IECA 2019: Where College Consultants Confer

When about 1,500 people who do roughly the same thing for a living get together, the effect is both stimulating and surreal. We knew only a handful of the college admissions consultants in attendance at the 2019 IECA Spring Conference in Chicago, but instantly felt at home in a community that is remarkable for its collaborative spirit and willingness to share. This might come as a surprise to those who think of the college process as cut-throat, but not to anyone who truly understands that getting into a great school is not a zero-sum game, and only the tiniest fraction is angling to get into the most elite colleges and universities.

For everyone else, a cornucopia of some 3,000 institutions of higher learning await, more than just a few of which would be a great place for anyone.

Most of our three days was spent in any number of breakout sessions, where college consultants geek-out on subjects only they could love, or loathe. Sure, there was the inevitable banter about the college admissions scandal, but not too much because it isn’t relevant to our mission to help hard-working students become the best versions of themselves. Some sessions held general appeal, such as one on the admissions essay and another on understanding financial aid. Others were strictly for insiders, like dissecting the relationship between independent and school counselors, or how to manage and grow a college consulting business.

Sandwiched in between were tabletop exhibits from a range of exhibitors with products and services meant to support the college admissions process, as well as prep schools and colleges eager to work with counselors to help them identify ideal prospective students.

Two real highlights were speeches by Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, and Arne Duncan, a former U.S. Secretary of Education.

Zimmer’s message centered on mission and values, with his key point being that while values don’t change, how they manifest themselves can. He spoke about critical thinking, originality, and impact on society, stressing the imperative to argue, challenge assumptions, test ideas and embrace complexity. Such values, rooted in free expression, should not change, and yet on too many college campuses today, Zimmer said, the pressure is on to limit speech.

On the flipside, fulfilling a mission can require change, as is apparent when it comes to ensuring diversity within the academic community, racially, economically, and globally. Doing so requires changing financial aid requirements and initiating programs to attract students from different backgrounds. Finally, Zimmer talked about connecting academics to the real world, by developing careers programs, summer internships, bridging the gaps between intellectual pursuits, solving complex challenges and making a difference.

Arne Duncan emphasized the same connection between college and careers, calling it a both/and situation, not and/or. He also offered a vision that would expand the traditional K-12 model into a pre-K-14 construct, noting the value of starting earlier. Moreover, while a high school diploma is critical (there are zero jobs for dropouts, he said), Duncan argued that completing 12th grade is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of jobs today and tomorrow, which will go where the knowledge workers are.

Duncan called it “mind blowing” that college costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, adding: “College is not a scarce resource.” He also said it was more important what you do when you’re there than the name of the university. A school’s reputation, he continued, should be based on how many students it includes, not how many it keeps out. “It’s no badge of honor to say you can’t come through our doors.”

He was met with a sustained standing ovation.

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Safe Crate: HPU Student Launches Move-In Solution

Fox 8 News: “After seeing and experiencing his own painful moving days, Ryan Gilbert thought there had to be an easier way of bringing your clothes, shoes and office supplies to campus. ‘I noticed that whenever session happened, people tend to downsize and they need storage,’ Gilbert said … He got to work building a system where students can store what they need. And when they return to campus, they can simply pick up their storage unit and unload it. Gilbert went through many prototypes until he found the perfect shape. Sixty-inches tall, 54-inches long, 26-inches wide crates that can hold clothes, supplies and a dorm fridge. Plus the crate rolls. So it can easily fit onto elevators and down dorm hallways.”

“To get his business off the ground, Gilbert pitched his idea at High Point University’s Business Plan Competition. He won the $9,500 first place award. Gilbert named the company Safe Crate … Gilbert explained that Safe Crate will open this summer. High Point University students will be able to pack their dorm items into a crate and have it stored at at climate-controlled warehouse over the summer. Students will be able to pick up their secured crates when they return in the fall. Gilbert said he is making plans to expand beyond High Point University … Gilbert is also running another company. Crate Systems, which sells the storage units he created to larger storage companies.”

