Friday, November 30, 2012

Is applying Early advantageous?

It's a common question my students and parents ask.

Is there a decisive advantage to applying into a binding Early Decision application pool?

My answer hasn't changed...yet.

And that is.

"It depends."

It depends on the school.

Take Elon, for example.

They admitted 86% last year through their Early Decision program.

Elon only admitted 51% in their Regular admission program.

That's a 35% difference of advantage.

Here is an example where applying Early Decision is like turning in your "Selectivity Coupon". 

By applying Early Decision, you give the college what they want - a 100% yield guarantee. 

The college gives you want you want - better odds to get in.

 Take the University of Pennsylvania as another example.

You can see the difference accented here between ED and Regular admission pools.

Fewer applications in ED (4,526).

More admitted (1,148).

And almost half the chairs are filled (43%).

The other major factor involves the difference between who a student is applying against in Early versus Regular admission.

In Early Decision it is only against other ED applicants to Penn.

In Regular admission, it is against applicants who may have also applied SCEA and Regular admission to Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

Quantity and quality both go thru the roof!

Vanderbilt is an example of this.

A 30-32 ACT score may make the cut in Early Decision at Vanderbilt.

But it won't in Regular admission.

33-35 is the cut line. (unless your student has a hook - athlete, legacy, international. 1st gen, diversity, etc.)

Why is this?

Quality of the applicant.

Ivy admits or Ivy admissible defers/denies are bringing stronger credentials to the applicant pool.

Now having said that, in an article released this week, NACAC statistics show that there is still a slight advantage to applying into an Early Decision program, citing that 59% overall are admitted through ED programs versus 53% through Regular programs.

So that's a 6% advantage...but that % continues to decline as more students are trying to gain an advantage by applying Early Decision.

It sounds like soon there will be no real advantage statistically wise.

And the hard truth is that 90% of the time at the Ivy-level, it really doesn't matter which pool you apply into if you don't have a hook.  Unhooked students (legacy, athlete, international, 1st gen, student of color, etc.) with the same credentials as the hooked kids are going to lose out almost every time.

In the end, I never counsel a student to apply into an Early Decision program for strategic purposes.

Only best college fit purposes.

If there is a fit - go for it!

But have a Plan B.

And maybe a Plan C.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Dreaded "Why?" Question, Part II

The first post on the dreaded "Why?" question focused on research.

Every "Why?" question, in other words, is a small research project.

But research without proper packaging just won't pop.

 Imagine if all your Christmas presents were just sitting out under the tree unwrapped.

Where is the excitement in that, right?

Often then I tell my students that the best wrapping paper is a story.

Earlier in the month I worked with a student on his "Why U of Chicago?" essay.

His first draft read like a set of bullet points.

Some great points.

Just no bow and bright ribbon.

So we discussed what kind of stories he might tell from his own experience that would connect with the essay prompt.

In the end, he unearthed one story that really tied in creatively and cogently with what he loved about U of Chicago's ethos.

In preparation for the spring English final, my teacher, Dr. Powell, drew six big buckets and added the following -isms over each bucket: Puritanism, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Realism, and Modernism. He then asked us to put each author, poet, and literary work that we read all year in American literature in their appropriate bucket. At first, some students in my class just assumed that each writer belonged in only one bucket. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a Romanticist. Emily Dickinson was a Transcendentalist. Twain was a Realist. But then I raised my hand and asked Dr. Powell, "Well, couldn't Dickinson also go in the Modernist bucket too? Her poetry reflects anxiety, uncertainty about the world, and a fragmented confidence in institutions like the church. Isn't that 'modern'?” Dr. Powell wryly smiled and quipped, "Right." Before I knew it, my classmates and I were debating which buckets the writers fit into, and if they could fit in more than one bucket. Dr. Powell never told us if we were right or wrong. He never forced his opinion on us, and he never forced a writer into any bucket. We instead had to “do the bucket work”.  In other words, Dr. Powell made us take ownership of our educational experience.

