Friday, May 24, 2013

Rankings: A College Love/Hate Relationship

Everyone who has gone through the college admissions process has looked up a school on one or another rankings list. Love them or hate them, rankings have a place in the admissions process but just how useful are they? A little exploration reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of the college rankings business.

If you have been reading this blog, you know the games colleges can play with yield and acceptance rates and can actually impact their numbers by not admitting students they know are unlikely to attend. Others try to influence rankings by making marketing a priority to boost application numbers and could fund 500 full rides with the money they spend mailing out glossy brochures to everyone who got over a certain number on the PSATs. This "information" is gathered from the schools by the rankings companies and used to move schools around the lists. Some schools have recently admitted to manipulating or outright lying about their accepted average test scores to boost rankings, (Claremont McKenna, Iona and Baylor come to mind) and still others (High Point, Wash U in St Louis and Tufts to name a few) choose not to publish their Common Data Sets making their statistical data unavailable to prospective students.

So, given the ease with which rankings can be manipulated, how can a student use them to help figure out where to apply? Herewith, a few suggestions to keep in mind when using rankings:

  • Forbes rankings uses to determine student happiness. Students have been known to create dozens of screen names to post harsh reviews after getting a bad grade. That is no way to decide if a school is right for you. 
  • Some highly regarded schools like Reed College (ranked #4 in PhD productivity meaning only 3 other schools produce a greater percentage of students who go on to get a PhD) have low rankings because they choose not to participate in rankings. 
  • If a school site touts their ranking in a giant banner on the first page, be sure to read the fine print. Is it a regional ranking? Ranking based on some other factor like weather, food, or dorms? Many schools omit that key factor when announcing their most recent ranking.
  • Some schools, like Clemson, openly admitted to manipulating faculty salary data and class size to influence their ranking. They stated they had a mission to bring up the school's ranking and figured out how. It worked but at what cost?
  • ranks schools based on income upon graduation. The list is weighted heavily to Engineering schools. Not a surprise given that starting salaries in Engineering are consistently higher than any other field. 
Use rankings to make sure you aren't missing a school that has a program you might love, or gives great merit aid, or likes students who fit your profile. Don't use them solely to make a list of colleges to apply to. The top schools don't accept more than 5-15% of applicants so be sure you take off the blinders and see the other 2950 schools in the USA. Rankings can help add to or narrow down a list, but they should be only one factor in a decision that may influence the rest of your life.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

What Exactly is Rigor?

What exactly does rigor of curriculum mean? Does it mean that a student should cram in as many AP and/or honors classes that can fit in a schedule, even if it means possibly earning lower grades and maybe having a lower GPA? Or, should students stick with accelerated classes only in subjects they are good at? If APs are not weighted, how beneficial are they on a transcript? If a high school practices gatekeeping, meaning they have non-negotiable pre-reqs for every honors or AP class, it is worth it to beg to be put in? Sign a waiver acknowledging you are taking the class without the teacher's approval? Or hire a tutor from the first day to assure success?

Everyone wants to know the answer to the big question: would a college admissions officer rather see a 3.3 with several AP and honors classes or a 3.6 with fewer? Well, the pat answer from the most competitive college admissions offices is they want rigor AND excellent grades. Colleges, especially those that have the lowest admissions rates, typically weight an applicant's curriculum more than anything else, excepting those of recruited athletes. They want to know that a student will be successful in a place filled with "super-achievers", and the best way to show that a student will be is with a really impressive transcript.