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Instagram is like Facebook for Freshmen

Taylor Lorenz: “By the time many college freshmen arrive on campus this fall, they’ll have already met their roommate, their core friends, and many of their classmates on Instagram. They’re connecting through class accounts, Instagram pages set up by one or several incoming members of a college’s freshman class to help everyone meet before the school year officially starts. These accounts have names such as @penn2023_and @AUclassof2023, and they typically feature user-submitted photos and paragraph-long biographies of incoming students, often including their intended major, whether they’re looking for a roommate, and their personal Instagram handle … Many class accounts spawned Instagram group chats in which students not only find roommates, but also figure out plans for orientation, discuss rush, and debate whether or not there are good parties for freshmen.”

“Connecting college students is what Facebook was built for. Since that social network began allowing high schoolers to join in 2006, teenagers have used it to meet other incoming freshmen at college … Yet all the teenagers I spoke to said that they couldn’t imagine a Facebook version of class pages. In fact, several said they’d signed up for Facebook only in the past couple of months, so they could join the official Facebook group that their college’s admissions department created.”

Alexis Queen, who runs Harvard’s class account, comments: “I didn’t start using Facebook until I got in in December, and that was the case for my friends too … The most popular post in our admission group is just, ‘Comment your Instagram handle.’ Facebook is just an easy way to find people on Instagram.”

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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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Maryland Students ‘Crowdfund’ Tuition

The Baltimore Sun: “Thousands of students … have increasingly taken advantage of crowdsourcing platforms to help them cope with steady increases in tuition and fees in Maryland and across the country … The number of education-related campaigns has increased each year since GoFundMe launched in 2010, said spokeswoman Heidi Hagberg. She said that more than $70 million a year has been raised on the platform for educational initiatives, with more than 100,000 annual fundraisers for causes ranging from teachers’ back-to-school drives to students’ college tuition.”

“GoFundMe hosted twice as many campaigns in 2017 as in the previous year related to college tuition in Maryland, Hagberg said in an email. And according to GoFundMe data from the 2016-2017 academic year, the most recent available, about $1.5 million was raised for Marylanders’ educational purposes in roughly 3,200 campaigns.”

“John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami business school and an expert in consumer behavior, said widespread acknowledgement of the onerous nature of paying for college motivates many students to feel comfortable publicizing their need.”

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College Coupons: Some Schools Discount Tuition

The Wall Street Journal: “Escalating the heated battle for students, some private colleges are offering to match public in-state tuition … The discounts aren’t limited to private schools. Public universities in Michigan, South Dakota and Nebraska now let students from other states pay as if they were locals.”

“Some colleges, facing dwindling populations of local high school graduates, are motivated to attract students from across the country. Others are battling the perception they aren’t affordable or looking to boost their academic profiles.”

“The price-match guarantee, a sales tactic borrowed from retailers, illustrates how fiercely competitive higher education has become. It also adds to the confusion over how much college really costs, especially at private schools. Although the pricing campaigns suggest major savings, already generous financial-aid packages mean the net price for many students won’t change by much.”

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Freshman Friends: A Key To Coping in College

Quartz: “A 2008 poll conducted by the Associated Press and mtvU found that 40% of college students said they felt stress regularly—and almost one in five seriously considered dropping out of school. With those high stress levels in mind, the researchers, including Stanford economics professor Matthew Jackson and former Stanford doctoral candidate Desmond Ong, put nearly 200 Stanford freshmen—who had recently moved into first-year dorms—through a battery of personality tests and questionnaires.”

“Their goal was to determine which students occupied central roles in these different networks—notably groups based on trust, fun, and excitement. The researchers found that individuals were more particular about whom they included in their trust networks compared to groups related to fun and excitement. In those selective trust networks, freshmen were more likely to include highly empathic students. In contrast, when students wanted to feel positive and have fun, they were more likely to seek out dorm mates high in happiness.”

“Just as you need the right outfit for a particular occasion, college freshmen need certain friends for certain situations. When you need a dose of fun, engaging with a positive and happy friend can lift your mood. But that friend may not be the best person to go to when you need someone to confide in. An empathic friend, on the other hand, may be just the right person for helping you through difficult and challenging times.”

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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.”

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Which Schools Are The Best Investment?

Business Insider: PayScale’s College ROI Report helps students “decide which school is the best fit for their career goals and their financial situation … PayScale says, however, that this doesn’t mean students should pursue only majors with the highest earning potential or make decisions about where to attend school based solely off college ROI rankings. They need to do what will make them happy — but it doesn’t hurt to be educated on their potential return.”

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