Waiting on UNC System (again) and an interesting article by Jeff Selingo

I don’t even need to describe what Selingo’s article is about – just read the title! Inside The Craziest College-Admissions Season

Still waiting on the UNC system to announce their 2025-26 test policy. Same goes for U South Carolina and Clemson. Smoke signals from UNC system board meetings suggest there might be a GPA cutoff, meaning students with certain GPAs and higher may be allowed to continue to apply test-optional. We shall see.

Infrequent blogger indeed – I’m lucky to stay busy working with a great group of students! Questions? Never hesitate to reach out!

For The Class Of 2025 And Beyond – More Information On The New Digital SAT (and PSAT!)

Perhaps it’s a touch unfair, as I truly do like all of the students that I work with, but the Class of 2025 holds a special place in my heart as it’s the class of my youngest! She and her classmates will be a part of the inaugural class of students who will take the PSAT on computers in October 2023 and then SATs on computers January 2024 and beyond.

Want to read an easy to understand guide on how this digital SAT will work? Check out this terrific post and accompanying charts by Art Sawyer at Compass Education Group.

What An Ivy Says To School Counselors Before It Releases RD Decisions

I am going to leave this email that Brown recently sent to school counselors without comment other than to say two things: 1) Brown has of late sought to enroll ~1700-1800 first year students per year. If that is their enrollment target this year then they will have enrolled at or just over half of their class through their binding early decision plan. 2) Yes, this email is from Brown, but you could substitute the name of any other Ivy League school (or MIT, or Stanford, or Northwestern, or Vanderbilt, or … you get my point) and the numbers would be similar. Highly rejective indeed.

The email:

I am writing to share that Regular Decision admission decisions will be posted Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time and can be viewed by students through the Brown Applicant Portal. Applicants received an email on March 23 with a link to the portal outlining the date and time that decisions will be available. 

Brown received 50,649 applications for the Class of 2026, a nine percent increase over last year that makes this the largest application pool in the University’s history. Brown will make 1,651 Regular Decision offers of admission to the incoming Class of 2026, in addition to the 895 Early Decision admission offers made in December. The overall admit rate for this year’s pool is 5 percent, with a Regular Decision admit rate of 3.6 percent.

Additionally, 17 percent of accepted students represent the first generation in their family to attend college. This year’s admitted class comes from 91 nations, all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The top countries represented outside the United States are China, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Singapore and Ukraine.

Of the 3,827 applicants to the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), 84 students were admitted with a 2 percent admission rate. Of the 838 applicants to the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program, 19 students were admitted with a 2 percent admission rate.

If spaces in our entering class are available after our May 2 reply date, we will be pleased to make additional admission offers to students on our waitlist. Please note, however, that all spaces in the Program in Liberal Medical Education have been filled. The number of students admitted from the waitlist will depend on how many students accept our initial admission offers by May 2. In recent years, the number of waitlist spaces available in our incoming class has ranged from 30 to 180. Waitlist activity will conclude by mid-summer, and more information on the waitlist is available here.
Good luck to your students as they await their decisions.

Major Changes To SAT Will Impact High School Class of 2025 And Beyond

Hot off the presses this morning is an announcement by the College Board that, beginning in 2024, the SAT will be offered digitally only and will be a shorter, adaptive exam. No more bubble sheets and No. 2 pencils. The test itself may be as short as two hours long. Students will still have to take the exam at a testing location but may do so on their own computers or ones issued by the school. Finally, and perhaps most confusingly, the test will be “adaptive,” meaning that the questions asked will vary based on student performance as they take the exam.

I’ve noted before my belief that the people at Compass Education Group are among the best at helping make sense of all things SAT and ACT – I encourage you to read their initial analysis here.

The College Board indicates that digital exams will be offered beginning in 2024 but that it will offer the PSAT/NMSQT – the PSAT that almost all juniors are required to take at the majority of public and private schools in the United States – in October of 2023 digitally as well. This will take place in the fall of the junior year for students in the class of 2025 (current high school freshmen). Interestingly, high achieving students in this class often take their first SATs in the fall of their junior year which would be on paper in 2023. The first digitally offered SAT is slated to be offered on the March 2024 test date (the March date is a HUGELY popular test date for high school juniors).

Curious about other options? At this time, the ACT is offered digitally through participating schools only and is taken in exactly the same format as offered on paper (non-adaptive).

A huge question for many will be how do you prepare for this new online SAT? Khan Academy currently offers free online tutoring options and I imagine their product will become even more popular. Tutoring services will certainly be scrambling initially, however.

A more subtle question – how will this new digital SAT be compared against the ACT? Will concordance tables need to be re-centered? Stay tuned.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I (yes, this is opinion!) do not believe that this will have any impact on the test-optional movement sweeping college admissions. Just last week, the University of Iowa system joined the growing number of colleges and universities in expanding its test-optional policies. Test-optional is here to stay, though changes to current policies at popular local university systems (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have yet to be announced for the 2022-2023 application cycle. However, no piece of your high school record will ever be as important as your transcript (and it’s not really close). So freshmen, for now, keep your head down and continue to work hard in the classroom!

