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Posts Tagged ‘University Rankings’

College Admissions Data for 2013: A Look at Yield and Some Sympathy for the Devil

In Admissions Data for 2013, Admissions Yields for 2012, College Application Strategy, Harvard Admissions Data for 2012, Ivy League Admissions Data, Stanford Admissions Data for 2012, University of Chicago Admissions Data on June 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm

For many years, yield was vital to college rankings.   Universities tried not only to attract far more qualified applicants than they could possibly admit, they also tried to get a very high yield.  From the point of view of applicants, this was, well, a bit devilish.  The universities, of course, have a different point of view, and it’s worth considering their perspective as you begin the process of applying.

For those of you who are not up on the inside game of college admissions and its terminology (yet), yield is the  number of admitted students who then also actually enroll in the school instead of, say, turning down the school to enroll in their “other” first choice.  Yield was for many years important due to the U.S. News and World Report’s use of yield in its rankings of colleges, a practice they gave up years back. But yield remains, as a kind of ghost hanging around the theatre of college applications, influencing the general perception about how in demand a college is.  The psychology is not so dissimilar to that of the fashion industry in some ways, if you step back and squint your eyes a bit—or maybe not.  Too scary to visualize.

In any case,   universities today still  share their yield info with applicants; those universities with high yields share the information as a sales point (simply everybody, or at least  a supermajority of our admits wants to go to our school, etc.) and the others share presumably either so they won’t seem like they have something to hide or because they really are perfectly fine accepting students who were ranked in a top decile but who were not in the tiny cohort of the  top 1 to 3% of those who actually gain admissions to an elite Ivy or Stanford.

As a side note, for those of you who are already feeling the butterflies as you consider the odds of getting into, say, Princeton or Stanford, look:  You will find a surprising number of really excellent schools that accept the top 10-15% of students, and many people in fact get a great education for less debt at public schools with even “lower” standards.  Some of these less competitive schools have specific programs that compete with anybody.  Once you look beyond the same 10-15 schools that everybody else knows about and wants to apply to, you can find all kinds of hidden gems.  So breathe deep and relax as I present the admissions facts as they are, and I will, in upcoming posts, also help you look outside the envelope everybody else is staring into, including looking at cheaper and less well-known but still excellent domestic options, as well as looking outside the country. If you can expand your horizon beyond the same 12-15 schools everyone else is applying to, you can find some real gems, colleges that may suit you and your needs better than many marquee universities.

With this preamble, let’s first take a look at the data I gathered on some of the most competitive colleges in the United States—yes, these are some of the schools everybody has heard of:

Three-Year Yield Data on Über-Competitve schools

Brown2013 (class of 2017): 59.9% ;  2012:ca 57%; 2011 55.8% (None from wait list this year)

Columbia2013 (class of 2017): 61%; 2012: 61%; 2011: 61% (Very consistent to 2008, which was 60%)

Dartmouth–2013 (class of 2017): 48.5%; 2012: 49.5%; 2011: 52%

Harvard2013 (class of 2017): 82%; 2012: 80.2%; 2011: ca 77% (46 from wait list this year)

Princeton2013 (class of 2017): 68.7%; 2012 66.7%; 2011: 56.99% (Princeton Admissions Page stats claim 65% for 2012/2016 class; this appears to be an inaccurate early number)

Stanford2013 (class of 2017): 76.7%; 2012 72.84%; 2011: 70.05%

University of Chicago2013 (class of 2017): 54.98%: 2012: 47%; 2011: 39.88%

UPenn-2013 (class of 2017): 64.25%; 2012: 64.88%; 2011: 62.92%

Yale2013 (class of 2017): Yield not available as of 6/19; 2012: 68.4%; 2011: 65.2%

Compare the yield rates for the elite schools, above, with the overall category averages below, which come from the most recent NACAC (National Association of College and Career Counselors) report, with data up through 2011; these are averages for the entire public/private categories:

Yield Rates for Public and Private 4-Year Colleges

Year

Public

Private

2002

51.4%

47.8%

2003

50.6%

45.7%

2004

49.1%

45.5%

2005

48.9%

44.2%

2006

47.5%

43.8%

2007

48.4%

44.2%

2008

46.2%

43.3%

2009

42.9%

38.4%

2010

42.9%

38.4%

2011

42.6%

36.4%

The story that my data on the super selective schools and the data in this categorical chart tells  is clear:  the most elite schools have been pretty well sheltered from the big drop in yields in recent years, but many others have been, therefore, disproportionately affected.

Why?  Well, demand, largely.  And the demand is driven by certain realities—the famous profs, the famous alums, the data they issue about how smart their applicants are, the data about how few of those applicants they let in, the data about how high their yield rate is of those they did admit . . . oh, wait, it looks like we are discussing, well, marketing, and therefore, Dear Applicant, we are discussing you. Or your perceptions both personally and aggregated with your peers across the country and world.  Take your pick.

