The List: How Naviance Changes College Choices

EdSurge: “For decades, the college-admissions process has been shrouded in mystery. But these days, big data, and a popular college planning tool, are taking much of the guesswork out of applying to college. That was a major takeaway from Christine Mulhern’s new research on Naviance, a widely-used online college-readiness platform. Mulhern, a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, provides evidence that Naviance’s college research and admissions tools are changing where students apply to college, with the ‘potential to affect higher education on a national scale,’ she wrote on Twitter after unveiling the research.”

“Naviance scattergrams show prospective college students how their peers at their high school fared with individual colleges and universities—and helps provide a sense of how they can expect to perform in the admissions process. For each institution, previous applicants’ GPAs are plotted on the y-axis and their ACT or SAT scores appear on the x-axis. Each applicant’s college decision (accepted, rejected, waitlisted) is denoted with a unique color and symbol, collectively depicting the caliber of student who is typically accepted to a given school.”

“Whittled down, the research shows that more information leads to more applications, and that students rely on their peers’ judgment in helping them determine the right fit for college. But there are some caveats … fewer students applied to so-called reach colleges, where students are less certain of their admissions prospects. Similarly, more apply to and enroll in ‘safety’ institutions, where students feel more confident they will receive an acceptance. Additionally, when high schools create minimums of five or 10 applicants, only the popular institutions appear on the scattergram. Based on what Mulhern found about students applying to colleges with visible scattergrams, it’s reasonable to deduce that the diversity of colleges students apply to could decrease with Naviance.”

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Women’s Colleges Report Applications Spike

Daily Hampshire Gazette: “Over the past several years, there has been a spike in the number of students applying to women’s colleges across the country … over the past five years, the total number of applications to Mount Holyoke College has jumped 23.6 percent, while Smith College has seen similar growth at around 25 percent, according to the colleges. However … highly selective colleges and universities have seen a general rise in applications in recent years … Contributing to Mount Holyoke’s success in this difficult moment are the sizable financial commitments the school has made — to financial aid packages, educational programming, and facilities. In addition to these attractions … there is something particular about the current moment that is contributing to the success of women’s colleges.”

“Many Mount Holyoke students are interested in social movements … and some of the most visible leaders of those movements — from #MeToo to climate activism — are women.” Other factors include “the emphasis colleges like Smith and Mount Holyoke have made in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; the large networks of influential alumnae that they boast; and supportive environments on campus.”

“Hareem Khan, 19, said she had been impressed and inspired by the alumnae network of women in her home country of Pakistan. But the biggest reason for attending Mount Holyoke, she said, has to do with her identity as a woman of color. Almost a third of Mount Holyoke’s incoming student body are students of color from the United States, and 19 percent are international students. At Smith this past academic year, 32 percent of the student body were students of color and 14 percent were international students.”

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Students ‘YouTube’ Admissions Decisions

The Washington Post: “It’s usually a moment of private drama for students, their families and friends, but Justin Chae planned to share his with the world by filming his reaction to the decisions from the five colleges he’d applied to attend. Then he would post the recordings to YouTube … Social media is filled with content that celebrates (and sells) the college experience, from dorm room tours to ‘day in the life’ videos to productivity tips … Reaction videos from non-celebrities, like Chae, offer a different kind of relatability. Some of the viewers are high school juniors and sophomores who are beginning the long process of applying to college themselves. For that audience, the videos aren’t just good content, they’re glimpses into the future — not the heightened version of their dreams and nightmares but vérité depictions of acceptance and rejection as it happens.”

“Every year, dozens of students post videos like Chae’s to YouTube. In one, a high school senior sits at her computer screen openly weeping as she is rejected on Ivy Day from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Brown. The only college left is her top choice, the University of Pennsylvania. ‘I’m freaking out,’ she says, as her family around her comforts her. She clicks. She screams. She got in. That video, from 2018, has more than 1 million views.”

“Not all popular college reaction videos end with a dream coming true. A disturbingly world-weary high school senior filmed himself opening up all his college decisions at once. The first is Amherst. He looks at the screen, smiles and claps once. ‘Fantastic,’ he says. ‘So I got rejected from Amherst. Next college. Next college!’ The rest of the video is much the same as the student casually leafs from one rejection to the next. (He does get into Carleton College and the University of California at Los Angeles.) Another video shows a student wearing a Northwestern sweatshirt as he checks his application there. As he finds out he’s rejected, he removes the sweatshirt.”

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Top 10: ‘Best Buys’ in Public Universities

CNBC: “Some public schools are far more affordable than others, particularly for those applying out of state. Personal finance site GOBankingRates ranked 100 public universities by out-of-state tuition costs, based on data from schools and U.S. News & World Report. People assume a private school is better, but ‘these public schools are equally good and they have huge resources,’ said Andrew DePietro, the lead researcher and data analyst at GoBankingRates. In addition, not only are the schools near the top of the list relatively less expensive, but most also have a high acceptance rate, making them particularly attainable for college-bound seniors.