Keep Those College Lists Balanced!

It’s been a while since I last posted – forgive me! I’ve been busy working with a terrific group of seniors as they’ve prepared and submitted applications to wonderful colleges. For just about all of them, decisions are beginning to roll in. This is an exciting time!

I belong to a listserv with fellow IECs and the following message was posted today regarding what they deemed a somewhat surprising admission decision a client recently received (lightly edited for confidentiality):

I had a stellar candidate denied by IVY LEAGUE University and while we both knew this was a “reach” for any applicant I thought they had a solid chance of acceptance:

  • Applied ED (binding), Full Pay
  • 4.7 Academic GPA
  • 4 years Latin
  • 4 years orchestra, cellist
  • 10 APs; mostly 5s, some 4s
  • Participating in research with professors and graduate students from Prestigious University and Awesome College on the affects of COVID19 on the homeless population in Atlanta; not published yet but they’ve been part of this team since this past summer.
  • Participating in Prestigious University Mentor Research program this semester
  • Extensive leadership 
  • They have volunteered in numerous capacities with a local homeless population
  • They took the most rigorous course offerings their high school offers
  • Outstanding recommendations and essays
  • Applying as a STEM major, pre-med

“So, what did we miss?”

I don’t share this to scare prospective applicants from applying to what are now often referred to as “highly rejective” universities. I think being aspirational in your college search is WONDERFUL. It’s just important to also be MATURE and REALISTIC. Search for and embrace wonderful universities (there are many) where admission is likely.

As for the student above, who knows. A student with that exact same profile may well have been admitted and it would be a fruitless exercise to try and pinpoint the precise reason why this student was not offered admission. Instead, focus on applying to a balanced list of schools, being sure to include colleges where your academic accomplishments compare favorably to the admitted student profile.

Women And Men And The College Application Process

Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Higher Education published The Missing Men, an article that investigates the root causes of why so many more women attend college than men today. The 50 year trend is startling:

While the article offers ideas for getting men to attend college in higher numbers, the piece has me reflecting on the work that colleges with staggering application numbers and low acceptance rates must do to try and bring in a balanced class if necessary to meet institutional aims. Amazingly, US News reports that 51% of degree-seeking students at Harvard are men. At my alma mater, Wake Forest, that number drops to 47% and at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, it’s even lower than the national average (40% men/60% women).

There are multiple institutional priorities that admissions committees must satisfy when admitting and enrolling a class. In my experience both working in college admissions and talking with colleagues at schools across the country, a generally balanced class of men and women was often one of them yet was rarely easily achieved.

Am I inferring that it might be easier for a male student to gain admission to a college with a highly selective admissions process? Not necessarily – again, it depends on the enrollment goals of the institution (note the UNC – Chapel Hill numbers – it appears they are fine having a much greater number of women than men on campus).

But for schools with fairly balanced women to men student ratios, I believe that it is fair to assume that maintaining that balance is an institutional priority. And in the United States, where, according to Brookings, roughly 45,000 fewer men than women graduated from public high schools in 2018, I believe it is also fair to assume that colleges are receiving more applications from women than they are from men (add to this the fact that women are likely applying to more schools than their male counterparts). If you are ever able to get an admissions officer to tell you the number of women and men in their application pool do let me know! However, I feel confident concluding that there is likely a fairly large disparity in the number of applications submitted by women over men at a number of colleges and universities.

Is this as important of an issue as merely getting more men to attend college? Of course not. I’m not sure it’s an issue at all – I just find it interesting. In the end, trying to enroll a class of roughly an equal number of women and men requires a lot of yield know-how (it’s ok to admit fewer men if you can get a high percentage of them to enroll), a bit of luck, and, likely, a different kind of read during the application review process.

From Test-Optional to Test-Required: Georgia System First To Reverse Course

Both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today that the University System of Georgia has decided to require SAT and ACT scores for all campuses beginning with Spring 2022 applicants. Thus, the students that will apply for Fall 2022 admission (current high school juniors) will be required to submit scores when they apply this fall.

If you access the Chronicle article you’ll read anonymous quotes from admission leaders in the Georgia system who are clearly unhappy with this decision (one stated that “system leaders believe that tests are how admissions should be done”). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quotes Robert Schaeffer of FairTest:

“The politically appointed University System of Georgia Board of Regents, most of whom are not educators, are bucking a strong national trend by refusing to extend ACT/SAT optional policies for at least another year. Because they recognize the difficulty many students still face in taking standardized tests, as well as the many biases and flaws of these exams, most colleges and universities including the University of Alabama have decided to not require ACT/SAT scores for fall 2022 applicants. Test-optional admissions are the new normal because admissions experts have learned that test scores do not measure merit.”

I worked under both test-required and test-optional policies and firmly believe that strong qualitative and quantitative decisions can be reached without requiring test scores. It requires a highly trained admissions committee and a more nuanced review of applications, but admitting and enrolling a bright class of motivated students who will succeed in a college classroom can and is done by hundreds of colleges every year. If you really want to get into the weeds and learn more about test-optional student performance, read this foundational study on the topic.

