the most competitive Ivy League schools, but this is not true for most of the selective schools as a category and is specifically not true for the more popular schools on the Left Coast–Stanford and Cal, for example, saw significant increases in demand  again.    We await word on early admits and anything else from USC as of this writing.  (Note to Tommy Trojan:  The kids are anxious.  Please hurry.)

In fact,  large increases in applications were the rule for California universities, so this post will focus on some numbers for  California schools; in a later post I will give you some analysis for the East Coast universities and we’ll also be looking north at some of the big state schools in Oregon and Washington which are often overlooked outside of the region.  Near the end of the post, when I discuss *Cal Poly, I will look more closely at what the numbers really mean–simply looking at raw numbers such as increases in total applications is a good place to start planning, but it doesn’t tell much of the story beyond what common sense already suggests:  more people than ever are competing for about the same number of seats at popular universities.  Other stats will help you analyze the true probabilities for your own admission.

Keep in mind when viewing the numbers that the universities are also strategizing as  they compete for spots on college rankings, spots that are determined in part by how selective they appear to be.  Many of them try to increase applications by recruiting students in order to turn down a large number, and by doing so appear to be a more selective (and therefore both more rigorous and more desirable) university.   And they all estimate how many students will actually enroll when they come up with an acceptance number–in many cases, a third or less of those accepted will actually enroll and attend classes, even at sought-after universities.

Here is a rundown of some of the numbers for some of California’s more competitive campuses (with a mostly unscientific  analysis on the influence of football teams on college applications, in case you needed another metric.). 

Stanford

Call it Good (Andrew) Luck for Stanford, but this year the Cardinal received a total of 36,744 freshman applications by the  January 1st 2012 deadline.  This is a 7 percent increase from last year and a new record, surpassing last year’s  34,348 applications for the Class of 2015. To put this trend into context, around 32,000 students applied for the Class of 2014 and approximately 30,000 for the Class of 2013.

The Director of Admissions at Stanford, Bob Patterson, had expected a drop this year due to Harvard and Princeton reinstating early admissions.  It was not to be, and Patterson blames–or gives credit, depending on your point of view–to  the Stanford football team going to the Fiesta Bowl and more specifically to Andrew Luck.  For those of you who trash talk college sports, what can I say?  Football is one of our great cultural artifacts.  Historians and archaeologists will one day excavate  the earthquake-broken ruins of the Stanford Stadium and Bear Stadium to research the folk rituals of early-20th Century Americans.  Certainly Patterson believes that this year’s stats suggest that the best and brightest of high school seniors were swayed by heroics on the turf, and he should know, right?

Cautionary note to Stanford admits:  in keeping with the theory that history repeats itself, expect Stanford to revert to football mediocrity  again soon.  See the post-John Elway era if you have any questions.

U.C. Berkeley

Speaking of Bear stadium, Cal saw an even  larger jump in applications, with 61,661 students applied for freshman admission, a record number and big increase from the 52,920 students who applied for 2011-12.  I’ll save you the calculation:  this is a one-year increase of 16.5%.  I’d be interested to see data on whether the Ivies lost a significant ratio of California natives to the U.C. system, given the dip they saw this year.

This is tough news for students wanting to apply to Cal, to be sure, but sports-haters, this one’s for you:  the Cal football team did improve from their losing season the year before, but only to 7-5 in the regular season, followed by a loss in the Holiday Bowl.  An improved record for the football team over last year but not enough to explain the huge jump in applications to Cal.  Clearly this is a triumph for the geeks over the tailgaters.

On the other hand, Cal’s jump was below the rise for the UC  overall, which saw a systemwide average increase of 19 percent with the most popular campus remaining U.C.L.A.  Speaking of which . . .

UCLA

A record high 91,512 students applied for fall 2012 admission to UCLA.  UCLA has had, in fact,  the highest number of applicants to any four-year university in the nation in recent years.

