Application Anxiety: Please Don’t Ask About College

The Wall Street Journal: “Anxiety over college admissions is reaching a fever pitch as high-school seniors await decisions from colleges for next fall. Making it worse, students and parents say, is a barrage of unwelcome and inappropriate questions from prying adults. Sales of T-shirts reading, ‘Don’t ask me about college. Thanks,’ are rising on Redbubble … Some parents make their homes a college-free zone and ban all talk on the topic.”

“Spencer Neville, 17, has started dreading social encounters with adults.” She comments: “Every adult you meet, all they want to talk to you about is, ‘Where are you going to college? What do you want to study?’ They ask, ‘What’s your top school?’ and I say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a top school’.” High school counselor Brennan Barnard observes: “People aren’t going to walk up to someone at a cocktail party and ask, ‘How much do you weigh?’ But they’ll ask a student, ‘How did you do on the SATs?’.”

“The speculation peaks just as students most need a break … One mother kept quiet on Facebook when her son was admitted early to his No. 1 school, in an effort to be considerate … She later learned that because she hadn’t trumpeted the news, other parents assumed her son had been rejected. Many students try not to reveal their No. 1 choice. Asking teens their dream school is like making them announce that they have a secret, unrequited crush … After all the applications are in, counselor Jane Shropshire advises students to tune out the noise from peers and adults and immerse themselves in arts, sports, academic or community activities they enjoy.”


Elite Colleges Stop Giving AP Credits

The Wall Street Journal: “Admissions officers from some elite colleges say they still expect to see high-school transcripts loaded with AP courses, but don’t give much more than a pat on the back—and possibly an offer of admission—for the hard work. Starting in 2014, Dartmouth College stopped giving AP credit toward graduation but allowed students with high AP scores to pass into more advanced courses … Next month, faculty at Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences will vote on a revamp of the undergraduate curriculum, including reconsidering whether to award academic credit for high AP scores.”

“At the University of Pennsylvania, French, physics and a few other departments award credit or advanced standing based on a student’s AP scores. But other departments, including chemistry and biology, found that students who used AP scores to skip introductory courses fared worse in upper-division classes than those who took the full sequence at Penn because they weren’t as well-prepared. The departments unveiled new credit guidelines for the current academic year.”

Some colleges also “say that too many exemptions from classes can take away from a shared undergraduate experience with other students.”


The Happiness Effect & Social Media for Students

From a review of The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas, in The Wall Street Journal: “The real downside of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk … is constant cheeriness. Young people learn that any hint of unhappiness or failure may not be posted; it can haunt their futures and damage their ‘brands.’ This imperative then creates a vicious circle.” Freitas writes: “Because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.”

“Young people feel that they have to be online almost all the time, but they cannot share their real selves there, a situation that produces even greater unhappiness. ‘For better or worse, students are becoming masters of appearing happy, at significant cost,’ she says. The ‘happiness effect’ isn’t as lurid a woe as teens sending racy pictures, but it is an important phenomenon to understand and one that parents, teachers and college administrators need to address.”

“College admissions officers and future employers can look back in time and see posts complaining about a difficult boss or admitting loneliness … Yet avoiding social media is almost impossible; professors, for instance, create discussion groups on Facebook. So the beast must be mollified and a ‘personal brand’ maintained: that of a studious yet social person who does the right activities and holds the right opinions. ‘Many students have begun to see what they post (on Facebook, especially) as a chore—a homework assignment to build a happy facade,’ Ms. Freitas reports.”

“Her most intriguing suggestion—that schools and employers declare it unethical to consult applicants’ social-media accounts—would be a game-changer. It would also probably be unworkable.”


Boston College Revamps Remedial Courses

The Washington Post: “When students are unprepared for the rigors of college, schools often require them to take courses to catch up to their classmates. Those remediation courses, though, do not count toward a degree and may delay students from graduating on time, costing them money in the long run.”

“Boston College is taking a different approach to help students with weak academic records by using a set of learning strategies that require no more than one three-credit class. And new research shows the model is paying off as the vast majority of students are graduating in four years, results that administrators say have national implications for improving college completion.”

“The course teaches techniques for critical thinking, reading, note-taking and test preparation. The idea is to move away from rote memorization toward inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to develop an ongoing dialogue with new information … What’s striking about the results is the population of students in the Learning Theory class had SAT scores as low as 500 (out of a possible 1600), not the typical profile of students admitted to Boston College.”


Private Schools Like Community College Transfers

The Wall Street Journal: “Small, private colleges have found a new place to troll for prospective students: At community colleges down the road, or even across the country … In the past year alone, more than a dozen private colleges and universities nationwide have signed deals to make it easier for community-college students to transfer in. They’re swaying prospective students thanks to hefty scholarship offers and guarantees of graduating in four years, nearly eliminating cost differentials with public counterparts.”

“The new effort marks a change in attitude for private colleges, which historically have assumed community-college graduates’ coursework wasn’t rigorous enough to count toward a four-year liberal arts or pre-professional degree. But with nearly half of all students now starting their college careers at public two-year schools, leaders of four-year private institutions say they can’t afford to turn up their noses at potential students who started down a different path and would be happy to get the two years of tuition revenue over none at all.”

