The List: How Naviance Changes College Choices

EdSurge: “For decades, the college-admissions process has been shrouded in mystery. But these days, big data, and a popular college planning tool, are taking much of the guesswork out of applying to college. That was a major takeaway from Christine Mulhern’s new research on Naviance, a widely-used online college-readiness platform. Mulhern, a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, provides evidence that Naviance’s college research and admissions tools are changing where students apply to college, with the ‘potential to affect higher education on a national scale,’ she wrote on Twitter after unveiling the research.”

“Naviance scattergrams show prospective college students how their peers at their high school fared with individual colleges and universities—and helps provide a sense of how they can expect to perform in the admissions process. For each institution, previous applicants’ GPAs are plotted on the y-axis and their ACT or SAT scores appear on the x-axis. Each applicant’s college decision (accepted, rejected, waitlisted) is denoted with a unique color and symbol, collectively depicting the caliber of student who is typically accepted to a given school.”

“Whittled down, the research shows that more information leads to more applications, and that students rely on their peers’ judgment in helping them determine the right fit for college. But there are some caveats … fewer students applied to so-called reach colleges, where students are less certain of their admissions prospects. Similarly, more apply to and enroll in ‘safety’ institutions, where students feel more confident they will receive an acceptance. Additionally, when high schools create minimums of five or 10 applicants, only the popular institutions appear on the scattergram. Based on what Mulhern found about students applying to colleges with visible scattergrams, it’s reasonable to deduce that the diversity of colleges students apply to could decrease with Naviance.”

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Harvey Mudd: STEM ‘Boot Camp’

Business Insider: “Located in Claremont, California is an 829-person liberal arts college that might go unnoticed to the uninitiated. It’s not a member of the Ivy League, nor does it have the celebrity of Stanford University, its neighbor to the north. In fact, if you’re not familiar with the Claremont Consortium, you’ve probably never heard of the school. Harvey Mudd College is a STEM powerhouse. It routinely shows up on lists that rank the best value colleges and, based on median salary, its graduates out-earn those from Harvard and Stanford about 10 years into their careers.”

“Mudd embraces its academic rigor and describes its core curriculum as a ‘boot camp in the STEM disciplines — math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering — as well as classes in writing and critical inquiry’ that it says ‘gives students a broad scientific foundation and the skills to think and to solve problems across disciplines’.”

“Every entering student must take a computer science class, a rare requirement for a liberal arts college. But Mudders must also graduate with a strong liberal-arts background, taking just as many courses in the humanities as they must in core introductory courses in the sciences.”

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College Lists: There are Apps For That

The Wall Street Journal: “Many websites and apps ask students a lot of questions to generate college lists, but only a few invite them to have a little fun with the process. The iOS app Admittedly quizzes users on their preferences for such factors as walkability or weather. An article on the app headed, ‘The mountains are calling and I must go,’ suggests 10 campuses in hilly terrain. (Admittedly recently launched on the web as myOptions.)”

“The College Fair, a mobile app launched in 2016 under the name Schoold, asks users for academic and personal data, then claims to use Netflix-like algorithms to fine-tune college lists. The app also posts whimsical rankings such as ‘Beyonce’s Short List’ of schools the pop star might like, and ‘Places Where the Professors Know Your Name’.”

“An extensive website called BigFuture, by the nonprofit college-planning concern The College Board, has helpful tools linking students’ interests with potential majors, careers and colleges … The Naviance program, owned by the Cincinnati-based education software company Hobsons, offers a wealth of college- and career-planning tools … It’s well-known for its ‘scatterplots—dot diagrams charting the grades and test scores of students from the same high school who applied to a particular college in the past and showing whether they were admitted. Seeing where your grades and test scores appear in relation to others’ helps students estimate their chances of admission.”

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Campus Tours As ‘Working Vacations’

The New York Times: “Fall is largely celebrated as college football season, but for high school upperclassmen and their families, it’s also college touring season … Here are a few ways to make your college research a vacation, too … given the expense, it is useful to look at the trips, at least in part, as vacations.”

“Some start with spring break trips. High season for college visits follows, during summer vacation. But campuses then are relatively empty … an argument for visits between September and May … Most visits begin with a 60- to 90-minute information session led by an admissions officer. It is invariably chock-full of facts, figures and tips, requiring full concentration. Following that is the relatively breezy campus tour, usually led by a current student adept at walking backward while pointing out the library, cafeterias, dorms and some version of the campus icon that gets painted as a student prank.”

“Campuses are often the cultural focus of college towns, with worthwhile attractions including the music conservatory at Oberlin College in Ohio and the art and natural history museums at Yale. St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Davidson College in North Carolina are among the many that have hiking trails … As with any family trip, it’s not where you go, but whom you’re with. College trips offer concentrated time with your child, when available time is increasingly rare.”

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