The University of Chicago is a learning ethos where one will find buckets without lids.  Students are invited, like we were in Dr. Powell's class, to fill the buckets up with "outside-of-the-box" kind of thinking. So often we want only one answer to our question. We desire an equivalency where A=B. At the U of Chicago, A can equal B, but it can also equal C, D, E, and F.  What Dr. Powell's class did for me is solidify that the most effective way I learn involves dialogue that allows something organic, synergistic, and seminal to emerge from the seeming chaos of open-ended debate and free inquiry.  U of Chicago fosters this kind of democratic pedagogy, and I sense, therefore, that I would fit within this learning environment the way, I concluded, Emily Dickinson belonged in both the Transcendentalist and Modernist buckets.  

It's a good thing to tell U of Chicago that you love the way they teach students.

It's a great thing to show U of Chicago that you love the way they teach students.

Research tells.

Stories show.

The challenge then involves trying to find ways to integrate both research and story in a dynamic and ingratiating way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Early Admission Stats, Doug Flutie's Hail Mary, and "Business as usual"

Early admission statistics are beginning to pour in.

And as one of my colleagues points out in this article, it is "pretty much business as usual" at the elite schools.

No shocker here.

Applications to many of the most coveted institutions are...drum roll...up.

Yale received 4514 applications.

Penn 4780 apps.

Brown 2957 apps.

Dartmouth 1526 apps (only Ivy down in volume).

And the outright winner by a landslide.

U of Chicago with 10,316 apps.  A 18.6% increase.

Well played.

The game is certainly on.

Or maybe we should say - the game is pretty much already over for many applicants.

Cue the Jaws soundtrack.

If apps are up that means then that admits will be down.

Which means more bloody carnage.

Yale, for example, anticipates they will admit between 650-750 students.

They admitted 726 last year in early admission.

Now subtract around 180 of those admitted students.

That's the number of recruited athletes who will get in.

So now instead of a 14 to 16% admit rate in SCEA, we are really talking about a 10 to 11%.

So the difference between SCEA and Regular admission isn't as pronounced as it seems.

The only major difference is going to be the crushing volume of applications in regular admission.

Everyone who got deferred or denied in ED programs will dump their application into regular admission.

Heck, even students admitted in SCEA cycles might decide to throw their application into regular admission buckets.

So come March and April it's going to be Jaws meet Freddie Krueger (dating myself here).

As one consultant points out, however, for many in this early admission cycle, they are simply throwing up a "Hail Mary" by applying, where their credentials are profile negative, but who want to give a gambling try anyway.

These are the kind of applicants who are going to play the Doug Flutie clip over and over again, nurturing as long as possible their (and their parents) illusions of grandeur.

In the end, we are not going to see anything different in the admit pools than we did last year.

We will see the same usual suspects admitted.

Hooked kids.

Kids with the profile positive credentials (GPA, class rank, test score, AP's) along with an institutional credential (legacy, recruited athlete, 1st gen., diversity, international, engineering).

Business as usual, in other words.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vanderbilt Census Report (Class of 2016)

The transformation of Vanderbilt's admission profile over the last decade has been truly fascinating to document.

Not to mention truly frustrating to experience for some highly qualified students who apply to Vandy and get disappointing news.  

What other institution has gone from admitting 46% to 14% in such a short span of time.

Not to mention also growing their application pool from 9,000+ to 28,000+.

It's a brave new world in highly selective college admissions.

A reality rife with vagaries that few really want to face or accept (these changes apply to everyone else but me).

I spoke, consequently, with our Vandy rep and he informed me that they are anticipating a 30,000+ pool this year.

And a 13% admit rate.


Just today, in fact, Vandy sent out its "Census Report" that contained interesting facts about their incoming admitted Class of 2016.

It caused me to think about our applicants this year, and which of them would qualify for which of the below categories, if any.

It's daunting to think about the credentials kids today must obtain to compete for a spot at a highly selective school.

If anything, this list below reinforces the weight that schools like Vandy put on leadership, excellence, passion, influence, and diversity...not to mention a high test score (wink wink).
  • 98% held the highest level of leadership or scholarship, or were engaged in national-level honor societies: for instance, student body president, class president, student senator, editor-in-chief of school newspaper or yearbook, Eagle Scout, and National Honor Society
  • 14% were student government leaders
  • 49% held a service-related leadership position
  • 67% were academic leaders
  • 35% were athletic leaders or champions
  • 21% demonstrated leadership in the fine arts
  • Undergraduates represent 49 states and 44 countries
  • 5.9% of students graduated from an international high school
  • 65% of freshmen received financial assistance
  • 13% of freshmen received Pell grants
  • Of those from high schools that report class rank, over 90% of first-year enrolled students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class
  • Middle 50 percentile for SAT ……. 1400 – 1560
  • Middle 50 percentile for ACT ……. 32 – 34
  • National Merit Scholars…217
  • National Achievement Scholars….19
It's clear from this data that Vandy is benefiting from the "bucket down" effect.

