Admissions Gap: The Gender Factor

Charlotte Observer: “Over the last decade women have comprised 57% of the four-year college students in the country … Naturally, the relative scarcity of qualified male applicants gives them a leg-up in admissions at many schools … Among the elite institutions offering men a significant edge are George Washington, Tufts, and William & Mary, where gentlemen enjoy a stunning 14 point advantage over young women. Vassar features admit rates for men that are nearly twice that of female applicants. Many other highly selective institutions offer a more modest advantage to men including Brown, Pomona, Vanderbilt, and Middlebury.”

“Generally speaking, gender-based advantages typically on occur at smaller liberal arts schools. Larger school … tend to hold the same, more statistically-based admissions standards across gender lines … Not surprisingly, many of the schools that favor female applicants have ‘Tech’ in their name; Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Tech, and Caltech all have a much higher acceptance rate for young women. MIT’s acceptance rate for women is double that of male applicants.”

“Other top schools without the official ‘Tech’ designation that grant favor to female applicants include Babson College, Carnegie Mellon, and Harvey Mudd.”


Colleges Must Navigate Sea of Changes

Slate: “In the coming year, we will see changes in standardized testing, use of prior-prior year tax information in applying for financial aid, elimination of colleges’ access to the selected institution list on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the likely expansion of Simplified Needs Testing resulting from Medicaid expansion. These and other factors like demographic shifts, ability to pay, and public support for higher education represent unprecedented changes to the world of college admissions.”

“The wealthiest and most selective will continue on their tried and true paths, and open-access institutions will serve out their missions in the way they always have. But most colleges are working desperately to navigate the changes in a way that is not harmful to them and genuinely benefits students, especially those with the greatest need.”


Navigating The ‘Admissions Funnel’

The Wall Street Journal: “Enrollment managers call it the admissions funnel. At the top is a huge pool of prospects. At the bottom is the handful of students who enroll. And in between are inquiries, applications and admissions. The funnel isn’t new, but several developments in recent years have made it more difficult to hit the enrollment target … To help compensate for the uncertainty, schools assemble large pools of prospects by buying the names of high-school students from the organizations that administer the SAT and ACT college-admissions exams, as well as other vendors who solicit contact information from prospective college students.”

“If students don’t respond to unsolicited contacts—often in the form of mailings that may include a prepaid postcard to request additional information—they will be dropped from a college’s list of prospects … Students who respond, or initiate contact with a school on their own, filter down to the next level of the admissions funnel, the pool of inquiries, which include students who have demonstrated an interest in the school—a more desirable group than the cold leads … Meanwhile, thanks to common applications and ‘snap apps,’ colleges and universities receive more submissions than ever. Common applications allow students to submit the same application to multiple schools. Snap apps go several steps further.”

“Having lots of applicants allows schools to appear more selective when they admit students, which may help improve their rankings on best-college lists, but for enrollment managers, it’s all about conversion rates: The number of prospects that convert to applications, the number of applications that convert to admissions, and the number of admissions that convert to enrollment.”


Shady Grove: The Future of Higher Ed?

The Washington Post: The Universities at Shady Grove “is a program unlike any other, with nine state universities converging at the Rockville, Md., campus, part of an effort that began 16 years ago to reduce college costs, produce an educated workforce and encourage college completion among populations that traditionally struggle to get their ­degrees.”

Shady Grove offers a way for community college students to transfer into undergraduate programs at nine of the 12 schools in the University System of Maryland, including the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Bowie State, Towson and the state flagship in College Park … Each school has its own office on campus and individual banners raised high above the quad … All classes are held in Rockville and taught by professors from the partner schools, so a student seeking a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland Baltimore County can earn the degree without ever setting foot in ­Catonsville.”

“Students pay the tuition their home school charges, but they spend less on fees tied to facilities, parking and athletics. By spending two years at Montgomery College before heading to Shady Grove, students can save an average of $8,000 on tuition and fees … Students must get accepted to one of the partner schools, but once they’re in, they have a better chance of graduating through Shady Grove than if they had transferred directly to the school. The program has a 75 percent graduation rate for transfer students, the highest in Maryland’s university system and higher than the 58 percent national average.”

“It’s a very innovative model,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “You have a public institution responding to market conditions in a way that expands access.”


