Nov 5, 2019

Headlines from NACAC’s 2019 State of College Admission

Every year, the Arlington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) surveys its members to get a picture of what’s happening in the world of college admissions. Their results are compiled in NACAC’s State of College Admission, which essentially examines the “transition from high school to postsecondary education” and features data collected from school counselors as well as admissions staff at colleges and universities across the country.

This year, 2345 school counseling offices responded to the Counseling Trends Survey (CTS), of which 85% were public, 6% private non-parochial and 10% private parochial. The Admissions Trends Survey (ATS) was subdivided into two parts—one went to admission offices and the other went to institutional research (IR) offices. NACAC received 447 institutional responses for an overall response rate of 35% out of 1263 colleges contacted.

While the report provides a good overall snapshot of the state of the college admission industry, a few specific headlines are worth noting:  
  1. College applications increased by 6 percent. The Higher Education Research Institute reports that 36% of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges. And according to the Admission Trends Survey, the average number of applications for each admission office staff member for Fall 2017 was 1035 for public institutions and 461 for private institutions. It’s no are increasingly turning to enrollment management software for support.

  2. Colleges and universities accept two-thirds of applicants. Despite how it feels to the average high school student, the average selectivity rate among colleges surveyed was 66.7% for Fall 2017. This rate has actually increased from a low of 63.9% in Fall 2012.

  3. Average yield rate holds steady after long decline. Over the past ten years, average yield (percent of students accepting an offer of admission) has steadily declined from 48% in Fall 2007 to 33.7% in Fall 2017. While yield rates mean little to most prospective students, accurately predicting yield is critical to admissions professionals hoping to avoid either over- or under-enrollment. Having this metric stay steady is a big deal for those charged with crunching the numbers.

  4. Email tops the list of recruitment strategies. Colleges have a wide range of tools available for connecting with prospective applicants. Not surprisingly, contacting them through email and engaging with them through the institution’s website or by hosting campus visits were the most “important.”

  5. Early decision increased in 2018. Twenty-five percent of respondents to the Admission Trends Survey offer Early Decision (ED). Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018, colleges reported an average increase of 11% in the number of ED applicants and 10% in ED admits.

  6. Early action also increased. Thirty-eight percent of colleges responding to the ATS offered early action options. For Fall 2018, 45% of applications to colleges with early action plans were received through EA. But average yield rate for EA admits was nearly identical to that of the overall pool (25% and 24% respectively). From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018, the number of EA applications increased by 10%, while the number of students accepted through EA increased by 9%.

  7. Likelihood of wait list acceptance remains low. While wait list activity generally increased, the odds of getting admitted from the wait list were still pretty low. For the Fall 2018 admission cycle, 43% of colleges reported using a wait list and placing an average of 10% of all applicants on the wait list. An average 50% of waitlisted students opted to stay on the wait list, while colleges admitted only about 20% of these hopefuls.

  8. Admissions offices identify grades and curriculum as top factors in admissions. For decades, academic performance in high school has been the most important consideration in freshman admission. In fact the relative importance of many admissions decision factors have remained “remarkably” stable over time. Notable exceptions would include the declining importance of class rank and interviews.

  9. Student-to-counselor ratios remain outrageous. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2016-17 each public school counselor was responsible for overseeing a caseload of 455 students, on average. This number greatly exceeds the 250:1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. Only New Hampshire and Vermont had ratios below the ASCA’s recommended standard (220 and 202 respectively). The states with the highest number of students per school counselor included Arizona (905), Michigan (741), Illinois (686), California (663) and Minnesota (659).

  10. Private schools devote more time to college counseling. College admissions counseling is only one of myriad responsibilities shouldered by school counselors. Counseling staff at private schools spend an average of 31% of their time on college counseling, while their colleagues in public schools spend only 19% of their time on that task.

Oct 9, 2019

Students vote ‘no confidence’ in college admissions

More than a simple distraction or a salacious news story featuring lots of celebs, the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal is definitely having an impact on the way students view college admissions. In high schools across the country, they are voting ‘no confidence’ in colleges and the college admissions process.