So many admissible Ivy students are not getting admitted, which as a result, sends them looking for admission at the next bucket down.

Vandy then is getting Ivy admit credentials for their profile.

And it won't be long before SMU has a profile that looks more and more similar to a Yale and a Vanderbilt.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Impact of International Students on College Admissions

One of the major forces in place that is shaping college admissions today is the growing international application pool.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, mentioned this reality in a recent blog post for The Choice, referencing the Institute of International Education for verified data.

Last year, for example, Princeton's early admission acceptance pool was made up of 10% international students.  

This trend was pretty much the same at highly selective schools.

And this trend isn't going to change anytime soon.

China, in particular, will continue to flood American colleges and universities with full paying applicants.

This cohort continues to represent US colleges/universities burgeoning cash cow.

This was, in fact, the topic of today's Higher Education article. 

Here are just a handful of facts gleaned from both articles:

  291,439 undergraduate international students (764,495, a 5.7-percent rise over the year before)
  $21.7 billion into US economy
  70% funding outside US
  158,000 Chinese
  104,000 India
  73,000 South Korea
•  Top Schools for International Applicants:  USC, NYU, U of Washington, Purdue, Columbia, UCLA, Ohio State, Michigan
  Top Majors:  Business, Engineering, Math, Computer Science

What does it all mean?
Well, if it means anything, it's that international applicants will continue to be a major player in college admissions.

Colleges run like corporations today.

And the bottom line is the bottom line.

International students, in general, continue to meet two institutional goals:  1)  diversity of the 
school's profile, and 2) financial solvency of the revenue stream.    

Moreover, we will probably see more liberal arts colleges leverage the international demand for US
higher education to fill in gaps left by US students who no longer see the "market value" of a lib arts 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dreaded "Why"? Question

I've found the "Why?" supplement question is something students dread.

The lurking fear is that they won't tell the college what they want to hear, and as a result, they will get rejected for it.

So students will often write something safe and generic.

Last week, in fact, I had a student into my office who decided to apply ED to Northwestern.  A quick glance at the essay confirmed my fears - this student had pretty much cut-and-pasted content from a Northwestern web page, essentially plagerizing the college's own stuff.

So I gave this student a different game plan.

He had a desire to study political science. 

So I connected him to the poly sci link on Northwestern's site.

I then asked him to do the following research exercises:

Fall 2012 course catalog.  Find one or two classes that you would get up at 7:00 am, walk across campus bundled up in three layers, willing to endure sub-freezing temperatures with a stiff wind whipping up off Lake Michigan, just to attend.

5000 level courses.  Toward the senior year year - do they offer a seminar?  a capstone?  a research opportunity?  It's always good to begin with the end in mind.  It's where the source of protein can be found to endure the first three years. 

Instructors.  Find out who teaches what and look up their credentials.  See what scholarship they have recently written that you might find interesting for a potential research project.  See if the instructor has been student reviewed and read up on his or her efficacy as an instructor.

Internships.  Thumb down through what internships appeal to you and why.

Research/Study Abroad.  Explore what exotic, travel abroad research opportunities NW offers that overlap with one of the student's burgeoning areas of interest.

After the senior did this set of exercises, he found things in his research that lit his eyes up like Clark W Griswold's house with all 10,000 Christmas lights!

The challenge then for this student was organizing and integrating in a few specific, concrete, and compelling things in regards to "Why NW?" 