Here are the public colleges that made the top 10:

University of South Florida; Kent State University; University of Wyoming; Florida International University; SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry; San Diego State University; Montclair State University; University of Central Florida; Ohio University; and Florida State University.

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Drexel Tour: It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Crossing Market Street in Philadelphia is like leaving one universe and entering another: from the ivory toweriness of the University of Pennsylvania into the gritty realworldliness of Drexel University. The two schools sit directly across the street from each other and the transition couldn’t be more abrupt, like stepping outside Hogwarts and suddenly finding yourself in … Philadelphia. What’s interesting is that while Penn is mostly famous for being an ivy, Drexel has carved out an identity that is less about a collegiate brand than it is about the college experience itself. As one of only a handful of schools offering a work-study model, popularly known as a “co-op,” Drexel’s vision of the future of higher education is more than 125 years in the making.

Inspired by his own teenaged experience working in his father’s bank, Anthony J. Drexel’s idea was to integrate academics with employment, preparing not only minds but also navigating career paths in new industries. It’s a concept that is perhaps even more salient today than it was when Mr. Drexel plunked down some $3 million ($78 million in today’s dollars) to make it a reality in 1891. It was a fairly radical idea at the time, upending the notion that college was exclusive to privileged men pursuing the ministry, law or medicine. More than a century later, Drexel still seems ahead of its time and it’s a wonder that more institutions haven’t “co-opted” the idea.

Unlike most other schools, Drexel runs year-round, in quarterly increments that enable its students to take a full-time, paying job in the real-world for six months of the academic year. Many students find work right in Philadelphia, but co-options can be had in some 47 countries and 30 states. This unusual plan is offered on a four-year basis, in which students take one job, or a five-year program that includes three jobs. The gross median salary per co-op job is $18,044, which helps offset the school’s approximately $50K per year tuition, not including room and board. The value of this is self-evident, of course, and statistically supported by the 96% employment rate of its students within a year of graduation.

We met up with one of our former students, now a Drexel senior, whose experience added yet another dimension to the school’s already impressive reputation. He had transferred from a large, state university, in part attracted to Drexel’s 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and median class size of just 19. Having completed his one co-op, he persuaded the school to allow him to take a second, but with a twist. Instead of finding employment at an existing company, he launched his own start-up under the aegis of the school’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, which provides him with workspace, mentoring and other resources. He took us on a quick tour of the institute’s facilities, and it is way past cool, complete with its own 3-D printer. The best part is, Drexel is helping to fund his venture with $15,000. That’s just not a college story you hear every day, or any day.

For all of A.J. Drexel’s prescience, and the remarkable success of the school’s co-op model, this university certainly is not for everyone. It presupposes that the purpose of college is to find a job, a proposition that may not appeal to those who envision scholastics in perhaps less transactional terms. It is also about as urban a setting as one is likely to encounter on a college tour, a mostly stony presence without much in the way of greenery or other gauzy accoutrements of dreamy college campuses. If you visit, you will undoubtedly see the magnificent, Italianate interior of its Main Building (pictured above), home of the Admissions Office. Be sure to see the world’s second-largest biofilter, a five-story cascade of greenery in the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building, that is said to create the freshest air in Philadelphia. And don’t miss the stunning grand staircase in Lebow Hall, home of the business school, which is designed to minimize elevator use and maximize interactions between students.

Drexel is one of those schools where it’s more about what’s inside than outside. Interestingly, our tour of Penn on the other side of Market Street was conducted entirely outside; maybe that’s a metaphor of sorts for Penn’s 7.5% acceptance rate versus Drexel’s 75%. Clearly, Penn is not for everyone either, but it’s up to you to decide whether it’s what’s inside Drexel that matters most.

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Traditional Studies are in ‘Major’ Trouble

Axios: “In 1869, at Harvard, Charles Eliot invented the college major as we know it — each student would be channeled into a specialized area of study, and move on to a stable, lifelong job.” However: “The seismic shifts created by frontier technologies are challenging a centuries-old model of higher education — one that is already under siege as the cost of college skyrockets, student debt balloons, and automation eliminates entire careers. Some university majors are aimed at jobs that might not exist any longer in the years and decades ahead. For those jobs that will exist, experts say, the uniquely human skill of problem-solving is essential, rather than a specific major. ‘The old model of studying one thing is giving way to a need for broadly trained workers,’ says Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.”