As you consider your own perceptions, we should also consider the plight of that demonic realm known as the Admissions Department. You might want to cue some Rolling Stones (Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste) as you think about those dark empires into which all your personal information will disappear, leaving you to wait for months to find out if you are one of the blessed or one of the damned when the envelopes are mailed or the e-mails sent next spring.  But here’s the thing:  they have problems, too.

You are in a race to be admitted; they are in a contest to improve their rankings, or if they are near the top, to maintain their position.   Changes in college rankings mean big money and can make or break campuses and careers.   In some cases,  the suffering of admissions deans may even surpass that of those applying.   A large part of a dean’s problem is hitting the sweet spot where most of those admitted actually attend.  All heck can break loose if 400 extra freshmen admits appear who weren’t expected.

Yes, screwing up on your yield can wreak some serious havoc, with 18-year olds sleeping on cots in hallways, irate parents calling,  news vans prowling campus.   Worse even than that  is a big drop in yield,  when dorm rooms are empty because the admissions people didn’t get enough new faces to show up.  Instead of simply bad PR, which they can deal with, they lose real money and their prestige takes a hit.  That’s a scary, nay a terrifying thing for university administrators, even with the economy appearing to recover. Have a little compassion for those admissions types who are not really devils anyhow.  They are your fellows in the suffering created by our crazy college applications market.

And here is one more thing to consider:  You will do a better job at creating a strategy for college admissions if you better understand the problems facing your admissions officers, because you will also know more about your own  challenges when you apply.  And when you turn to writing your application essays, your audience should be one of your first considerations.

Of course, in the long run, the more of you who do a better job understanding those problems, the (paradoxically) larger problems those same admissions officers will face, at least in the long run.  For one thing, you  will follow my advice and continue to apply to more schools, and you will also continue to demonstrate more interest in more schools, using persistence and discipline to evade their attempts to measure just how committed you are as they, for their part,  try to get more apps, admit fewer people and have a higher yield.

With that, let’s say the game is afoot, and may the best applicants win.  Read my earlier post on how applications are evaluated while you start to plan your moves, and I will have more about all this strategy stuff in later posts. Speaking of which, some of these posts will be protected and you will need to pay me a very small subscription fee for full access to all my posts on my private blog.  Contact me at wordguild@gmail.com for more information.  See you soon.

Comparative Ivy League (And Other) Admissions Statistics For This Year And Beyond

In Brown University Admissions, college admissions, College Application Essays, college essay, common application, Common Application Essays, Ivy League Admission Statistics, Ivy League Admissions, Stanford Admissions on May 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm

In my last post, I took a look at trends in admissions–finding, most notably, that admission rates at the most competitive schools are continuing to trend downward in the single digits.  This post will give three year results for all of the Ivy League universities, below, as well as results on other universities that were popular with my clients this year.  (This data changes from early in the year until late spring; I update as I get new numbers but not necessarily immediately.)  Some schools are holding steady, others are seeing decreasing rates of admissions, while  a few saw a slight increase in admits.

I also made some suggestions in the last post about looking outside the usual suspects, i.e, the 12 or so big names that always come up when constructing a college list, something I have been discussing for years.  I will repost and link the relevant posts  in the coming days and weeks.

In addition to broadening your college search and making a longer target list, the supplementary work that you do in applying to college this year will  be even more important for the selective schools.  Essays are always the center of this effort, which is why I spend so much time addressing them in by blog posts, and essay development and editing is central to my business and my work with applicants.  My first recommendation on essays is to get started now.

It’s true that most new prompts will not be up until July or later, but this is a good time to find a small notebook and carry it around so you can jot down ideas when they come to you–I am serious about this; you will need a bit of focus for your thoughts, so have a look at my post on this year’s Common Application Prompts, then get that notebook, carry it with you, and take the time to scribble an idea down when it comes to you.  You will find that good ideas can fade and be lost as quickly as you forget your dreams–if you don’t write them down.  A notebook is best for this because it is really good only for making notes, and so tends to work better for this task than does that most distracting platform called a smart phone.

Check the admissions trends below;   but for a comparison, before you do check our trends in the U. S., here is the most recent data from the University of Edinburgh:

University of Edinburgh

2012-2013 Total Number of Applications: 47,076; 18,155 offers; 5,457 accepted; Offer rate 38.6%.  The offer rate does vary by “programme”.

