Some Schools Are Still Dangling Dollars

The New York Times: “In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is a magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media. This year, however, scores of teenagers had something unexpected happen next: During the first week in May, they received text messages or emails from schools that had accepted them but had not heard back. The messages all hinted at a particular question: Might a larger discount prompt you to come here after all?”

“The upheaval that comes with reopening the college decision is rough on teenagers as well as their parents, who would have to revisit difficult financial choices and conversations all over again. Suddenly, a first-choice school may be almost within reach but still not quite affordable. The injection of money into a discussion thought to be over makes an emotional situation even more fraught … Now that applicants, even in wealthier families, know how much of a stretch college might be, it can weigh them down with guilt.”

“For a portion of the applicant pool, May 1 has not been the date for some time. Many colleges maintain wait lists … And for all the attention families devote to the most competitive institutions, plenty more have space available through summer and invite qualified students to apply. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, or Nacac, publishes a list each year, and this year’s lineup includes household names like Arizona State and Penn State.”

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How Algorithms Are Changing Admissions

The Atlantic: “While few colleges follow the same admissions playbook, they are all taking their cues from the invisible array of algorithms that recommend music on Spotify, movies on Netflix, and books on Amazon. While colleges say the data help to target their marketing efforts, the new methods also explain why students with similar similar academic backgrounds now get varying degrees of outreach from colleges.”

Jeff Goff of Saint Louis University comments: “We needed to focus on finding students who would be a good fit. So when we looked at the demographics of the previous class, we wanted to not only look at the students who chose to enroll at the institution, but those who ended up succeeding and were satisfied. We wanted to know if we could replicate those students.”

“Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has … enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010.”

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The Ivies Become Even More Selective

The Wall Street Journal: “Some of America’s most exclusive colleges have become even more exclusive. The eight members of the Ivy League on Thursday evening released details of which lucky young adults were selected to join their first-year classes come fall, and with just one exception they received more applications than the prior year. As most didn’t increase their class sizes, acceptance rates declined.”

“Harvard University topped the exclusivity chart with a 5.2% acceptance rate, as the school offered spots to 2,056 of a record 39,506 applicants. Columbia, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell also boasted their largest freshman applicant pools in history, and acceptance rates dropped to 5.8%, 6.1%, 8.3%, 9.2% and 12.5%, respectively. Dartmouth College was the only Ivy to see a decline in applications … it accepted slightly fewer students, so the admit rate declined to 10.4% from 10.5%.”

“Despite the ballooning application numbers and dwindling chances of being accepted, many admissions officials say they’re getting less elitist in at least some regards. For example, Harvard noted that about 15.1% of the students it admitted would be first-generation college students after a concerted effort to appeal to more such students whose parents didn’t attend college. At Princeton, that share was 18.9%, also amid a push to expand its student body’s socioeconomic diversity.”

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Rejection & The Art of Disappointment

The Wall Street Journal: “Claudia Vulliamy, of London, had several rounds of interviews and an overnight stay at Oxford University, where she wanted to study classics. While hopeful, she prepared herself for bad news, but was ‘quite disappointed’ when the letter from Oxford arrived saying she didn’t make it. She texted her mother, Louisa Saunders. When Ms. Saunders arrived home, she said Claudia was ‘relatively chipper.’ She had taken the Oxford letter and cut out key phrases— ‘after careful consideration’ … ‘sorry not to have better news’ … ‘not been possible to offer you a place’ … ‘no longer under consideration’—and incorporated them into a painting.”

“Claudia wasn’t going to show it to anyone else, but when her mother reacted so positively, she decided to share it with friends on Facebook … Friends, who likewise received rejection letters, were cheered, says Claudia … Her mother tweeted it, saying: ‘Yesterday, my daughter learned that she hadn’t got into Oxford. By the time I got in from work, she’d made this from her rejection letter.’ It was retweeted about 52,000 times.”

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When Followers are Leaders

Susan Cain: “If college admissions offices show us whom and what we value, then we seem to think that the ideal society is composed of Type A’s. This is perhaps unsurprising, even if these examples come from highly competitive institutions. It’s part of the American DNA to celebrate those who rise above the crowd … So now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can. It’s no longer enough to be a member of the student council; now you have to run the school.”

“But many students I’ve spoken with read ‘leadership skills’ as a code for authority and dominance and define leaders as those who ‘can order other people around.’ And according to one prominent Ivy League professor, those students aren’t wrong; leadership, as defined by the admissions process, too often ‘seems to be restricted to political or business power.’ She says admissions officers fail to define leadership as ‘making advances in solving mathematical problems’ or ‘being the best poet of the century’.”

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.”

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The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”

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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.”

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Colleges Offer Career Help For Liberal-Arts Majors

US News: “Unlike an undergraduate degree in a technical field such as nursing, engineering or business, liberal arts students tend to be exposed less to direct career messaging within their disciplines, experts say … In recent years, schools have developed courses or programs tailored toward helping these students enter the workforce, college career advisers say, and many of these programs rely heavily on alumni networks.”

“UConn piloted its alumni mentor program for its liberal arts college students, now used by 200 students, almost two years ago. Under the program, upperclassmen self-select an online alumni mentor for career support, asking questions related to internships, resumes or jobs … Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with nearly 2,400 students, offers day trips to major cities for students to network with alumni at their workplaces … For the visit to the Big Apple, students networked with alumni, who worked at several different large companies, such as Deloitte, NBCUniversal and MTV.”

“Programs to enhance the value of a liberal arts discipline aren’t limited to smaller schools. The University of Iowa has been offering these types of courses, which are available to its 23,357 undergraduates, for more than two years … In some of the courses, the UI spokesman says, students learn how to write a resume and develop job interview skills.”

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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.”

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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.”

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