Here is just a snippet of that supplemental essay:

When I peruse the Fall 2012 courses, for example, that Northwestern offers in the political science department, I get giddy at the prospect of taking courses like “Law in the Political Arena”, and an “Introduction to International Relations” with renown professor, Dr. Spruyt.  I am energized by the research opportunities that I would have both on Northwestern’s campus through the senior research seminar, as well as beyond through research grants for international programs.  I can already envision doing a research-based project on how religious politics shape political policy in India through Northwestern’s “Buddhist Studies in India” summer program.  It would be a dream come true to get to plunge my intellectual energies into researching the religious and political layers that impact Indian law.  Moreover, I am thrilled by the myriad of internship opportunities that Northwestern offers its political science majors, like getting to intern for the Obama Re-election HQ in Chicago, or interning in the summer for The Diplomacist at Cornell, where I would get a chance to platform a number of ideas about global events.  Our debate team, in fact, uses The Diplomacist as an online resource in our preparations for policy debates.  

Many "Why?" questions require incisive writing.  NW didn't.  They gave the student as much "character space" to riff.  This is the exception to the rule in an age of volume application crush.

Most schools put a tight "character limit" on their "Why?" question.

They want you to get in, drill down, and get out.

To drill down means that the student demonstrates what they know what animates the sub-strata regions with each academic, research, internship, residential program on campus.  

One of my favorite short "Why?" supplements this year was written by a student applying to Yale.

He had visited Yale's campus the week before and came back rife with fodder to answer the "Why Yale?"

But the "Why Yale?" prompt limited his response to 150 words or so.

After story boarding and drafting multiple times, this student distilled five specific, concrete, "drilled down" sub-strata reasons as to why Yale.

My campus visit over fall break solidified Yale as my top choice. The first thing I love is the shopping period. I want to “bluebook” and shop classes like "Infinity" or "Political Psychology". Hopefully, I get the opportunity to take a small discussion based course on economics with Tolga Koker. The sense of community and the residential college system sold me on Yale. I would love to experience the freshman holiday dinner at Commons. I want to join an intramural swim or basketball team and help my residential college vie for the Tyng Cup, and help inspire students with the Future Project.

My final advice to kids regarding the dreaded "Why?" questions involves approaching it as a mini-research paper.  

Here is where a student gets to put to good use what he or she learned in their US History class.

The dreaded "Mr. Wiley" US History research paper will pay off dividends here.

 The best compliment, in closing, I've ever received after a job interview was, "Our committee could tell that you really did your homework on us."

That's what every student should strive to receive as a response to their response to the "Why?" question. 

This student really did their homework.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Context matters." - DeanJ@UVadmission

My favorite twitter dean is at it again.

It must be application reading season.

This is the time DeanJ@UVA Admission tweets out things about a student's applications or a school profile that makes for good fodder.

Either to debunk a prevalent myth.

Or draw attention to a comical aspect.

Or help us know that these admission folks know what they are doing.

Take this tweet today.

I've had countless conversations with concerned parents who think that admissions people don't know what to do if they get a non-traditional grading methodology.  (in our case, a 4.33 GPA scale)

Or that the admission folk don't know Casady's academic rigor.

Or how difficult it is to get an A+ average.

The truth is that schools like UVA that review an application holistically will take the time to understand the culture and context of the applicant's performance.

Today, in fact, I got a call from a liberal arts college about one of our applicants.  This admission rep wanted to know our top GPA for this year's senior class.

On our profile we provide a grade distribution chart for the Class of 2013.

Admission reps will also see the average GPA.

They will also see what our academic curriculum is, which classes we have dubbed Honors, Pre-AP, and AP, and how much weight we give to each level of rigor.

 Our profile also explains our methodology.

It shows that we provide only a weighted GPA.

It shows that we provide +'s and -'s.

It shows that an A- for example goes from an 85-89.

Every school, therefore, has a methodology that will have certain nuances.

Schools like UVA take the time to understand those nuances so that they can do a thorough and fair review of an applicant.

So then, in the final analysis, whether your school operates on a 6.0 scale, 11.0 scale, 4.33 scale, a 4.0 scale, a P to Q scale, or no scale but only narrative assessments - it doesn't matter.  What matters is what methodology your school uses and how your student has performed within the curriculum that your school provides, and how your student has performed in relationship to his or her peers.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Applying to a highly selective school with an upcoming interview?

This morning Mr. Hank Young, a local Dartmouth alumni interviewer, met with students applying to highly selective schools who are preparing for upcoming interviews.

Mr. Young began by talking about the four "broad categories" that he covers in his interviews with applicants.  