Note that a single applicant can make multiple applications to the university, to different programs, so the acceptance rate is a bit exaggerated–but still . . . compare this to the Ivy League three-year returns, below:

Three Year Admissions Results, Ivy League (these numbers represent the total percent of applicants who were offered admission)

Brown–2011: 8.70%; 2012: 9.60%; 2013: 9.16%

Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013:  6.89%

Cornell–2011: 17.95; 2012: 16.2%; 2013: 15.15%

Dartmouth–2011: 10.14%; 2012: 9.79; 2013: 10.05

Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%

Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012:  7.86%; 2013: 7.29%

U Penn–2011:  12.26%; 2012: 12.32; 2013:10.05

Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%

Three Year Results, Other Universities

Cal Tech–2011: 12.99; 2012: 11.76; 2013: 10.55%

M. I. T. —2011: 10.07%; 2012: 8.9%; 2013: 10.2% (pending final number)

Georgetown–2011:  16.8%; 2012: 16.5%; 2013: 16.6%

Northwestern– 2011: 18.03%;  2012: 15.27%; 2013: 13.90%

Stanford–2011:  7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69%

U. C. Berkeley–2011:  25.54%; 201221.13%; 2013: 20.83%

U. C. L. A.–2011:  25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10

University of Chicago–2011: 16.29%; 201213.24%; 2013: 8.81%

As I said in the last post, apply to the university of your dreams, even if your stats make an admit unlikely, but then look around for more fallback and sure thing choices.  And start thinking of yourself as an internationalist as well.  There are many fine anglophone schools, abroad, and not just in Canada.  The University of Edinburgh, for example . . .

Early College Admissions Statistics For 2013-2014: What It Means For You

In applying to college, college admissions, College Application Essay, College Application Statistics, Harvard Admissions, Ivy League Admissions, Princeton Admissions, Stanford Admissions, Yale Admissions on May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm

College admissions results this year show that competition for spots at selective and super selective universities is, once again,  increasing.   With yet again a lower ratio of admits to applications at most of the selective schools,  it’s a good time to broaden your list of college application options.

To be more specific, I have traditionally advised that qualified students apply to 8-10 carefully selected schools, using a list that includes a calculated mix, from “reach” schools to  sure thing schools.  If you are applying in 2013-2014,   I think you are going to need  a longer list, something more like 12-15 schools, including some out-of-state and at least a couple of international schools–particularly if your short list includes the highly selective schools.  Even if looking outside the U.S.  sounds unappealing now, you may change your mind–and if you don’t prepare, you won’t apply (and if you don’t apply, that door won’t be there to open if you do change your mind later).

Before I get to specific results on some of the most competitive schools, here’s the gist:  the top 10-15% of the high school class across the country are applying to the most selective colleges.  Some students below this cohort do apply and get in, but usually because they are in some sense an exception, whether through athletic or other talents.  When we shift to the super selective colleges (top-tier Ivy League, Stanford, et al), the top 10% of students are applying, and of that top 10%, less than 10% are accepted.  In other words, getting a seat at the most competitive schools has become a bloodbath primarily between the top 1% of all students in the country.  Hyperbolic?  Well, no real blood is shed, but even accounting for the gamesmanship among universities as they try to increase the appearance of selectivity, the trends are sobering.  Here’s some specifics:

Columbia’s overall admit rate for 2013 was 7.42%; Princeton came in at a 7.29% overall admit rate; Yale reported 6.72%; Harvard 5.79% and Stanford, 5.69%.  Looking at another good, public option, in the University of California system, Berkeley accepted 20.83% and UCLA 20.10%,  still pretty selective numbers, but compared to the top Ivies and Stanford, almost comforting.  Almost.

Ouch.  But in addition to checking out this year’s results, you also should be looking at the trends.  Here is a three-year sample of results, at a wider selection of the selective schools:

Overall Admissions Rates by Year

Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013:  6.89%

Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%

Northwestern– 2011: 18.03%;  2012: 15.27%; 2013: 13.90%

Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012:  7.86%; 2013: 7.29%

Stanford–2011:  7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69%

University of Chicago–2011: 16.29%; 2012: 13.24%; 2013: 8.81%

U. C. Berkeley–2011:  25.54%; 201221.13%; 2013: 20.83%

U. C. L. A.–2011:  25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10

Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%

Yep, Stanford is looking like a good bet to drop below the 5% admit rate first, and will do so next year or the year after, given the trend, with Harvard right behind them.  (All those tech start-up wannabes, perhaps.)

What to do in response to these daunting stats?

My preliminary response is:  By all means, apply to your dream school(s),  even if some of them seem improbable; just be sure, as I suggested earlier, that you widen your net and look outside your early list, in particular adding some of those  international options, like the University of British Columbia, McGill,  et al.  There are hundreds of thousands of students around the world having a great experience and getting their money’s worth at non-brand name universities.

