The Flipside of Elite College Admissions

Quartz: “The revelations that affluent families bribed their kids into elite universities … is also evidence that elite universities have actually become much more meritocratic, such that some mediocre but wealthy students who were once ushered into Ivy League colleges now feel they have to resort to bribery and fraud (or, at least, their parents do). It once was far easier to get into an elite university if you were white, male, and rich. In 1933, for example, 82% of Harvard applicants were admitted. By 2003, the number fell to 9.8%. Last year the number was 4.6%. Elite universities are now drawing from a much wider base of applicants, a trend that starting with the admission of women.”

“In recent years, the growing wealth of Americans, the rise of a global middle class eager for a US education (particularly in China), and—to the credit of the colleges—much more generous financial aid (Harvard is basically free for families that earn less than $65,000) has meant there are fewer slots available for lackluster children of privilege … University admissions are still far from egalitarian, but they have made strides in leveling the playing field.”

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No Shortcuts: Getting in Means Getting it Done

On the one hand, the unfolding college admissions scandal involves a tiny percentage of super-wealthy applicants at a tiny percentage of hyper-elite schools. It’s easy to dismiss this disgusting news as an esoteric anomaly that has nothing to do with the vast majority of honest, decent, law-abiding citizens of every stripe who would never even think about doing something so egregiously wrong. On the other hand is the cold truth that, on some level, nearly everyone tries to turn the process to their advantage in one way or another, both those with and without means. Getting admitted to college can be like life itself: not always fair. Yet, somewhere in the middle is something more fundamentally true, which is that success in college admissions, and life, comes to those who do the work.

It’s up to the students to challenge themselves, get good grades and scores, win awards, as well as actualize themselves outside the classroom by volunteering, creating, leading, or whatever it is that defines who they are as people. Beyond the numbers, colleges value a zeal for learning and a zest for life. In all but the smallest fraction of cases, they know a phony when they see one. Corrupt actors aside, the last thing they want is to admit a student who doesn’t understand the very meaning of success and is destined to fail.

Some students are extremely motivated to get into a bunch of highly competitive schools. They usually require guidance but are self-starters by nature and only too eager to research and visit campuses, dive into their essays and every little nook and cranny of their applications. Not surprisingly, they approach their schoolwork and all aspects of their lives with the same level of enthusiasm and drive. They have a fair, though not exact, idea of what it takes to get into the schools of their choice. They understand that while there are never any guarantees, they can increase their chances if they focus their efforts. They harbor no illusions.

Other students are somewhat less motivated, or not motivated at all. It’s not always easy to discern what’s underneath the attitude, although often a certain “fear of the unknown” lurks within. So, part of the challenge is to demystify this strange, new world they are entering by illuminating why it’s something to be excited about. Exactly what that entails may vary from one student to the next, but the goal is the same: to inspire them to do the work and help guide them to a better version of themselves. Some luck may be a factor, but more often than not getting ahead is down to getting things done.

No shortcuts. If there’s a secret to success, there you have it.

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Helping Your Student Accept Rejection

The Washington Post: “It’s a scene that will play out in countless homes across the country from now through the spring, as high school seniors learn that, despite their best efforts, they did not get into their dream college. Often, it’s equally dumbfounding to their parents … Indeed, the process has become much more fraught than it was when parents of current high school students went through it … Case in point: In 2016, UCLA hit a record number of applications: 102,177 for a freshman class of about 6,500 students, meaning an acceptance rate around 6 percent.”

“Well before applicants hear from colleges, parents can take proactive steps to head off their children’s discouragement should they get rejected. For starters, many experts suggest de-emphasizing the ‘first-choice’ idea and focusing instead on building an application containing multiple schools, all of which a student would be happy to attend. This advice applies even to students with a strong shot at gaining admittance to highly selective colleges … It’s important for families to recognize that there are many factors in the college-admissions process over which they have no say. For instance, you can’t control how many qualified applicants will apply to any particular school, or know what a school is looking for in a given applicant pool.”

“There’s no controlling how a student will respond to a college rejection notice. But parents can, and should, control theirs, advise experts … Most kids recover from the disappointment of rejection fairly quickly … Fortunately, experts say, 17- and 18-year-olds tend to bounce back from rejection quickly.”