Intellectual curiosity and engagement.  The goal here is to talk about interests beyond classroom content.  Mr. Young shared the story of a recent interview with a girl who is interested in Chinese trade.  It was clear this student had a larger worldview and had burgeoning interests beyond her AP-heavy course work.

Community involvement.  Mr. Young stressed here that sometimes this category involves volunteer work in the community, like volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club.  But again, this also could involve a passion for something like hiking or astrology, and how the student tried to get his or her community involved, like taking a group on a wilderness trip, or starting an astrology club on campus.

Personal.  This is an opportunity for students to expand on something on the resume or to fill in something that a student can't narrate on an application.  This may be narrating something as simple as one's peculiar obsession with Dr. Who (We have a Sci-Fi/Nerd Club on campus that meets to discuss this television show).  Or it may be elaborating on a difficult circumstance in the 10th grade year that caused one's academic performance to dip.   

College.  Here Mr. Young talked about asking informed questions about the university.  If, for example, a student is applying to Northwestern and is interested in studying political science, that student might want to do some research about that department, looking for their course offerings, internships opportunities, and research possibilities, and then asking questions pertaining to that research.  Click here to see where a student might go on NW's web site to ferret this information out.   
Other interviewing tips (aka common sense):
  • sit up straight (Mr. Young told story of one interviewer who was so slouched down in his chair he almost fell out of it)
  • make good eye contact (another story about student who looked everywhere but at Mr. Young)
  • control cadence (nervousness often equates to fast talking)

One student asked if they should bring a resume.

Mr. Young advised the student to email the resume to the interview if possible, but also bring extra copies for the interview.

Another student asked what was appropriate dress.  Mr. Young advised to dress sharp but comfortable.  A suit and tie wasn't necessary.

The last two pieces of advice Mr. Young gave our kids was to 1)  try to make the interview a conversation (not a Q & A), and 2)  to tell compelling stories.

As I listening to Mr. Young, I couldn't help but recall a funny scene in the movie Office Space where "the Bobs"  are interviewing Initech employees, all anxious that they will be downsized.

This scene certainly captures what NOT to do in an interview.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Early Action, Early Decision, Single Choice Early Action vs. Regular Admission

The Times blog has had Greg Roberts, dean of admission at UVA, answering questions about early admission programs.

Yesterday we saw about 75 applications go out into some kind of early admission program.

Last time I counted, I identified only a handful of highly selective schools that do not have an early admission program.

The University of Southern California, UC-Berkeley, and UT-Austin - these are the only three I found that have the traditional "Regular" admission program.

Everyone else is trying to get a jump start on engineering a class profile that has the highest potential yield.

Higher yield = solvent financial revenue stream + potentially higher ranking!

Here then are some of the questions posed on The Times blog that Mr. Roberts takes time to answer.

Q  If a student is on an upward trajectory in terms of grades and course rigor, and the fall senior year performance will strengthen the application, then the student should apply regular decision, as that would give schools a chance to consider this information in their review.

Q My son has great SAT scores, extracurriculars and grades, but four other high-performing students at his academic magnet are applying early action to the same university he is applying to.
He is using early action strategically to improve his chances of admission to a competitive school. Strategically, is it better for him to apply elsewhere for early action, given the unlikeliness of the coveted school admitting five students from one high school?

Click here to read responses.

Q  Are there any disadvantages to applying early action, from an admission or financial aid standpoint?

Q  Students often consider applying early decision because they think it will increase their chances of admission. Do some colleges admit a higher percentage of early decision applicants because they prefer to have students who have made that college their clear first choice? Or are early decision acceptance rates higher primarily because the applicants are recruited athletes or children of alumni? Should applicants try to figure out why early decision acceptance rates are higher than regular admission rates?

Click here to read responses.

Q  My son is in his junior year and has been an average student thus far, done quite well on his PSAT and is taking several A.P. classes and doing better every year grade-wise. He rows competitively and hopes to continue in college. He has his heart set on attending a state university that has a fairly competitive admission process.  Does it increase his chances if he applies early, showing that if he was offered admission he would accept as this is his first-choice school?

Q  Can I apply to the College of William and Mary early decision at the same time I am applying to the University of Virginia early action?

Q  Does applying to the University of Virginia early action hurt the applicant’s chances for admission as an Echols Scholar?

Click here to read responses.