Of course you should always compare your own stats to those of the schools you are looking at to get an idea of what’s a reach and what seems a sure bet as you make a balanced list of schools.  But just as important as stats in making a good list of schools is a clear understanding of your own needs and motivations, your goals and what you will need to reach them.  Reassess yourself, particularly why you want to attend any of the more selective schools.  Then reassess the schools themselves, particularly by looking at the programs you are interested in–note that the specific programs or majors should be the main reason you want to attend school x or  school y.

I will, in future posts, be unpacking all of these aspects of the college search in more detail, for they are each becoming more  complex every year.  In just one example of what I mean, I find it harder and harder to offer specific advice about the job market of the future to my clients.   Things are changing fast as everything from outsourcing to automated and robotic systems  impact the traditional white collar professions.  You might want to think about these things as you consider possible majors.

Algorithms aren’t just driving experimental automobiles–they are sorting and analyzing more and more information in areas that once required  highly intelligent–and college-trained–humans.  It won’t just be taxi drivers and truck drivers who will wonder what happened to their professions in ten or twenty years.  From the grunt work of legal searches to patient assessment to you name it, the jobs of middle class and upper middle class professionals are also entering a period of enormous change, and not just from automation.  Plenty of highly skilled, English-speaking people overseas can process and analyze the files and data that are the jobs of many people here today.

These and other trends are clear, and choosing a specific profession these days is starting to seem like picking stocks, with fewer and fewer sure-bet blue chips available.  So I encourage you to think more in terms of developing a knowledge base and some skill sets as you consider programs and schools.

In terms of selecting  specific schools, one thing I can say with certainty is that too many of the college applicants that I have been dealing with in recent years are buying too much into  marketing and imagery.   Many feel that only by  going to school x or y  will  they get the special training and connections they need to succeed.   Sure, Harvard, Yale, Stanford have great programs, and there are networking advantages that arise in some programs in these schools, but for every Zuckerberg, there are 10,000 others struggling to pay down student loans while also holding down a couple of jobs–they would have had a lot less to pay off if they had gone to a cheaper school with less marquee appeal. (I’ll be discussing expenses in a later post.  Other discussions, such as the overblown college is a waste of time for young genius entrepreneurs  meme can wait for much later).

There are, of course, a variety of strategies you can consider once you’ve done that thorough self assessment.

But first, here’s a few other stats to consider–let’s start with the University of British Columbia, generally considered the #2 university in Canada and ranked #30 in the world by the Times World University Rankings.  UBC has an average GPA of about 3.6 on recent admits and about half of domestic applicants were admitted;  McGill, the top university in Canada, had an average GPA in the same range– I hasten to add that these Canadian schools do use a sliding scale based on the specific programs you apply to; some programs will be more difficult to get into than others, and they look for different kinds of preparation.  For an example of what I mean, go to this link for McGill, where a table will lay out basic application requirements:  McGill Admissions.   You’ll pay about as much at these universities as you would in state at some of our public schools, and they match or are cheaper than out of state tuition for most American schools.  I’ll offer more analysis on costs in future posts.

If you are open to an international setting, also consider  Great Britain–universities like St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh have been accepting increasing numbers of Americans.  Edinburgh, as an example, looks for a GPA over 3.0 and solid SAT scores–at 1800 or above. Compare this to, oh, Princeton, with an average GPA of 3.9 and a lower range SAT score around 2100–your chances of getting in with 2011 and a 3.9 are very iffy–or look at Stanford, where 50% of the students have a 4.0 or better, with the SAT  scores similar to Princeton.    Not to mention the price tag for tuition.

A 3.7 with a 2000 SAT, on the other hand,  is a shoo-in at many excellent international schools. In fact, I had several 3.5 range clients very happily accept admissions to Canadian and English universities this year.   And these are bargain in many other ways as well.  More on all of this soon . . . And on getting your essays started.

Check back in with me periodically over the coming months; I will be adding posts,  once a week, on average, well into the summer.   In addition, you may e-mail me with specific questions–I do develop blog topics as a result of client and public requests.  Do keep in mind, however, that as I begin to offer more specific advice, particularly on essay development for some of the more challenging, university-specific prompts (Chicago, anyone?), that some posts will be fully available only for a (small) fee, on my private blog, though you will be able to read an excerpt here.  You can also contact me to subscribe to my private blog, with full access to all posts for this year and in the archives.  Cheers.

Finding The Right University: Some Resources

In college admissions, college application, common application, University of California Application on May 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

College Search and Evaluation Software and Websites

Most of the people I help with college applications can be categorized in two ways:  those who are fixated on a list of big-name universities which are the ONLY places they can possibly consider applying to, and those who are overwhelmed by the information available and so feel paralyzed and unable to choose.  I usually start with the college names they know in both cases and then move on to things they may not have considered, such as this question: Would you want to live there if the university was not located there–a good thing to ask about a place where you are likely to spend at least four years of your life.