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Forbes Ranks Schools For International Students

Forbes: “Though America still hosts over a million foreign learners, first-time international undergraduates in the U.S. sank 6.6% in 2017 according to the IIE, a nonprofit that tracks international exchange in education. Even the schools that prioritize international students have been hit by the trend. At Forbes’ 50 Top Schools for International Students of 2019 (full list below), the percentage of undergraduates who were international surged from 7.6% in 2009 to 11.3% in 2016. In 2017, it nudged to 11.5%, a mere 0.2% increase.”

“To put together our best schools for international student ranking, we used experts’ insights and our philosophy of ‘outputs over inputs.’ We weight school quality at 60%, based on our Top Colleges rankings’ methodology. Drawing from the federal government’s IPEDS database, we weigh international student six-year graduation rate at 15% of our ranking. We reward schools with full-need aid or need-blind admission policies for international students, data we draw from schools’ websites, with 5% of our ranking each.”

“Schools with high enrollment figures in international students’ most popular majors like engineering, business and math are rewarded up to 5% (per the IIE and the government’s College Scorecard database). The size of schools’ international student body (measured as a percentage of undergrads and calculated by IPEDS) accounts for 5% of our score. The remaining 5% of the score is based on the number of foreign-born workers in the college’s combined statistical area, from the U.S. Census.”

Here is the full list of the 2019 Top Schools for International Students:

Princeton University
Yale University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harvard University
Columbia University
California Institute of Technology
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Amherst College
Stanford University
Babson College
University of Pennsylvania
Claremont McKenna College
Georgetown University
Brown University
New York University
Pomona College
Cornell University
Johns Hopkins University
Lafayette College
University of Chicago
Dartmouth College
University of California-Los Angeles
University of Notre Dame
Harvey Mudd College
Barnard College
Northwestern University
Carnegie Mellon University
Rice University
Swarthmore College
Tufts University
Williams College
Vassar College
University of Southern California
Vanderbilt University
Bowdoin College
Haverford College
Pitzer College
Washington University in St Louis
Bates College
Wesleyan University
Wellesley College
University of California-Berkeley
Boston College
Middlebury College
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Carleton College
University of Maryland-College Park
Grinnell College
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
Colgate University

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Student View: How To Get Into UT Austin

The Daily Texan: “Current and former students who offer insight into UT admissions and campus life have become popular, unofficial faces of the University to prospective students on YouTube … Before her freshman year, marketing sophomore Julia Wezio made a YouTube video titled “How I got Into UT Austin Tips + Advice,” and today, Wezio’s video has over 33,000 views — more than any single video UT’s YouTube channel has made in about two years. Marketing junior Lynette Adkins also reached thousands of views on videos covering topics such as the cost of attending UT and study abroad.”

“Miguel Wasielewski, executive director of UT Admissions, said in an email the advice of current students is best when coupled with information provided by college representatives. Wezio, who watched YouTube videos from other UT students before applying, said she also thinks her success was partially driven by the authenticity of her content.”

Wezio comments: “It’s not so much that UT is trying to hide something from you, but it’s more so that they have to use that official language. They have to keep a certain image. When you’re talking to a student who can share their unfiltered voice and be honest with you, I think they’re going to be more honest, obviously about the negative things, but a lot more honest with the positive things too.”

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How to Measure ‘Performance’ for Admissions?

Education Week: “Imagine a high school where students skip standardized end-of-course tests. Instead, to pass a class or graduate, they show off the results of big projects they’ve done, such as analyzing why the United States lost the Vietnam War or how geometric patterns can be used to produce solar energy … The trouble is that most college admissions officers already must review tall stacks of applications quickly. Few can carve out more time to read long descriptions of students’ work or watch videos of their presentations … how can college admissions officers get a quick and accurate sense of what students from performance-based schools have accomplished? A few projects around the country are trying to answer that question.”

“One of those initiatives, Reimagining College Access, wants to lower a key barrier to considering performance assessments in students’ admission applications: colleges’ software systems … most colleges use software systems designed to process students’ grades and test scores, but they can’t accept videos, research papers, and other projects. Reimagining College Access … works to create or find online platforms that can accept those kinds of student work. With the resources to spend more time on each student’s application, the most selective private colleges are the ones most likely to be able to examine more complex forms of student work … The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, allows students to upload ‘creative portfolios’ that capture research, visual and performing arts, and maker projects.”

“A project based in New England has designed model profiles to help schools that use performance assessments convey their work clearly to colleges. They’ve also designed model transcripts to reflect the nature of students’ work in performance-based schools … The new model transcript provides more detailed information than ordinary transcripts. It uses a 1-4 grading scale for students’ courses. But it also provides grades for crosscutting skills, like problem-solving, and for mastery of specific standards within each subject. In English, for instance, students’ proficiency is graded separately in reading comprehension, reading interpretation, writing range, writing research, discussion, and presentation.”