Let’s look a little more closely at the numbers for UCLA:  Overall, applications for fall 2012 admission jumped by 12.7 percent over last year, with an 18.1 percent increase in freshman applications for a total of 72,626.  there was a  4.3 percent decrease in transfer applications, down to 18,886. Freshman applications from California residents rose by 7.5 percent, from 48,578 in 2011 to 52,231 this year, despite the fact that the the state has not projected any increase in the number of students graduating from California’s public high schools. 
Let’s see,  UCLA football in 2011:  6 wins and 7 losses in the regular season.  No correlation with the rise in admits here.
State Universities
If you are depressed by the U.C. numbers, I strongly suggest that you consider applying to schools in the Cal State system.
San Diego State and Cal Poly have been the most selective State University campuses, but with admissions rates around 30%, these are excellent choices as alternatives to the U.C. system, with some of the programs at these schools considered among the best in the country–engineering and architecture at Cal Poly, for example, have national reputations.  Of course, these are also very difficult programs to get into, with far lower admissions rates than  Cal Poly’s less demanding and less in-demand majors. 
The Cal State System overall received 665,860 applications overall during the priority application period,  a 9 percent increase over the previous year’s record fall application cycle, when the CSU received 611,225 applications.  Compare this to the 19% increase for the U.C. system and throw in the fact that you don’t have to write another essay for these folks and you should choose to do some research on Cal State campuses and send in at least a couple of apps if you want to go to school in California.
San Diego State

San Diego State University received 69,225 undergraduate applications for the fall 2012 semester, the most applications ever received by the university.

That is a 15 percent increase over last year at this time,  when SDSU received 60,085 undergraduate applications for fall 2011. The previous record for SDSU was 62,330 undergraduate applications received for fall of 2008.

Among the 69,225 fall undergraduate applications are 50,705 freshmen and 18,181 upper-division transfer students. Freshmen applications are up 14 percent, while upper-division transfer applications are up 19 percent.  And no, the university is not expanding its capacity to absorb the additional applicants.  As a percentage, fewer will be accepted this year, as is true with most selective universities.

SDSU football had an 8 and 4 regular season record in 2011.  Not their best season but not their worst either.  The  verdict is:  no correlation with applications.  Must be a pretty intellectual school.


Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

*For those of you outside California, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo is a popular State University which  has highly reputed engineering and architecture schools, among others.  It is in some ways an even better choice than Cal if you wish to work in Silicon Valley or want to have an  engineering or architectural career in California.
 Cal Poly has issued an early, round number of 45,000 applicants for next fall.  This is up from 41,000 applicants last year.  To give you a comparison,  go back about 20 years and Cal Poly had 13,441 applicants.  Applications have trended upward every year since, and  CPSLO has had over 40,000 applicants annually for several  years running.
But What Do These Numbers Mean?  How Can I Create a Strategy?
The continuing increase in overall applicants to all of these schools is also grim news in terms of the raw numbers with whom you will compete next fall, but fear not, reader, there is hope, especially if you are diligent in your research about colleges and even more so if you have the foundation you need in grades and test scores.
I will be looking more closely at a number of schools in the coming months, but let’s use Cal Poly as our first example for this year, since it is a competitive State school and represents a kind of medium between a place like Harvard and the typical no-name, nonselective school.  Cal Poly also stands out because their administrators have been pretty frank in their public statements about enrollment and budget matters.
As an example, Cal Poly admissions director James Maraviglia estimated earlier this month that there will be 3,860 undergraduate slots actually filled, including transfers, for the fall of 2012.  He added to this that he assumes no further cuts to the budget by then, which is a decent bet since the real cuts will come early in 2013 if governor Brown’s tax increases don’t make it at the ballot box (and even if the tax increases fail next November, those applicants who are enrolled as of September would remain enrolled, though they might spend the better part of a decade getting through all the classes they need after the cuts eliminate any professors below the age of 45. Just kidding on that last stat [I hope]).
Understanding Admission Rates and Enrollment Rates
So what happened to that 30% acceptance rate I quoted earlier? Does this mean that a lowly California State University actually has the admit rate of an upper tier Ivy-League school, at 8.5%?   Nah.  Cal Poly’s admissions rate is around 30%–according to The Princeton Review, it was 33% two years ago–but of course only about a third of those people accepted actually enroll and show up. This is reflected in Maraviglia’s estimate that they will have slots for 3,860 students.  This is down from the number of slots open last year, but the admit rate will still be generous, and if you really want to go there and they admit you, they have to give you a spot, even if they blew it on their estimates and too many Freshmen show up.  If you’ve ever wondered about those news stories in which a university suddenly doesn’t have enough dorm rooms and is putting up Freshman students in fleabag motels, now you know–they had more students who actually enrolled after being accepted than they expected.  Woe to the Director of Admissions.
Compare Cal Poly to UCLA, which the Princeton Review’s most recent stats put at a 23% admit rate, with 37% of those 23% who actually enrolled.  Compare that again to Harvard, which in the Princeton Review’s stats has only a 7% admissions rate and fully 75% of those admitted actually enroll.  Yikes!    Presumably most of the others went off to places which are almost as selective, like Stanford which, in the same year, had a 7% admissions rate with 72% of those enrolling and Princeton, which had a 9% admissions rate with a comparatively lower 57% enrolling.  I guess Princeton is the “safety” backup choice for Harvard and Stanford admits?
The Take Away:
Students applying to California schools face increased competition for admission.  However, as you go about planning for your applications, keep in mind the fact that  no universities enroll every student that they “accept.” So start by distinguishing between the number “admitted”  or “accepted”and the number who actually enroll in order to get a more realistic idea of the school’s exclusivity.  This is something that you should take a close look at for all of the schools on your long list as it will help you create a shorter list.
I advise against applying to more than ten or twelve colleges at the most, and that you look beyond the big-name and nationally known universities; given the number of students admitted, schools like Cal Poly should be on your list, especially, in the case of Cal Poly, if you want to study in a technical area and if you like the idea of a small town in a semi-rural environment with easy access to superb beaches.  Which is another point:  would you really like to live for four (or more likely five or more) years in the places you think you want to go to school.  Be sure to consider geography and also look into specific schools and programs within the universities or better yet, start with programs and let that lead you to universities.
Who does have the best programs in your are of interest?  Where would you like to live, in what kind of setting with what kind of weather?  If you haven’t started listing schools yet, try starting with those questions.
And you definitely need to look at some stats; I would get a copy of the Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges or, if you want to save some money, go to http://www.collegeray.com, a fairly new but good stat site put up by a former student of mine, among others, and using much of the same data sources as the Review people.  Look at the stats and compare the accepted rate to the next number, which shows the percent who actually enrolled (yield).  You can start to draw your own conclusions about the strategies and goals of the universities you are looking at most closely.
Football Teams and Selectivity
As for the football team and the demand, we have to give the final victory here to Stanford.  In fact, given the correlation this year, it looks like Stanford students are much bigger football fans than students at pretty much anywhere else.  Is this the new Tailgate U?  Let me know what you think.

College Application Tips Part 1

In college admission, college admissions, college application, Uncategorized, university rankings on June 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm

While it’s a truth widely acknowledged that many institutions game the U.S. News and World Report rankings by inflating their app rates (among other things) A quick look at the admissions statistics tells the tale.

For 2010, U.C. Berkeley had 50,312 applicants and admitted 12,914—a 26% rate of admission; U.C.L.A. upped that by admitting only 13,088 of 57,608 applicants, for a 23% admit rate; on the other hand, the most popular of the Cal State campuses, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, had a 33% admission rate, and CP SLO has consistently been one of the highest rated universities on the West Coast.

Over on the right coast, Columbia admitted 9% of its applicants, Harvard admitted 7%–excuse me, with that rate, it’s Haaaaaahvad–while Princeton admitted 8%. In the midland, U of Chicago admitted 19% while Northwestern admitted 23%.