In addition to asking questions beyond the status of the university, which in itself is no guarantee of a good experience, it helps to use some of the excellent sources of information that are available today.  I have elsewhere discussed some of the books that can help with the college search, but increasingly the best information is available online.

I encourage my clients to use the information sources below to help narrow the search–I offer suggestions and give them information that falls into the gaps, so to speak, but your average searcher for a good university could do much of the work a college counselor might be paid to do (which is one of the reasons I prefer the title “College Advisor” and put most of my time into intellectual and essay development).  By sending my clients to the sites below and helping put the information in perspective, I can almost always help my clients with a good, varied list of colleges to pursue.  I suggest starting with somewhere around twenty names, then reducing this list to ten or twelve colleges–I used to recommend ten, but in these times, a few more apps is a good idea. So the first step is to empower yourselves, folks.   Take charge of your search, starting with the following sources:

Software And Sites You Should Definitely Use (if you can)

The College Board

www.collegeboard.org

If I may compare the college application game to the rackets, the College Board is the Godfather.  They have a finger in every pie and control much of the important data.  Go to their site, pick a college name and search—this will take you to their Big Future college search engine, which has all kinds of useful data and information—for example, cost estimates are broken down not just by in and out of state but also by on and off campus.

The Common Application

https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/default.aspx

Continuing with my rackets analogy, if the College Board is the Godfather, these guys are the consigliere.  Much of the information on the Collegeboard site can be found here, but focused specifically on the hundreds of universities using the Common App.  Not quite as detailed as the collegeboard, but you are most likely going to set up an account here and you might as well check out what they offer.

College Navigator

http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/

If the College Board is the Godfather, this is the Oracle of Delphi.  This is a federal website and it is built right on the source of education statistics for the U.S.  The site is a function of the Institute of Education Sciences, which is essentially the data clearing house for education facts nationally, among other things.  Graphics windows that open up when you search are not flashy, but the layout is very easy to use and clear, and  you can see very detailed breakdowns of costs from tuition to room and board to an estimate of extra expenses, as well as test scores and pretty much any other statistic you might want, though some of the numbers may be a year behind.   Go now if you haven’t already.   They are the data set, really, that everybody else uses.

Naviance

www.naviance.com

If your school or district has not purchased this service, then you are only going to be frustrated in reading this; if so, convert your frustration to political action and advocate that the board or school purchase Naviance.  Naviance is an institutional software package and service, meaning that it can be purchased by school districts but not by individuals.  There are legitimate institutional reasons for this limitation.  If your district does use Naviance, it will perform most of the functions of a traditional college counselor by providing a highly accurate picture of your chances of gaining admission to a particular university—this feedback is specific to your profile and to your school’s profile.  This includes scattergram reports updated annually for your school.  See Cappex, below, for more on that.   Of course, Naviance can’t read your essays and evaluate them, nor is it very good at figuring out if you are going to get an athletic or music scholarship, to name a couple of very important admissions factors.  But  if your school does have Naviance, Congratulations!  Go see your counselor posthaste.  If you do not have access to Naviance, the two sources above and those I list below can help you approximate Naviance.  In any case, any prediction made by Naviance or any other service is a based on data, in other words is based on the past, and the past is becoming less and less reliable as a predictor of the future except for the general truth that every year it is becoming harder to gain admissions to most selective universities.

Apps and Sites That Are Worth A Look

Cappex

www.cappex.com

Cappex is trying to be a free version of Naviance, with a dose of attitude.  They even have  scattergrams  for the schools they discuss.  Scattergrams are xy graphical representations of results on student applications, with GPA and ACT/SAT score as the two factors represented.  This means that, like all of these predictive tools, we can’t factor in essays, talents, et al, and we don’t know exactly how large the sample is for the Cappex data either, but they do claim to show the results of all of their members who applied, and this number is definitely growing.  There are many other nice features here—their profiles of universities, which include the scattergram,  are reasonably informative and can quickly give you an idea of where you fall among applicants–the most selective unis are shifted way up toward the top right in the scattergrams . . .

College Ray

http://collegeray.com

A good statistical site with a lot of data, presented in a straightforward fashion.  It is searchable and has statistical info like that offered by the College Board, et al.  It’s not clear where they intend to go with this site—it was developed by Harvard undergraduates for the HackHarvard web app incubator–but it offers good info in an easy-to-use format.