“Cal State Long Beach has partnered with the Institute for the Future to roll out ‘Beach 2030’ — a plan to ramp up interdisciplinary courses that reflect the fast-changing global landscape, and thus to ‘build future-ready students.’ Arizona State University has opened a College of Integrative Arts and Sciences that eliminates academic departments entirely and instead gives out degrees melding disciplines. Concordia University in Montreal has teamed up with five other Canadian universities focused on ‘skills training’ in addition to traditional degrees.”

The movement has its skeptics: Certain majors might need to be spruced up, but the idea of upending the model entirely is dangerous, says Matthew Mayhew, a professor at Ohio State. ‘There are still tons of people in college who are pre-med or accounting or chemistry majors that are getting jobs and directly applying what they learned in college,’ Mayhew says.” However, Mark Somerville of Olin College comments: “A smaller set of majors that are much more broadly defined is the direction we ought to be moving in. When it’s hard to predict what the jobs of the next 10 years will be — much less the next 50 years — acquiring the skills necessary to acquire skills is more important than the specifics of any given discipline.”

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Penn Tour: Be What You Seem, Really

Yes, it exhibits everything one would expect at an “ivy league” school: a grand, bustling green campus, suitably majestic and imposing stone buildings, energetic students with laptops and books open, doing their level best to enjoy a relatively warm, early spring day. At a glance, the University of Pennsylvania, or plain old “Penn,” would be right out of central casting if there were such a thing for elite institutions of higher education. We do tend to think of the “ivy league” as a “brand” of extravagantly selective colleges that share a certain, albeit inscrutable, set of attributes.

That may be true only up to a point, as the trappings of elite schools are hardly exclusive to those belonging to this one particular, rarified athletic conference. What’s more, each of these eight academies has its own story to tell, in a voice and with a personality that sets it apart from the others. At Penn, that story arguably originates with its founder, Ben Franklin, who said: “What you seem to be, be really.” What that translates into today is evident in an academic approach that values the sometimes unlikely points of connection between ostensibly unrelated areas of interest, or as the locals shorthand it, “Penn Integrates Knowledge.”

This distinctively Penn storyline quickly came clear during an outstanding information session featuring short stories of student journeys, and how various undergrads allowed their curiosities, and the relationships between those interests, to lead the way to their academic pursuits. For example, Greg’s love of skiing led to a fascination with climate change. He then linked his environmental concerns to his academic focus on mechanical engineering, and how that knowledge might be applied to climate-related challenges.

Penn encourages this type of free-range exploration by urging students to think about what they love before even considering potential majors, and to consider a more holistic approach to studies within the context of their ultimate goals. They are then free to follow their bliss across the full spectrum of Penn’s liberal arts, engineering, and business schools, blowing up the silos between traditional majors. Our tour guide, whose studies span neuroscience, computer science, urban planning and Spanish confirmed that Penn’s omnivorous educational philosophy is more than just talk.

Building on all the above, the admissions officer who led our information session emphasized the importance of the “What do you want to study at Penn?” question on the application. She said that, too often, applicants answer the question generically, as if they simply cut and pasted the same response for every school (because that’s actually what they did). Doing so is almost a sure-fire way to end up in the “R” pile, even if your grades, rigor and board scores are perfect.

Conversely, if one takes the time to study what each and every school has to offer, and explain how that aligns with one’s goals and aspirations, it can be your ticket in. While Penn does not factor “demonstrated interest” into its decisions because it does not want to disadvantage those who cannot travel to Philadelphia, it does give points to those who show that they have taken the time to understand why Penn is a good fit. Ironically, the best — and maybe only — way to do this is to visit the school. It is not easy to glean “Penn Integrates Knowledge” from the school’s website; as central as this story is to Penn’s existence it is buried under layers of online navigation menus. We certainly wouldn’t have fully appreciated its importance short of spending a half a day on campus, seeing and hearing it for ourselves. Wherever you plan to apply, we encourage you to do the same, as it could make make all the difference.

While it’s true that most students will not have the opportunity to attend Penn or another of the “ivy league” schools, the same principles can be applied elsewhere. To that end, high school students might take a more expansive view of their academic interests right now, and think about how to substantiate them during their high school careers, regardless of where they plan to apply. Colleges do tend to favor those who show depth and consistency, but in today’s world that can mean mixing and matching a range of interests and influences to come up with fresh ideas and new solutions.

It’s about more than just standing out; it’s about being what you seem to be, really.

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Most Colleges Admit Most Applicants

Pew Research: “The great majority of schools, where most Americans get their postsecondary education, admit most of the people who apply to them, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data. Of the 1,364 four-year colleges and universities we looked at, 17 admitted fewer than 10% of applicants in 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available. That group includes such prestigious names as Stanford (4.7%), Harvard (5.2%), Yale (6.9%) and Northwestern (9.2%). Another 29 schools admitted between 10% and 20% of applicants, including Georgetown (15.7%), the University of Southern California (16%), UCLA (16.1%) and the University of California, Berkeley (17.1%). The extremely competitive schools amounted to 3.4% of all the colleges and universities in this analysis, and they accounted for just 4.1% of total student enrollment.”