“From 2006 to 2013, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation invested nearly $10 million to help elite institutions like Amherst College and University of California, Berkeley, create pathways for low-income community-college students. More than 2,100 students moved to four-year schools through the program; they largely succeeded academically, with many going on to pursue graduate degrees.”


Tulane Retracts 130 Early-Admissions Offers

The New York Times: “Alyssa was in her high school health class around midday Wednesday when she got the email welcoming her to Tulane University and giving her a college email address. In a grueling college admissions season, it was her first-choice university, and she had applied early decision, meaning she was committed to the place. Excited by the news, Alyssa texted her mother, told many of her classmates and was congratulated by one of her favorite teachers, a Tulane alum. But two or three hours later, she received a second, decidedly more downbeat email telling her it had all been a mistake.”

“Tulane’s defenders were quick to point out that it is not the first university to have made such a mistake. Some of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country — including M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon, Vassar, U.C.L.A., Fordham, Johns Hopkins and the University at Buffalo — have sent out misfired admissions notices in recent years.”

“The university’s explanation was complicated and blamed new software. True offers … come from the Office of Admission. When a student accepts the offer and makes a deposit, that results in the type of message, from Technology Services, that the 130 students received, with instructions on how to set up a Tulane email account. ‘Due to a coding error in how we installed new software, our system mistook deferred students for deposited students,’ he said.”


Ivy League Chances: Longer Than Ever

Business Insider: “The steady uptick of college applicants, especially at elite schools, is stark, driven in part by the emergence of Common App, which allows students to apply to many schools at once.Take, for example, an article in the Harvard Crimson about the acceptance rate for the class of 2000. ‘The class was chosen among a pool of 18,190 applicants, making Harvard’s admission rate a paltry 10.9 percent — the lowest in College history,’ The Crimson wrote.”

“Twenty years later, the authors of that story are likely to be aghast that the acceptance rate has spiraled ever lower. With more than double the applicants, about 95% of students who applied to Harvard were rejected … In addition to the sheer number of applicants which make the field appear more competitive, the academic credentials of students are also becoming more impressive, in part due to the increase in international students who have begun to flood US colleges and universities.”

“Selective colleges may have ballpark figures they hope to achieve (and not surpass) when it comes to the percentage of an incoming class that can be comprised of international students … The increase in international applicants, therefore, while it may drive down the overall acceptance rate, likely has less impact on US applicants than is sometimes believed … And while in many cases it looks like GPA and standardized test score averages are increasing, some of this should be attributed to the test prep era, which is ubiquitous in the college admissions process.



Legacy: The Booster Shot of College Admissions

Business Insider: To increase your chances of admission, apply “to the same school as one of your parents. While legacy status — the term used to indicate a family member attended the same school — has been recognized anecdotally as providing a benefit to college applicants, education startup AdmitSee has used data it collects to definitively prove this correlation … The company analyzed the profiles of students who indicated their legacy status, and found that legacy students scored lower on the SAT than nonlegacy students.”

“Preferential treatment for legacy students has been studied before. Michael Hurwitz, a Harvard doctoral student, conducted a study at 30 highly selective colleges and found that legacy students had seven times the odds of admissions as nonlegacy students. But the issue of awarding an advantage to legacy students remains a contentious issue, especially in the face of push back over affirmative action policies in college admissions.”


How Admissions Officers Use ‘Big Data’

Business Insider: “Just as companies pay for consumer data to make informed decisions, it turns out, colleges and universities do the same, according to a report by non-partisan think tank New America. The report, called ‘The Promise and Peril of Predictive Analytics in Higher Education,’ detailed the ways in which colleges pay for student data. For less than 50 cents a name, colleges glean student data from third-party groups.”

“The students’ demographic information is then used for ‘predictive analytics,’ a little-known x-factor that colleges often use for enrollment management. The process pulls a multitude of data points into a model that predicts the probability a particular student will apply to a school, choose to attend after they’ve been accepted, or perform well once enrolled. The third-parties also have their own predictive models that colleges can pay for, which can include around 300 different data points on students.”

“The report also explained how colleges rank students based on this data. Admissions teams individually score students’ likelihood of becoming an applicant, being admitted, and deciding to enroll, usually on a scale of 0-10 based on factors like: race and ethnicity, zip code, high school, and anticipated major, according to the authors.”


Yale to Admit More Students

Associated Press: “Yale University will be accepting more undergraduate students this year, but don’t expect it to be any easier to get in. Freshmen classes will be larger by about 200 students beginning next year under a long-planned expansion that will see the Ivy League college’s student body grow by about 15 percent, to 6,200.”

“For the class that arrived on the New Haven campus last year, the school accepted only 6.7 percent of more than 30,000 applicants, one of the lowest rates in the country … Yale’s applicant pool has grown in the past nine years from 22,500 to nearly 31,500, an increase that Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said has been driven largely by students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, such as minorities and students from low-income households. A larger student body, he said, will allow Yale to welcome students from more diverse backgrounds.”