  • If you are an inquisitive student, one who loves to learn, load up that transcript! The highest level courses are often taught by the most passionate teachers, so odds are that a student might just learn to like a subject he or she may have felt lukewarm about before.
  • If you have good time management skills, and can manage a heavy workload along with extra- curriculars, community service, sports, music, a job, and a few hours here and there for sleep, then go for it! At the AP or honors level, the workload grows exponentially, so be prepared for a lot of reading, writing, labs and problem sets.
  • If you are a science and math type, consider taking AP English or a foreign language if you can. Most schools value students who have a strong foundation in lots of different disciplines. 
  • The admissions officer who reads applications for your high school will likely know exactly what is offered, and may wonder why you didn't take that tougher Chemistry class if you are applying as a pre-med. If they aren't too familiar with your school's offerings, one glance at the profile can answer any questions.
  • Don't worry if your high school doesn't weight your GPA; most admissions officers will highlight your honors, AP or dual-enrollment courses when reviewing your application. Your GPA is typically adjusted to adhere to a fixed methodology and they will know you took 8 APs!
The bottom line is take the hardest classes you can if you are looking to earn admission to a school with competitive admissions. Even athletes seeking admission to the Ivies or top ranked LACs have a better shot at the tippy-tops with a rigorous curriculum based on the Academic Index calculations that govern Ivy athletic recruiting. So, push yourself now and you will be so glad you did later!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The NACAC "Panic" List

Each year, in early May, after the date by which students were to have sent deposits, NACAC (governing body for college counselors) releases a list of schools that still have openings for their freshman class, spots for transfers, and still have aid in the coffers. 72% are private colleges, 99% have housing available, and while some may not be household names, a few are Colleges that Change Lives, some have excellent programs in specific areas, and some might surprise you! These schools have space because their yield projections were off, and they have not met their target class size. It doesn't mean they aren't "good" schools, it just means their math was off a bit this admissions cycle. Colleges want to fill every seat; an empty seat means lost tuition dollars.

Why, you might wonder, would anyone need to access this list? Well, there are a few reasons- some HS students may have been unsure of what they wanted to do after graduation, some may have had financial concerns that may have kept them from making plans, others still may not have had the outcomes they expected in terms of acceptances, and still others may have other reasons-health, family issues, etc. Whatever the reason, there are still options for students to attend college in September. Below are some of the schools that still have space. If a student is interested in applying, the first order of business is to call the Admissions office and confirm the space availability. The admissions office will guide the student from that point as schools may have different processes for late applicants.

Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College), PA  Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Arizona State University, AZ Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Beloit College, WI Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Bryant University RI, Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Coastal Carolina University, Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
University of Florida, Limited Freshmen, Transfer, Aid and Housing available
University of Maine, Freshmen, Transfer, Aid and Housing available
University of San Francisco Freshmen, Transfer, Housing available, limited Aid available

For the complete list, follow this link!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Waiting on the Wait List

Now that National Deposit Day has come and gone and students have made their decisions, it's time for the wait lists to begin to move. May 1, a.k.a. National Deposit Day is the day by which schools will have (ideally) received enrollment deposits from all the students who intend to attend. Some students who feel they need a little more time to decide may send deposits to more than one school. While everyone knows choosing a school is a big decision, and one that cannot be made hastily, if you send a deposit to more than one school, know that you might be prolonging the wait another student has if that student is on the wait list.

During the next 10 days, schools will begin to tally their acceptances and accompanying deposits. Once they have established how much of the class has been filled, they can move on to the wait list or not use it at all. Let's look at a hypothetical situation; a competitive school with a class size of 1000, accepted half the Class of 2017 through ED and EDII. For the 500 remaining spots, the school accepted 1500 students and assumes a 33% or 1/3 yield based on historical trends and tweaked for a greater (or lesser) number of applicants. If less than 1/3 send a deposit and the target class size has not been met, a college will turn to the wait list. They may choose who gets a phone call (it's a phone call typically) based on whether they need a student from a certain region, someone who has indicated a selected major, a theatre type, or even another male student- there are currently more females seeking admission these days. Some wait list students were offered a spot as a courtesy to legacies or those with other types of connections, and likely will not be offered a place.

If you do get the call, you will probably be given a very small window in which to make your decision. Some schools will give you 24 hours, some that are far from your home town might give you a week to make a quick visit to help you decide, and still others will expect an answer within a few days. While you should never count on a wait list moving in your favor, it is a good idea to consider what you might do if the call should come. Don't call the admissions office to ask if they have moved to the wait list. They have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks finalizing the class and they know you are waiting to hear. If you have communicated with them and let them know you would attend if offered a place, you have done all you can. Just get on with the fun of the end of your senior year and get ready for the next part of your life.