Admissions Splash

www.admissionssplash.com

This is a Facebook app that works with around 1,500 schools, matching your profile with the schools and giving you a prediction of your chances to be admitted.  This is a numbers only site—GPA, SAT/ACT—so essays, talents and other factors are not weighed.  This is true of all the software or apps which predict admissions chances, though Naviance, above, has more specific information  and theoretically should be  a bit more accurate.  Still, Splash is worth a look as you search.  It will give you a score range from 1-100 and chances are calculated from “fair” to “great.’  They claim to have a 90-97% predictions.  Keep in mind that you are providing private information—while they have no plans at the moment for using your data, they have not “determined” the long-term use of the data.  In addition to the calculator for predicting admissions, they have a question and answer function and a blog on topics related to college and college admissions.  As with college confidential, almost none of the information offered by individuals can be validated and you are probably wasting your time reading a bunch of responses which purport to offer “insider’ info.

Unigo

www.unigo.com

This is a participant driven site—think of it as the Yelp of universities.  Or you might think of it as an attempt to create a college student Borg.  Good for some idea of aspects of your potential colleges that are not readily clear in statistics—social life, for example—but I always wonder what the basis for comparison is—how do you really know how to rate the social life at your school against that of another?  Without, say, attending both?  An epistemological mystery, but anecdotally this site is useful for things like reviews of dorm life to what the stereotypes of students at the school are, or is.  They also (claim to) rate schools against each other.

Can Give Interesting Information But Probably Not Worth The Time

College Confidential

I like most of the “official’ info, by which I mean the commentary the adults in charge offer, but the various chat threads and discussions of how to finesse an app to a particular school are pretty much sliced lunchmeat.  The discussion threads do have occasional tidbits of good information, but it’s like looking for a pearl in the tanks of a sewage plant.   Buy a rabbit’s foot instead of spending time reading the chat(ter).  The people who work at universities in or with insight into admissions have frequently lambasted the information offered here, with good reason.

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.

The Secret of College Admissions: How College Applications Are Evaluated

In applying to college, college admissions, college application, common application, Common Application Essays on March 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Who should read this post:  Anyone who will use the Common Application; anyone who wants to apply to an Ivy League school or to any other elite school;  anyone who wants to understand how college applications are evaluated; anyone who needs to write a college application essay; in fact, anyone applying to any college in the United States should read this post.

Objective Evaluations

This post will be focused on undergraduate evaluations.  For graduate evaluations, look at specific posts, such as my Brief on the Law School Application.

First things first:  there are two basic ways to evaluate college applications, holistically or objectively.  Without digressing into discussions of the relative fairness of standardized tests or the objectivity of grades, the objective method focuses on grades and test scores “only.”  This seems like a simple and fair way to evaluate, but it’s not actually as simple as it seems.

An example of a system that uses this method is the California State Universities, including  specific schools, such as the two Cal Poly campuses, Long Beach State, et al.  These schools do not require any supplemental material, such as essays, with the exception of some specific programs and specific categories of students, such as transfer students for  the Architecture major at Cal Poly, or Graphic Arts and Fine Arts majors at most schools–Cal State Long Beach is an example–for which portfolios and other supplemental materials are required. (CSLB is ranked #58 in the country for fine arts, and it’s “in” Los Angeles, which also puts you in one of our big art markets.  There are only a few Ivy League schools in the rankings above CSLB and a couple of U.C. schools, if that gives you some perspective.  I have more to say about having some perspective and widening your search below as well as in my last post, where I discussed evaluating schools based on majors and cost.  See the U.S. News rankings here for more details on the rankings in Art).

Special Admissions Categories in Objective Schools

Objective schools, like the holistic schools,  do set aside places for various categories each year, from athletics to out-of-state students, among other categories; individual departments may ask for spots to be set aside for particular kinds of students as well, and these numbers change from year to year.  This is not widely understood–many people assume that objective schools only look at tests and grades, but  even this so-called “objective” evaluation is more complicated than it seems, and not just because other factors than your grades and test scores may matter.

Even your grades are open to interpretation, based on factors like your class rank and the profile of your school, both of which can also factor into an “objective” assessment.  If you are a top ten-percent student  at a good high school and you score well on standardized measurements, that means something different than the same ranking at a low-scoring high school.  So a grade is not just a grade and a class rank is not just a class rank.  On the other hand, a computer can do almost all of this processing as the school tweaks the software to meet the needs that year, and they have profiles on most high schools based on applications and data on students who enrolled in the past.  Not a lot of direct human intervention is needed, aside from specific categories of students the school will seek that year, and even then, the initial analysis is mostly automated.

Holistic Evaluations and Common Application Schools

Evaluations at holistic schools are even more complex.  So-called “subjective” elements, such as essays, play an important role.