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Plus Factors: Yale Students Weigh In

Yale Daily News: “As the use of affirmative action as a factor in undergraduate admissions comes under fire, Yale students appear split on several other admissions criteria in a January survey administered by the News. Students were mixed on using a ‘recruited athlete’ status as a ‘plus factor,’ but the majority of students did not support using the metric of being the child of an alumnus or donor — either current or prospective — as ‘plus factors’.”

“According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan,’plus factors’ are ‘certain aspects of a student’s application’ that enable the admissions committee ‘to build a class that both individually and collectively benefit the most from and give the most back to Yale.’ The University uses a variety of such factors, including being a recruited intercollegiate athlete, identifying as a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income background, being a member of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or having ‘extraordinary creative ability,’ as evaluated by Yale faculty members.”

“In November, the News revealed that the Office of Development gives special treatment in the admissions process to ‘VIP candidates,’ who Adam Cohen, program coordinator for Yale’s Office of Development, characterized as ‘donors,’ before correcting himself to say ‘guests’ in November. VIPs in the admissions process are given the opportunity to tour Yale’s campus and speak to FroCos — first-year counselors — before they apply to Yale. No such program exists for non-VIP applicants, until they have been accepted to the college.”

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Vanderbilt: Where Disabilities Are Not Disadvantages

Forbes: “According to Think College, a national organization dedicated to developing college opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, more than 260 colleges across the nation now offer on-campus transition programs for this population. transition programs immerse the students, many of whom have Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, or cerebral palsy, in campus life. They live in the residence halls, eat in campus dining facilities and navigate the typical demands of college students.”

“Their curriculum mixes courses on socialization, self-help, and independence skills with individualized training in employment competencies. In most programs, the students also audit one or more regular college courses each semester, selected and sometimes modified with their needs in mind. Another standard component is a practicum, job shadowing, or internship in the community or on campus where students hone practical work skills.”

“Typically, the programs are four to five semesters in length, although more mature programs, like Vanderbilt’s Next Steps and George Mason University’s LIFE have expanded to four years. After completing the program, students are awarded a graduation certificate that officially recognizes their achievement. Some may transfer to a traditional baccalaureate program.”

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Alt-SAT/ACT: The CLT (Classic Learning Test)

Real Clear Education: “Starting a company from scratch that’s able to compete with the long-entrenched SAT and ACT in the college-entrance testing business sounds like an impossible dream. However, a pair of Annapolis-based entrepreneurs, philosopher Jeremy Tate and businessman David Wagner, have proven with the Classic Learning Test (CLT) that a market does exist for an SAT/ACT alternative that is based on the works of the greatest minds of Western civilization … the CLT had won approval from 145 colleges and universities as a legitimate indicator of an applicant’s readiness for college-level studies.”

“The test calls on aspiring collegians to show they recognize ideas advanced by such thinkers as C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, and Socrates, as well as that they understand the applicability of timeless lessons concerning truth, ethics, and morality. The CLT tests knowledge coupled with an unabashed devotion to values that have shaped culture and individual lives.”

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Successful Applications Are Matter of Fact

Daily Pennsylvanian: “Like most universities, Penn does not have a standard system for fact-checking applications. Admissions officers perform initial reviews in as little as four minutes, and a call to a high school guidance counselor or an email to an applicant is as thorough as checks get … Given the massive volume of applications the University receives — 44,957 applicants for the Class of 2023 — current and former admissions officers agree that fact-checking applications is not feasible and instances of outright fabrication seem to be rare … Despite the lack of a formal fact-checking system, former admissions officers say they have still caught applicants lying.”

Elizabeth Heaton, a former regional director of admissions for Penn,”recalled an instance when a regular decision applicant plagiarized their essay based on an essay written by another student who had already been admitted early decision. The former Penn regional admissions director said when she noticed the stark similarities between the two essays, she decided to make a call to the student’s high school.” She comments: “We denied the student who had plagiarized and the other kid was able to keep his acceptance.”

Kathryn Bezella, Vice Dean and director of marketing and communications for Penn Admissions, “confirmed that following up with a guidance counselor or applicant is rare.” However: “Bezella said because of the high number of applications she reads and familiarity with her region, she can typically identify false transcripts and essays.” She comments: “After you’ve read several thousand essays by 17-year-olds, you do have some sense of ‘this is not how a 17-year-old writes’.”

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