Sometimes ‘Plan B’ Is a Better Fit

CNBC: “When students and families weigh everything that goes into attending college, not least the cost, ‘the plan B schools sometimes are a better fit,’ said Katherine Pastor, a school counselor at Flagstaff High School in Arizona.” In fact, ‘close to 17 percent of first-time freshmen were accepted at their top school and chose to attend somewhere else,” according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

“Some 58 percent of those enrolling at their second-choice school said cost was an issue, compared with 41 percent of those attending their first choice,” according to the Institute. “Students opting for their first-choice school, in contrast, were more likely to cite graduates’ record of landing good jobs or getting into top graduate or professional schools. They were also more likely to mention their school’s strong academic record, the Institute found.”

“Pastor, the Arizona school counselor, said she hears about students who set off for their first choice, only to find that it is not a good fit … Outcomes like that can be particularly difficult if a student has passed on scholarships and aid offers from a second-choice school, and now has to restart the process. The upside may be this, however: ‘I have never heard of a kid who picked their second-choice school who has not been happy with their choice,’ Pastor said.”


Where You Live Can Affect Where You Get In

Quartz: “No one state offers its students a leg up on elite admissions nationwide. But being from a place that’s typically underrepresented in the school’s applicant pool can be a big advantage for prospective students.” For example: “Brown accepted 8.5% of all applicants in 2015, the lowest rate in its history. It took that same percentage from California (5,062 applicants), Texas (1,197), and New Jersey (1,620). But 17.1% of both Alaska’s 35 applicants and Mississippi’s 41 got in. So did 20% of the 20 applicants from North Dakota. Of the 23 students who applied from Montana, seven were accepted—a success rate of 30%.”

“Sparsely-populated states aren’t guaranteed big acceptance rates. Brown sent fat envelopes to just 1.5% of 68 applicants from Iowa, and to 5.7% of the 53 from Nebraska. But generally, it appeared to be a major advantage to students if few other people from their home state applied.”

“… Students from California and the Mid-Atlantic region are often overrepresented at elite institutions. New Jersey has less than 3% of the nation’s 15 to 19-year-olds, but contributes roughly 6% of the freshman classes at Caltech, Duke, and Yale, and 12.5% of first-years at Penn. New York is home to 6% of 15 to 19-year-olds nationwide but almost 10% of freshmen at Duke and MIT, and 15% of those at Yale. California, the most-populous state, has 12.5% of 15-19-year-olds but represents 14.2% of first-years at Yale, 18.4% at MIT, and 37.7% at Caltech.”

“But when it comes to admissions … no geographic location can make up for a thoroughly underwhelming application. There are too many qualified candidates. Schools simply don’t admit students who don’t deserve to be there.”


The Ins and Outs of ‘Early Decision’

The Washington Post: “The binding-commitment path known as ‘early decision’ fills roughly half of the freshman seats at highly ranked Vanderbilt, Emory, Northwestern and Tufts universities, as well as Davidson, Bowdoin, Swarthmore and Claremont McKenna colleges, among others, a Washington Post analysis found … The Post found 37 schools where the early-decision share of enrolled freshmen in 2015 was at least 40 percent. At Duke University, the share was 47 percent, and at the University of Pennsylvania, it was 54 percent.”

“Early-decision applicants also enjoy a crucial edge over the regulars: Their admission rates tend to be much higher … At Penn, the admission rate for early applicants was 24 percent for the class that entered in 2015. The total admission rate, early and regular, was 10 percent … Within the Ivy League, Penn appears to be the most aggressive user of the early process. The early-decision share of freshmen at Dartmouth College was about 43 percent. At Brown and Cornell universities, it was about 38 percent.”

“Eric Furda, Penn’s dean of admissions, said the academic credentials of students who win early admission tend to be stronger than those admitted later in the cycle. Furda also said more early-decision students than ever are qualifying for need-based financial aid. These days, nearly as many early-decision freshmen receive need-based grants from Penn as their peers admitted in the regular cycle, he said … While most early-decision admits enroll, a few do not. The most common reason: If a financial aid offer is deemed insufficient, an admitted student may be released from their pledge.”


Stanford Acceptance Rate Drops to Zero

Frank Bruni of The New York Times writes: “Cementing its standing as the most selective institution of higher education in the country, Stanford University announced this week that it had once again received a record-setting number of applications and that its acceptance rate — which had dropped to a previously uncharted low of 5 percent last year — plummeted all the way to its inevitable conclusion of 0 percent. With no one admitted to the class of 2020, Stanford is assured that no other school can match its desirability in the near future.”