An easy way to quickly distinguish between objective and holistic schools and systems is this:  if they require essays for all applicants, they are holistic.  The most well-known holistic application is the Common Application, so I will simply quote it here to define the holistic approach:

Membership is limited to colleges and universities that evaluate students using a holistic selection process. A holistic process includes subjective as well as objective criteria, including at least one recommendation form, at least one untimed essay, and broader campus diversity considerations. The vast majority of colleges and universities in the US use only objective criteria – grades and test scores – and therefore are not eligible to join. If a college or university is not listed on this website, they are not members of the consortium. Sending the Common Application to non-members is prohibited.

So any Common App school is de facto a holistic school.  But does that mean that all the holistic schools are the same?

No.

For example, some holistic schools use committees which discuss many applicants, particularly in Early Decision.  Some use a small number of readers–two or three, most commonly–and a kind of referee.

Let’s look at the last kind first, which I will call the triumvirate model.  In this evaluation,  your file,  including various test and grade information, letters of recommendation and essays,  most often gets two readers who give it an evaluation; if both give it a clear thumbs-up, determined by some high baseline number that is a composite of the different parts of the file, then you are in. Assume for this example that the school uses a 1-9 scale and that the cutoff for definite admissions is a rating of 8 out of 9.  If one reader gives it clear approval–giving it a 9 out of 9 overall rating, for example–but the other reader gives it, say, a 7 out of 9, then the file would get a third reading from the “referee,” who could even be the dean in charge of Admissions, though in a large institution, might be an assistant of some kind.  They won’t generally just do an average of the two readers. An 8 and a 9 would be in, but the 7 in the example above would probably trigger a third reading by a final arbiter.

And less tangible factors play a role in each reading.  This is one of the reasons why I have spent so much time in earlier posts discussing the ancient idea of the rhetorical triangle and have focused on how to approach your audience in your essays.  Grabbing a reader with your essays will help if other parts of your information are a bit weak.

Grades and test scores are still the first consideration in the holistic evaluation, but they will evaluate other factors for all applicants, not just those fitting a category they want to emphasize in admissions.  Like the objective evaluations, the first thing that holistic schools will look at is the SAT/ACT and GPA/class rank numbers.  But essays, letters of recommendation, a transcript trajectory  showing that the student has taken five “solid” subjects every semester, taking on challenges and steadily increased the difficulty of classes, all of these things matter.  And the personal, “gut’ response of the reader matters.

It is here that the application essays, recommendations, the summary of an interview, if there was one, and other personal information can play a role.  In particular, strong essays that click with other elements of the admissions information you give can turn your reader into an advocate in a committee discussion and in the notes they append to your file.

Institutional Priorities and Special Categories

As I mentioned earlier, needs within the institution also establish priorities.  For example, a university may decide that certain factors should be weighted more heavily to bring in students who will add something to the institution.  Maybe the college has started a cycling team and wants to recruit good cyclists and has applicants who did well in the Junior racing series of U.S. Cycling.   An applicant like this may have SAT scores a hundred points below the average, as well as having a few B’s and maybe a C, and he or she may not have a wide selection of outside activities, but because he -or she–fits this category established as a priority, he will be approved right away.  More obvious are the big team sports, which seek athletes who can compete at whatever level the university fits, but the school might also want actors or singers or brilliant mathematicians who are otherwise relatively mediocre academically.  Up to 40% of spots at some holistic schools may be held for special categories.

Not fair, you say?  Too subjective? Maybe, but employers do this all the time, looking for basic skills but also for less tangible elements, like “leadership ability” and being a “team player.”   Most universities using holistic evaluations do have a category for “leadership” or for the contribution the applicant is likely to make to the campus community, and these traits can be measured in ways that may not seem obvious to a layman.  Interviews do matter in making these determinations, for those schools that use interviews.

Even more aggravating to the layperson may be the idea that a “legacy” student, one whose relatives, brothers, sister, cousins, parents or significant donor uncles get priority for admissions.  Not fair, again?  Maybe.  But in an era when tax dollars for education are much diminished and when many private school endowments are depleted, the institution has a right to please donors or simply to create a grateful alumni pool from which it can draw support.  Money not only talks, it can  determine who walks in the door.

All of the factors I outline above and many others may come into play in a holistic evaluation. Which are most important is  determined on an annual basis by the indivdual institutions, and as the class traits change during the process of admission, the weighting given to various factors can also change.  So what is the secret to admissions I promised?  Read on:  I’ll get to that (cue the suspenseful music).

