Acceptance May Be Easier Than You Think

Inside Higher Ed: “The annual ‘State of College Admission’ report is important for several reasons. One is that it dispels the myth — propagated by many who write about college admissions — that it’s impossible to get into college. You know the articles about how one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be admitted to Stanford. Perhaps true for Stanford. But as the report — issued by the National Association for College Admission Counseling — demonstrates, it’s actually not hard to get into college. The average four-year college admits nearly two-thirds of those who apply, and this is true from year to year in the study, going up or down by a point or so.”

“This year’s report comes out amid a renewed national debate, prompted by the lawsuit against Harvard University, over the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions. NACAC asked colleges about seven student characteristics and how important they are in admissions. Despite the debate over race-based affirmative action (in which some say colleges should pay more attention to socioeconomic status as opposed to race), colleges reporting paying more attention to first-generation status than to race/ethnicity.”

“Academic factors… count, the report finds. Of the top eight factors, only one (demonstrated interest) is not based on academics. Demonstrated interest is a measure of whether an applicant is really interested, such as whether she visited a campus or engaged with the admissions staff … This year’s survey shows that early options are increasing in popularity among applicants. Further, the data confirm the conventional wisdom that, for most applicants, odds of admission are greater when applying early than regular decision.”

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How Cornell Decides

Cornell Sun: “Unlike many other colleges, which review all applications from a central undergraduate admissions office, Cornell has a ‘somewhat unique system’ … Once an application is submitted, it will be given to the one — and only — college or school that the student is applying to, where his or her material will undergo a ‘first review’ … About 80 percent, or over 40,000 of the applicants, will be chosen to proceed to the next step. Only after the applicant has successfully passed the academic review, the admissions staff will consider other components of his or her application — such as recommendation letters and extracurricular activities.”

“In addition to the level of performance … Cornell also looks at how demanding those courses are. In colleges like CALS, where students must pick a major or at least specify a general subject in their applications, admission officers will also take into consideration whether the students have taken and performed well in classes relevant to their intended major … Another important and yet often overlooked factor is the college-specific essay, more commonly known as the ‘why’ essay, which is reviewed in both the first and the subsequent steps of admissions. The essay is the opportunity for students to demonstrate both their writing skills and that they have taken the time to research and learn about Cornell.”

Cornell looks “for students who can make the most out of the ‘any person … any study’ environment, who can learn from and collaborate with students from all kinds of backgrounds and majors. Sometimes, this quality … even outweighs academic performances in the evaluation process … Admission officers also look for other qualities that would contribute to the Cornell community, such as persistence and community ties. While Cornell doesn’t expect ‘a long list of activities,’ admissions staff hope to discover these values from the essay and extracurricular activities … A passion for contributing to and becoming part of the community is also extremely important.”

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Fun Facts for Harvard Hopefuls

The Wall Street Journal: “Harvard’s admissions office pays special attention to recruits from 20 U.S. states labeled internally as ‘sparse country’ because students from those places, including Maine, Arizona and Montana, are relatively underrepresented on campus … Applicants from two dockets—the greater New York City and Boston areas—had admit rates of 11.3% and 12.8%, respectively, for the class of 2018. That’s roughly double the rates for other dockets … For the class of 2018, 7.4% of applicants who said they planned to study humanities were admitted, compared with 4.6% of aspiring engineers and computer scientists.”

“Harvard instructs admissions officers to give top marks to recommendation letters if they are ‘truly over the top,’ with phrases like ‘the best ever’ or ‘one of the best in X years’ … At trial, Harvard highlighted moving applicant essays, including one from a Vietnamese immigrant who was bullied in school for his accent … Harvard’s interviewer handbook said applicants who were “bland” should get low marks on the personal rating, which measures their personal qualities through their essays, recommendations and interviews … Roughly 86% of recruited varsity athletes who apply to Harvard were admitted, according to trial testimony.”

“Children of major donors often get flagged by the development and admissions offices … Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants also get special consideration … And the admit rate among students with at least one parent who graduated from Harvard was 33.6%, more than five times the rate for everyone else … Harvard admitted 14.5% of early-action applicants for the class of 2022, and about 2.9% of regular-decision applicants.”

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How Duke Decides

Duke Today: “Here’s a tip for high school seniors wondering how to ace the essay portion of the college application: Just be yourself.” Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, comments: “The challenge is for the student to come across as the individual they are. They should worry less about the quality of the writing and more about the opportunity for the reader to learn about the student.”