Thus, neighboring schools to my home state of North Carolina are all over the place. UVA and VT are firmly test-optional for 2022 (UVA for 2023 as well). The University of Tennessee – Knoxville and the state institutions in South Carolina have yet to announce their policies for 2022 applicants. Finally, there’s our University Board of Governors here in North Carolina, quiet still on what the 2022 testing requirement will be. If you asked me in January I would have said the policy will be test-optional. Now May 13, I still think that they will follow Virginia’s lead but I’m much less confident. Students deserve to have heard something by now but alas, nothing (last year the policy was not released until July). Let’s hope they do the sensible thing soon.

Highly Selective? Or Highly Rejective?

I’ve quoted Akil Bello on this blog before and I will do so again here as it was he who coined the phrase “highly rejective” to describe colleges and universities with exceptionally low admission rates. As Jeff Selingo reports in this week’s edition of Next, rates of rejection SURGED this year. Harvard rejected (not deferred or waitlisted – rejected) 97% of its applicants this year. Princeton and MIT were not far behind at 96%. And yet, the average acceptance rate at American universities, as Selingo reports, is 57%. Why are we fixated with the “highly rejectables?” For many, it’s the association of exclusivity with prestige – the teaching, the networking, the opportunities – they all are just “better.”

And yet, as Selingo reports, this exclusivity is not just a product of perceived prestige. It’s also a result of limited supply. Fascinatingly, Selingo notes that since 1980 enrollment at US colleges has increased by 62%. The majority of that chunk has been absorbed by state institutions. Private school enrollment has only grown by 18% and at some, like Boston College and Northwestern, undergraduate enrollment has actually declined! Popular schools on student lists – Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth, Duke – have only increased enrollment by a combined 2400 students since 1980. Increased demand + barely increasing supply = a lot of people not getting what they want.

Data like this discussed by Selingo is clearly very important for students to consider as they build the list of schools to which they will apply. Being aspirational is wonderful, truly, and there is nothing wrong with wanting something in such limited supply or that which, at first glance, may be unattainable or unaffordable. However, such aspiration needs to be leveraged with an amount of realism. Admission isn’t just not guaranteed, it’s downright unlikely at a handful of schools regardless of a student’s accomplishments inside or outside of the classroom. Knowing this, where else might a student thrive? Hint: lots of places! Thus, as you research schools, looking for places where you believe you’d thrive, review also rates of admission. I believe that there are schools at every strata of “exclusivity” where a student can have a wonderful college experience. Build a balanced list and then see how things play out come decision time.

A final note: I’d like to give a shout out to the seniors I worked with this year. Though still 11 days out from May 1, each has made a decision about where they will be attending in the fall and I am thrilled for them and their families. There were so many acceptances but some waitlists and rejections as well, and with each decision I watched as these students rolled with the punches and weighed their options. I have to confess – I like them all a great deal and believe that these colleges are getting not just smart, motivated students but also genuinely nice and good people. Congratulations all!

College Admit Rates Are Down Where We Thought They’d Be Down

If you have news alerts set to track articles on college admissions (that’d be me!), you’re likely seeing articles like this one published today in The Wall Street Journal or this one published on Monday in Inside Higher Ed. What do you need to know? At the most selective of colleges and universities in the United States, admit rates have plummeted to ridiculously low levels, in some cases below 5%. Here is an early analysis of some two dozen college admit rates this year compared to last:

Now, while you will hear news of “extraordinary admit rate drops,” the fact of the matter is many of these schools had low rates to begin with. Further, coupled with the obscene increase in applications received by the institutions listed above (and others), a drop in admit rates is not surprising. Remember what I’ve said in previous blog posts – though applications increased in some cases by 100% at some institutions (here’s looking at you, Colgate!), the overall number of students applying to colleges through the Common App only increased a shade over 2%. There aren’t more applicants. And there are rarely more seats to be had at most institutions. What we have are individual applicants applying to more schools.

Why? COVID and the growth of the test-optional movement for one. COVID again and the chaos it has inflicted on family financial situations. COVID one more time and the fact that students have rarely been able to visit colleges – how are they supposed to know where it is they may want to enroll? All told, conditions were ripe this year for results like these. Will it get better next year? At the most selective of institutions like those listed above and others like them, probably not.

Beyond these low admit rates, what is also often surprising to families who survey college application threads on Reddit or websites like College Confidential are the stats of students who received unfavorable results. Yes, students with perfect scores and grades have been denied admission at numerous institutions (not just HPYSM and their ilk). It can be scary for students preparing to enter this process – they may well be asking themselves, “Will I be admitted anywhere?”

The answer is, of course, YES, but it has never been more important than now to have a BALANCED list of colleges to which you will apply. Application numbers and admit rates are not down everywhere. I’ve seen fabulous application results for students I work with at both public and private colleges and universities, places where these students will thrive. The admit rate of a school has so very little to do with the quality of the education you will receive OR where you will end up after graduation. Your college experience will not come down to an admit rate or some ranking in a college guidebook. It will come down to you and what you make of it.