Committee Evaluations

In addition to using a limited number of readers and a “referee,” as in the “triumvirate” system,  some holistic schools use committees in which a larger number of readers convene to discuss applicants–say nine people.  This is the committee system.  Typically a university cannot do this for every applicant–a committee is too slow and cumbersome for the thousands and thousands of apps that most universities receive today– so what you end up with is a hybrid system.  The “referee” or judge used in the reader model is replaced largely by the committee, who meet to discuss students who are in a gray area, not quite in but not out either.  In the early stages of the application process, as when the Early Decision applications have come in, the committee will discuss specific cases who applied for Early Decision and who have merits but also have shortcomings, and in doing so help establish parameters for the current year’s evaluations as applications continue to come in.  The Dean in charge of admissions would generally chair this committee, and in this case would serve as the final judge and arbiter in the event of a close call.   In  Early Decision, many of the students who are judged by the committee will have a chance to be considered again as the Regular Decision applications come in, or in the next round with a school that uses Rolling Admissions.

In addition to discussing individual students, this committee, at its early meetings and as the year progresses, will be looking at statistics, such as the average SAT and GPA of its applicants, and this discussion will occur with one eye on the ratings the institution itself is getting from, most importantly, the U.S. News and World Report’s annual report on and ranking of universities, but also other ratings and evaluations.  They do care about P.R.  They will want to be either holding their own or moving up in rankings such as these and that will influence their choices as the year moves forward and as their own stats evolve.

This is why your chances of enrollment can actually change during the application season, and this makes for a difficult calculus for all but the best and most unusual students.

Know this also:   many universities use outside or external readers to assess applications.  U. C. Berkeley, for example, has been doing this for some time. They simply can’t afford to keep enough full-time people on staff year-round to account for the massive workload of the applications season.   And this will be increasingly true due to the rising number of applications at selective schools and the increasing budget pressures they face.  The material in your applications must speak to multiple readers, many of whom will never meet or talk to each other about you and none of whom you are ever likely to meet.

So now for the secret to admission–you can’t know what they want.  Give up on secrets.  If you feel like I suckered you into reading the post, at least you know something of value.

Keep in mind, for holistic evaluations and supplementary materials, that everything you write must be designed with your audience in mind.  At the same time,  you can’t change yourself to pander to a reader.  This sounds like a paradox, but you are making choices about what to share and how to present yourself all the time, and you alter your “personality” in significant ways when you talk to your peers informally and when you talk to, say, a teacher–but you still show aspects of your authentic self.  So you already know something about appealing to your audience.

If you want some certainty about your chances of admission, you need to  be one of the top ten or fifteen students at a very good school, get good SAT scores and write very good essays.  See the various sources I mentioned in my previous post to look up what a competitive SAT is at various schools.    If your school is not so good, be in the top five or three students.

If you are like most people and do not fit into these categories,  the problem then has to do with strategy but also with your own desire.  You will suffer in direct relation to how strongly you want something you may not get.  I suggest that a strong dose of perspective will help you.  Yes, an elite school is a nice thing on a resume, but it doesn’t guarantee much of anything after your first job.  It may help you get your foot in the door at a place that might otherwise not have looked at you, and the various Old Boys and Old Girls networks of elite schools may help you as your career moves forward, but the successful people I know were not successful because they went to a particular school.

If skills are what you want, you can get a great education at hundreds of schools outside of the Ivy League, Stanford, U.S.C. and the University of California system (the most popular examples in my area).  You need to expand your college search if you are only looking at the elite schools.  If you have a 3.9 and think going to Amherst instead of Princeton amounts to a failure, you are probably going to inflict unnecessary pain on yourself.

Be sure to consider individual majors and programs as you research schools.  As an example, I would recommend looking at the schools listed above Cal State Long Beach  in the Fine Arts major I linked above.  Count the Ivies that are above C.S.U.L.B.  This is an instructive exercise which can be repeated in many majors and may help you relax.  I talk about this at length in multiple posts, including my last post, in which I discuss options for students in the Western U.S.  Don’t give up on your most desired schools,  by any means, but do add some schools that you know you have a good profile for.

As for increasing your chances, look at your “objective” measurements and, if  you want to improve your SAT scores, for example, you should first focus on classwork and practicing the actual test by getting the College Board’s SAT book, which as of the last edition, has ten practice tests.  Take them all in the year before your first (or next) SAT test.  Research shows that taking actual tests under test conditions  is the best way to improve test scores (Don’t give yourself all day to take the practice tests–use the official time requirements and do it all at once).  Test boot camps do have bang for the buck, but spending about thirty bucks on a book will also yield good results, for a factor of magnitude less money than a boot camp.

And that is good advice for everybody.

One final thing about the elephant in the room which I have so far ignored:  ethnicity, otherwise known as race.  It is a factor in establishing special categories and it is the most important at many schools, but it is only one category.  When I hear somebody complaining that “race” eliminated them, I have to point out that their athletic ability or inability to sing or to calculate probabilities in their heads also eliminated them. As did their grades and supplementals.   I will write about ethnicity soon, as much is likely to change soon, now that the Supreme Court has decided to hear a Texas case challenging the use of race in admissions.

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.