“’We had exceptional applicants, yes, but not a single student we couldn’t live without,’ said a Stanford administrator who requested anonymity … News of Stanford’s unprecedented selectiveness sent shock waves through the Ivy League, along with Amherst, Northwestern and at least a dozen other elite schools where, as a consequence, there could be substantial turnover among underperforming deans of admission.”

“At first blush, Stanford’s decision would seem to jeopardize its fund-raising … But over recent years, Stanford administrators noticed that as the school rejected more and more comers, it received bigger and bigger donations, its endowment rising in tandem with its exclusivity, its luster a magnet for Silicon Valley lucre.”


What Admissions Officers Tell Their Own Kids

The New York Times asked admissions officers from nine schools for the advice they give their own children on finding the school that’s right for them. Here is some of their pearly wisdom:

“Knowing who you are provides a protective armor in a process that can be overwhelming. Not only are you inundated with communication from the colleges, everyone you know has an opinion of what is a good college and what is not, and they feel very free to express it. It’s empowering for a teen to be able to say, ‘I’m the kind of person who…’ ” – Diane Anci, Kenyon College.

“Getting those applications in early is the best way to reduce stress senior year. I want them to do well in their academic courses and extracurricular activities and to enjoy that last year of high school. Why spend it struggling with applications? … Think about it strategically: there are thousands of applications and essays to get through. If you get yours in early, the reader may be more relaxed and in a better mood at that point in the process.” – Clark Brigger, Penn State University.

“When my son was applying to schools, I never read his essay. Parents can sometimes do more harm than good with the essay. My advice to students is to first show your essay to a friend and ask, ‘Can you hear my voice in this? Could you pick my essay from a stack of 200?’ The essay doesn’t have to be about something life-changing or confessional. Smaller topics, written well, almost always work best.” – Stephen Farmer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.” – Stuart Schmill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I’m not looking for students to have done any particular activity in the summer; but instead, I’m looking to see how students grew from whatever they undertook. I do see students who are doing magnificent research and that is a great thing. And I see students, like my daughter, who are working as a lifeguard at the pool all summer, and they are both learning from those experiences.” – Laura Simmons, Georgia Institute of Technology

“As my son prepares his college list, I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him. At some point, once you visit two or three schools in a day or five schools a week, they begin to blend, and you definitely want some bread crumbs to remind you of where you’ve been.” – Gil Villanueva, University of Richmond.


Strong Stories Can Overcome Weak Numbers

Writing in The New York Times, Frank Bruni explains how admissions officers at some colleges take the time “to notice details embedded in her letters of recommendation and mentioned fleetingly in bits of personal information.” For example, an applicant to Davidson College had ACT scores and a GPA well below that of most of its students. Her extra-curricular activities were not particularly noteworthy, either.

However: “She’d been reared by a single mother. She had a 6-year-old brother. And for the last few years, she’d spent three nights a week making his dinner and getting him to bed while her mom was at work, earning an income so modest that the teenager met the federal requirements for receiving free lunch at school … And though her high school wasn’t chockablock with counselors, she’d had the good sense to read up on Davidson and, in her application, lay out a mix of cogent, sophisticated reasons that it was right for her … Everything about her suggested maturity, independence, determination.” She got in.

Meanwhile, The Air Force Academy “has a 17 percent acceptance rate … Because it’s free and funded by the government, it feels an extra obligation to be open to all … And because it is preparing its students to be military officers, character matters as much as — if not more than — test scores.” The academy sometimes admits applicants “despite inferior scores, and who nonetheless perform superbly at the academy. One had an ACT of well under 20, and yet she’d earned A’s in A.P. classes at her high school in inner-city Philadelphia.”

“Delving into her background, the administrators concluded that the low ACT was in part a function of a childhood in which she’d bounced around in foster care and even lived with teachers … That she’d nonetheless challenged herself academically and maintained a high grade point average struck academy administrators as remarkable. They admitted her, and she went on to win a coveted award for her performance during basic training. An Academy admissions officer says it’s not about ‘a sad story or a sob story. It’s about: What are the candidates’ life experiences, and how did they react?’”