“By contrast, more than half of the schools in our sample (53.3%) admitted two-thirds or more of their applicants in 2017, including such well-known names as St. John’s University in New York (67.7%), Virginia Tech (70.1%), Quinnipiac University (73.9%), the University of Missouri at Columbia (78.1%) and George Mason University (81.3%) … It’s true that admission rates have fallen broadly in recent years. At about 45% of the schools we examined, admission rates were at least 10% lower in 2017 than they were in 2002; there were more modest declines (between 5% and 10%) at another 8% of institutions. But rates at 16% of schools were more or less unchanged (that is, the rate in 2017 was within 5% either way of the 2002 rate), and at nearly 31% of schools, admission rates were actually higher in 2017 than 15 years earlier.”

“Falling admission rates aren’t necessarily a sign that colleges are simply being pickier about whom they admit. In large measure, rates have fallen because prospective students are applying to more schools than they used to, while the number of available spots for them has grown more slowly. In absolute numbers, schools are making more admission offers than before, but not enough to keep pace with the soaring number of applications … The expansion of the Common Application, which makes it easier for students to apply to multiple schools, doesn’t appear to be behind the increase in application volume … Although one might suspect that the ease of applying to multiple schools via the Common App would result in stronger growth in application volume among those schools, there was almost no difference in 2002-2017 growth rates between the schools that used the Common App and those that didn’t.”

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Dartmouth Predicts Admissions Shifts

The Dartmouth: “With the recent release of admissions results for the Class of 2023, Dartmouth vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin said that ongoing trends may necessitate different admissions strategies at the College. Specifically, the changing importance of different geographic regions has already resulted in alterations to Dartmouth’s admissions practices … Coffin also stated that, despite recent trends, the admissions rates of top colleges may not continue to decline … ‘At some point the pool has to start to contract,’ he said. ‘It’s some combination of the economy, demographics, just internationalism.’ For example, Coffin noted that a possible change in international relations could affect admissions numbers by drastically changing the size of the international admissions pool.”

“However, Coffin said that he did not believe such shifts would occur soon. Instead, he is focused on Dartmouth’s changing admissions strategy, which focuses on factors like socioeconomic diversity. ‘We were deliberately focusing this cycle on socioeconomic diversity as a way of syncing up with the capital campaign and its commitment to broader access,” he said. “We were really focusing on communities where we knew there was going to be low-income families, as well as middle-income families, and to be deliberate about expanding that.’ Furthermore, the admissions office is now focused on increasing yield when choosing applicants, which the office often achieves by using complex models that examine different variables.”

“‘I have to try and anticipate how many of you are going to say yes, and the higher that number, the fewer I can let in,’ Coffin said. ‘It’s a really precise calculation.’ He added that two of the variables considered were geography and academic credentials. For example, Coffin noted that these models demonstrate that a student from Florida is less likely to enroll than a student from New Hampshire. ‘You’re using the data that the admissions office generates to predict behavior,’ Coffin further explained. ‘The thing that always gets me nervous is [that] I’m predicting behavior of 18 year olds’.”

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Instagram is like Facebook for Freshmen

Taylor Lorenz: “By the time many college freshmen arrive on campus this fall, they’ll have already met their roommate, their core friends, and many of their classmates on Instagram. They’re connecting through class accounts, Instagram pages set up by one or several incoming members of a college’s freshman class to help everyone meet before the school year officially starts. These accounts have names such as @penn2023_and @AUclassof2023, and they typically feature user-submitted photos and paragraph-long biographies of incoming students, often including their intended major, whether they’re looking for a roommate, and their personal Instagram handle … Many class accounts spawned Instagram group chats in which students not only find roommates, but also figure out plans for orientation, discuss rush, and debate whether or not there are good parties for freshmen.”

“Connecting college students is what Facebook was built for. Since that social network began allowing high schoolers to join in 2006, teenagers have used it to meet other incoming freshmen at college … Yet all the teenagers I spoke to said that they couldn’t imagine a Facebook version of class pages. In fact, several said they’d signed up for Facebook only in the past couple of months, so they could join the official Facebook group that their college’s admissions department created.”

Alexis Queen, who runs Harvard’s class account, comments: “I didn’t start using Facebook until I got in in December, and that was the case for my friends too … The most popular post in our admission group is just, ‘Comment your Instagram handle.’ Facebook is just an easy way to find people on Instagram.”

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