Hello, Iowa: The Original Cornell

Cornell Daily Sun: “When Martin Rosenfeld was still a high school senior, his college application list included an Ivy League school in Ithaca. A few months later, he got into Cornell and decided to go there. But when he left for school in August of his freshman year, he headed for Iowa, not New York. Rosenfeld intended to apply to Cornell University, as he did to schools like Vanderbilt and Brown. However, during the highly stressful process, he accidentally applied to Cornell College, which is in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He ended up going there and he has no regrets about it.”

“Cornell College is a small, liberal arts school in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The school has an enrollment of about 1,000 undergrads. Although not as well-known as Cornell University, they proclaim themselves the original Cornell since they were founded 12 years before the University … What greatly intrigued Rosenfeld about Cornell College, however, was its curriculum design — ‘the block plan.’ At Cornell College, students take one course at a time and intensively study it for 18 class days – about three and a half weeks – and repeat it four times per semester.”

“Foregoing his acceptance to Vanderbilt, Rosenfeld instead headed to Mount Vernon, a decision that has caused confusion amongst those around him. Martin says that he faced multiple ‘outbursts’ from his peers in high school about why he decided to go to “some small, liberal arts college that practically nobody has ever heard of. His family, despite being supportive, also had a hard time wrapping their heads around this move. But according to Rosenfeld, attending Cornell College was the best decision he ever made.”

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How Clemson Decides

Independent Mail: “From 2008 to 2018, the number of freshmen applications to Clemson University increased 85 percent. Although the school has increased enrollment, it still has gotten more competitive to get a spot at the university … David Kuskowski, Clemson’s admissions director, said the university uses a ‘data-driven holistic’ model for admissions.”

“High school rigor, class rank, GPA, test scores and state residency are ‘very important’ factors for admission, according to the annual Common Data Set Clemson submits for the U.S. News & World Report. The most important components are a student’s high school rigor and coursework, followed by other factors like test scores, Kuskowski said.”

“On the other hand, work experience, volunteer work, level of applicant interest, geographic residence and personality qualities are “not considered,” based on the university’s Common Data Set answers. Extracurricular activities and talent are taken into consideration, but do not carry the same weight as other academic factors, according to the Common Data Set … Kuskowski said legacy is a “small positive factor” in the holistic review of applications, but legacy alone will not get a student accepted to the university.”

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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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