College Admissions Create Social-Media Moments

The Wall Street Journal: “Admissions officers are traveling hundreds of miles with a live animal to inform high-school seniors they have been accepted to a college—and to urge them to enroll. It’s not just the star athletes or scholarship winners who get the treatment. It is pretty much anyone, a tactic driven by competition to snag the declining number of college-bound high-school students. One of the hardest working college salesmen is Trip, a 6-year-old English bulldog with doleful, dark eyes. His predecessors are retired … When he travels to meet prospective students, his job is mostly to look fetching as he poses on porches, living-room rugs and in front of fireplaces. He gives paw-shakes, or ‘high-fives’ when the acceptance is announced. So far this year, the bulldog has visited about 50 accepted students.”

“There were 224,000 fewer undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities in 2017 than in 2016. That decline is part of a larger drop which is forcing enrollment departments to get creative to keep up the flow of applications, acceptances and tuition checks. At many schools the numbers are heading in the wrong direction … Several schools surprise students with in-person announcements. The goal isn’t just to convince the few who get the special treatment, but to capture the student reaction and feature it on social media to induce their friends to apply.”

Kirk Brennan, the director of admission at the University of Southern California … said USC started the surprise visits about five years ago, but he is considering stopping them.” He explains: “It sort of feels like it’s more for us than the kids,” he said. “Some are embarrassed, they don’t know how to react. They feel awkward, maybe they’re more interested in another school.”


The 8-Minute Application Review

The Wall Street Journal: “As application numbers surge, admissions officers at some elite colleges say they don’t have time to read an entire file. Instead, staffers from more schools—including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania—now divvy up individual applications. One person might review transcripts, test scores and counselor recommendations, while the other handles extracurricular activities and essays.”

“They read through their portions simultaneously, discuss their impressions about a candidate’s qualifications, flag some for admission or rejection, and move on. While their decision isn’t always final, in many cases theirs are the last eyes to look at the application itself. The entire process can take less than eight minutes.”

“Admissions directors say it is better for staffers than spending solitary months reading essays, transcripts and recommendation letters. They also say it helps train new readers and minimizes bias by forcing readers to defend why they think a candidate is qualified or not, and as a result they’re more confident in the decisions the new committees are making … Readers at Bucknell, which gets more than 10,000 applications, used to take 12 to 15 minutes to review each application. Now a team of two is done in six to eight minutes.” A Bucknell admissions officer says that still adds up to 16 “person minutes.”


Early Ivy Admission Rates Decline


Business Insider: “Another year of early acceptance notifications, another year where the acceptance rates declined. Almost all eight schools in the competitive Ivy League reported declines in acceptance rates, meaning it’s the hardest year on record to get into the colleges. Columbia and Cornell Universities did not publicly release early-admission figures.”

“Despite getting more difficult, the rates are actually higher than acceptance rates during regular admission in the spring. For comparison, Harvard’s acceptance rate released for regular decision last spring, the lowest in the Ivy League, was 5.2% for the class of 2021. Cornell, which has the highest in the Ivy League, was 12.5%.”


Unlocking The Mysteries of Admissions

The New York Times: “It’s a widespread misconception that applicants have an automatic right to be admitted to the school of their choice if they have higher grades or test scores than other candidates. It’s not that grades and test scores don’t matter — they nearly always do — but colleges aren’t obligated to choose the students who are deemed most likely to earn high college grades or graduate … Instead, what counts in admissions depends on the mission of the institution — and that can vary a great deal from school to school.”

“Mission statements don’t necessarily make it easier for students to understand the nuts and bolts of admissions, but they are absolutely vital. A school’s admissions policy must flow from its mission. But by and large, colleges aren’t doing a good enough job explaining to applicants how admissions choices stem from their policy. While most colleges list some of the factors they consider in admission — such as leadership and involvement in extracurricular activities — they need to go further to explain how applicant characteristics are assessed and weighted.”

“How could admissions offices be more open about how they choose? They could start by publishing vignettes to illustrate how admissions decisions are made, spell out why certain kinds of applicant profiles do or don’t make the grade, and describe how they identify talented students who fall short in terms of grades or test scores. Descriptions of the kinds of complex deliberations conducted by real admissions committees would be enlightening to both applicants and their families.”


When Harvard Rescinds Admissions

The Harvard Crimson: “Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat … In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson.”