These are ugly numbers and even more fearful in our bad economic times. But what do they really mean?

In the big picture, they mean that we have a resource problem. The elite schools have always been selective—and have, for many years, gamed the ratings to appear as selective as possible—but the shortage of educational opportunities in California is particularly acute. Demand far outstrips supply and tax revenue has declined at a time when public institutions are viewed by many in our country as part of the problem if not as an actual enemy within. If you want to deal with the big picture, you’ll have to get involved politically. This is a workable approach for parents of 6th graders and a civic duty for everyone else, but not very useful if you have a college-bound student in high school.

If you have a high school junior, you will have to focus on an immediate, pragmatic strategy. Presumably you are already been making all the basic stops on the Via Dolorosa of the college admissions process, but some things to consider might not be immediately obvious.

Start with researching your preferred campuses. At Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, for example, admission rates for each school varies. The Business School at Cal Poly is ferociously competitive. The history department, not so much. A history major with a business minor would be a far easier admit ticket to get punched than the reverse would be. And turning out more students with such a background might be an improvement overall given the recent history of our banking sector.

Be aware, however, that CPSLO is discouraging double majors due to budget cuts and has always been hard on those who wish to change a major. Not only that, the admin at SLO is ramping up pressure on students to finish a degree in less than five years, all of this as a response to the budget problems as well as to prevent those who game the system by selecting a low subscription major and then switching to a more impacted major after being admitted. And yes, at the same time that fewer sections of many classes are being offered. Of course, that will be true on many campuses.

Next, consider colleges which have higher admissions rates. Sonoma State has many of the advantages of Cal Poly, including a fairly bucolic setting (though Rohnert Park is nobody’s idea of a happening little town, unlike SLO) and the admit rate is in the 80% range.

A final consideration I would look at is the location—is this a great place to spend four or five years? Out of state is looking better all the time. Eastern Oregon University offers in-state tuition for all students—okay, so the location is isolated, but Portland State, as another alternative, is in what might be the nicest place to live in the Northwest, and they offer a scholarship to out-of-state students with a high GPA. Visit their website for details.

Finally, do spend extra time on the college essay for the applications that require it. By the time the junior year is over, you don’t have many opportunities to stand out from the crowd, and the essay is the only place to really show your creativity and brilliance in a first-person way.

Early College Admissions Data for 2011 and What This Means for You

In college admission, college admissions, college application, Uncategorized, university application information, university rankings on June 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Some early data is rolling in on this year’s college admissions, and all the news is up for those institutions known as “selective” universities–up meaning turned down for even more applicants this year. To wit: Stanford saw the number of applicants rise from 32,022 for 2010 to 34,000 in 2011, an increase of over 6%; across the Bay, U. C. Berkeley went from 50,312 to 52,920, an increase just north of 5%; and across the continent, Harvard saw an increase from 30,489 applicants last year to 35,000 this year

The wide net cast by many–if not most–of the schools who have risen to the top of U.S. News and World Report’s heap of illusions is well known by now. This includes promos and invitations sent with more frequency than credit card offers to the homes of high school students, many of whom have a snowball’s chance in a pizza oven of being admitted.

Also widely reported is the effect that these tens of thousands of what I call “prejects” have on the bottom line of these same selective universities. Thirty thousand admissions fees paid by kids (okay, parents of kids) who will under no circumstances ever tread the halls is a tidy sum reaped by a university for a very inexpensive data collections system. An admissions officer can screen dozens of applications a day, most electronic, and let’s face it, the first step is an algorithmic gate–at or below GPA x, no admit. At GPA y, maybe. If I were cynical, I would argue that the universities have found a way of making rejects pay for the system that screens their students.

It is still true that the sweat and tears of applicants does matter, but only for those already near the top. So be realistic. If you don’t have a 4.0, or a 3.75 with a tremendous story to tell, don’t waste your time with the “selective” schools. If you do, go for it–and put plenty of time into your essay if you are going to be a Senior in September.