“Guttentag said admissions officers work hard to understand each applicant’s personality, interests and character as they build a class of new Duke students each year that is talented, balanced, engaged and diverse. Grades matter a great deal, but so does a student’s desire to learn and a willingness to put talent into action.”

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Colleges Boost Transfer Acceptances

The New York Times: “Transfer students — whose challenges have often been ignored in higher education — are feeling a surge in popularity as colleges and universities are increasingly wooing them … last month, the University of California system announced that it has accepted more transfer students than ever before. And in a move that is perhaps more symbolic than substantive, Princeton University has, for its 2018 class, accepted 13 transfer students, the first such students it has enrolled since 1990.”

“Behind the new interest in courting them lies one stark reality: Undergraduate enrollment is declining and has been for six years … That is because of a demographic shift as the number of high school graduates is projected to decline over the next decade, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast. In addition, when the economy improves, the job market becomes more attractive to some high school graduates than college. As if that weren’t enough, fewer international students are enrolling in American colleges, after years of intensive growth, partly because of the nation’s more restrictive views on immigration and partly because English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia are luring away such students.”

“Transfer students can offer the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity schools are seeking … Transfers also help a college’s overall yield (or how many students who are accepted actually enroll), something that is crucial to administrators. According to a 2017 survey of its members by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, almost two-thirds of transfer applicants who were admitted to a university enrolled, compared with 28 percent of freshmen … Another reason for welcoming transfer students is that many colleges realize that a high portion of the students they turn away are just as good as the ones they accept.”

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How Legacy Gives A Leg Up

The Wall Street Journal: “At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.”

“Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.”

“Advocates for considering legacy status argue that favoring the children—and, in some cases, grandchildren—of graduates helps maintain an engaged and generous alumni base and lets students serve as ambassadors to new campus arrivals … Critics say giving legacy applicants any preferential treatment undermines diversity initiatives, especially for schools that aren’t growing … A handful of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status in admissions.”

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Unlocking The Mysteries of The Essay

The New York Times: “Documents showing that Harvard rated Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits than applicants of other races raise questions about how college admissions officers evaluate intangible criteria. What constitutes ‘likability’ or ‘courage?’ How do they know someone is ‘widely respected?’ … Most schools look at grade point averages and standardized test scores and may also review letters of recommendation, college essays and extracurricular activities. Colleges that do consider personal qualities are highly variable in the traits they look at and how they are ranked. Nor are they interested in disclosing their criteria.”

“In a study of 10 unidentified schools commissioned by the College Board, traits included ’emotional intelligence,’ ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘creativity’. Leadership, education experts said, is perhaps the most obvious and the most common trait colleges consider in applicants … Colleges don’t like to talk about this much, and officials don’t like to be pinned down. In general, they say they look for traits that reflect the college’s values or that make a student a ‘good fit’ for the institution.”

“Admissions officers say they look for a ‘hook’ in an applicant’s file that may lift the student into consideration, but just what that is hard to define … similar objections have been raised about the emphasis traditionally placed on standardized tests, which many experts believe fail to measure the potential of minority and low-income students. Earlier this week, the University of Chicago became the first elite research university in the country to drop the requirement that applicants submit ACT or SAT scores, instead announcing a program inviting students to submit a two-minute video introduction — where they can perhaps convey their likability.”

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Harvard Acceptance Rate Hits New Low

The Wall Street Journal: “Harvard hit a new low this year—in terms of its acceptance rate. The university admitted 4.6% of applicants, or 1,962 students for the class set to begin this fall. Last year, it admitted 5.2% of applicants … Many of the applicants looked perfect on paper. At Princeton, more than 14,200 of the 35,370 applicants had a 4.0 grade point average. Brown boasted that 96% of its admitted students are in the top 10% of their high school classes, while at Dartmouth that rate hit 97%.”

“The elite schools are also eager to note that they are becoming less elitist, with generous financial-aid packages to lure diverse candidates: Cornell accepted more than 700 first-generation college students, and more than 20% of Harvard’s admitted students and 23% of Princeton’s are eligible for federal Pell grants, which are aimed at low-income students.”

The acceptance rates released Wednesday combine figures from the early-admission rounds, in which applicants generally learn their fates in December, and the regular-decision round. Broken down, those rates are often quite lopsided. At Harvard, 14.5% of early-action applicants were accepted for the coming class, compared with about 2.8% of regular-round candidates … Despite the fervor around Ivy League admissions, the vast majority of college students actually go to a college where nearly everyone gets in, and many less prestigious institutions are struggling to fill their classes.”

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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.”

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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.”

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