“After discovering the existence and contents of the chat, Harvard administrators revoked admissions offers to at least ten participants in mid-April, according to several members of the group. University officials have previously said that Harvard’s decision to rescind a student’s offer is final.”

“This incident marks the second time in two years that Harvard has dealt with a situation where incoming freshmen exchanged offensive messages online. Last spring, some admitted members of the Class of 2020 traded jokes about race and mocked feminists in an unofficial class GroupMe chat … But administrators chose not to discipline members of the Class of 2020 who authored the messages.”


Some Schools Are Still Dangling Dollars

The New York Times: “In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is a magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media. This year, however, scores of teenagers had something unexpected happen next: During the first week in May, they received text messages or emails from schools that had accepted them but had not heard back. The messages all hinted at a particular question: Might a larger discount prompt you to come here after all?”

“The upheaval that comes with reopening the college decision is rough on teenagers as well as their parents, who would have to revisit difficult financial choices and conversations all over again. Suddenly, a first-choice school may be almost within reach but still not quite affordable. The injection of money into a discussion thought to be over makes an emotional situation even more fraught … Now that applicants, even in wealthier families, know how much of a stretch college might be, it can weigh them down with guilt.”

“For a portion of the applicant pool, May 1 has not been the date for some time. Many colleges maintain wait lists … And for all the attention families devote to the most competitive institutions, plenty more have space available through summer and invite qualified students to apply. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, or Nacac, publishes a list each year, and this year’s lineup includes household names like Arizona State and Penn State.”


How Algorithms Are Changing Admissions

The Atlantic: “While few colleges follow the same admissions playbook, they are all taking their cues from the invisible array of algorithms that recommend music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, and books on Amazon. While colleges say the data help to target their marketing efforts, the new methods also explain why students with similar similar academic backgrounds now get varying degrees of outreach from colleges.”

Jeff Goff of Saint Louis University comments: “We needed to focus on finding students who would be a good fit. So when we looked at the demographics of the previous class, we wanted to not only look at the students who chose to enroll at the institution, but those who ended up succeeding and were satisfied. We wanted to know if we could replicate those students.”

“Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has … enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010.”


The Ivies Become Even More Selective

The Wall Street Journal: “Some of America’s most exclusive colleges have become even more exclusive. The eight members of the Ivy League on Thursday evening released details of which lucky young adults were selected to join their first-year classes come fall, and with just one exception they received more applications than the prior year. As most didn’t increase their class sizes, acceptance rates declined.”

“Harvard University topped the exclusivity chart with a 5.2% acceptance rate, as the school offered spots to 2,056 of a record 39,506 applicants. Columbia, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell also boasted their largest freshman applicant pools in history, and acceptance rates dropped to 5.8%, 6.1%, 8.3%, 9.2% and 12.5%, respectively. Dartmouth College was the only Ivy to see a decline in applications … it accepted slightly fewer students, so the admit rate declined to 10.4% from 10.5%.”

“Despite the ballooning application numbers and dwindling chances of being accepted, many admissions officials say they’re getting less elitist in at least some regards. For example, Harvard noted that about 15.1% of the students it admitted would be first-generation college students after a concerted effort to appeal to more such students whose parents didn’t attend college. At Princeton, that share was 18.9%, also amid a push to expand its student body’s socioeconomic diversity.”


Rejection & The Art of Disappointment

The Wall Street Journal: “Claudia Vulliamy, of London, had several rounds of interviews and an overnight stay at Oxford University, where she wanted to study classics. While hopeful, she prepared herself for bad news, but was ‘quite disappointed’ when the letter from Oxford arrived saying she didn’t make it. She texted her mother, Louisa Saunders. When Ms. Saunders arrived home, she said Claudia was ‘relatively chipper.’ She had taken the Oxford letter and cut out key phrases— ‘after careful consideration’ … ‘sorry not to have better news’ … ‘not been possible to offer you a place’ … ‘no longer under consideration’—and incorporated them into a painting.”

“Claudia wasn’t going to show it to anyone else, but when her mother reacted so positively, she decided to share it with friends on Facebook … Friends, who likewise received rejection letters, were cheered, says Claudia … Her mother tweeted it, saying: ‘Yesterday, my daughter learned that she hadn’t got into Oxford. By the time I got in from work, she’d made this from her rejection letter.’ It was retweeted about 52,000 times.”


The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”