According to a recent Kaplan survey of over 300 “aspiring” college students polled over email, 57% say they are concerned they won’t be treated fairly in the admissions process. Specifically, they believe their spots at top colleges might be given to less qualified applicants because of personal connections to the institution.

In fact, nearly a quarter of these students claims they know someone they think is less qualified than they are, but who received “preferential treatment” in admissions because of family wealth or connections.

For those who have somehow been shielded from the daily tabloid-style updates on who is going to which jail, the Varsity Blues scandal involved a handful of very wealthy families with enough disposable income to cheat their way into elite colleges by manipulating applications, fixing text scores and otherwise using influence to ensure admission for their children.

And the story clearly hit a nerve, as what students applying to highly-selective schools thought they knew turned into fact—some families of privilege exercise that privilege to obtain positive admissions outcomes. 

One student who planned to apply to only “top” colleges explained in his survey response, “I know numerous people that have connections to my top school, whereas I do not. I am especially concerned because I have a greater SAT score than them [sic], but they will have an upper hand and be admitted.”

Another student was more circumspect and remarked, “In light of the admission scandals, colleges will be more attentive and aware of these types of schemes. Also, considering a number of the parents who were caught and punished, I don’t believe that this will be a large problem in the future.”
The second student may be right.

In a separate Kaplan survey of 322 top colleges and universities (as defined by USNWR), admissions reps suggest that the corrupt practices exposed in the scandal are relatively rare. Less than a quarter (24%) describes the activities as common. 

And only 11% say they were ever pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet admissions requirements because of who that applicant was or to whom they were connected—a significant drop from the 25% who suggested they were pressured to do so in a Kaplan survey just five years ago.

Nevertheless, colleges are worried about perceptions—their image among students making the decision whether or not to apply. Of the group surveyed, 49% think the scandal may have done long-term harm to the public image of the college admission process, while 37% don’t think it has and 14% aren’t sure.

When asked how colleges can convince families that the admissions process is not “rigged” against them, admissions officers were “largely unable to provide any specific policy prescriptions, but the theme of transparency was mentioned often.”

While the call for transparency seems like a logical, albeit a little disingenuous, response to the scandal, not everyone is so sure how it can be achieved.

And so it wasn’t surprising that the issue of how to achieve greater transparency in admissions lurked just below the surface of many discussions taking place during the 2019 NACAC Conference, in Louisville. 

At a session dedicated to the Varsity Blues scandal moderated by Jeffrey Selingo, a DC-based journalist currently with The Atlantic, panelists wrestled with the idea of transparency—whether transparency was possible or even a good idea—when at the end of the day college admissions “is actually not a fair system” (Sacha Thieme, Indiana University).

Tongue in cheek, Jim Jump, of St. Christopher’s School in Virginia, added, “I’m not sure we want people to know how the sausage is made.”

Although several panelists suggested that the complexity of admissions works against complete transparency, they agreed that colleges can and should do more to help the public understand how applicants are selected, especially in context of competing institutional goals and the very real financial pressures institutions face. 

And the question was raised as to how to be transparent in a constantly evolving process, when even enrollment managers can’t predict what their processes will look like over time. Several panelists pointed out that applicant pools and other factors change each year rendering these processes anything but static.

“Mystery creates mistrust, and in the absence of a narrative, the public creates their own,” said Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College, in Connecticut.
And as a result, the public has created a narrative of a system rigged against the average college applicant. 

Summing up the recent survey findings, Sam Prichard, Kaplan’s director of college prep programs, concludes, “Applicants deserve better.”

Oct 5, 2019

Got talent? Don’t miss college fairs for students in the visual and performing arts!

Students who excel in visual and performing arts have amazing opportunities to develop their talents in a variety of post-secondary arts programs.

And if you’re in this very select group, colleges, universities, festivals and conservatories want to introduce themselves at a series of special college fairs and portfolio review sessions.

This fall, high school singers, dancers, and artists should consider attending one of 26 Performing and Visual Arts (PVA) College Fairs sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

Or if you are more narrowly interested in visual arts, the National Portfolio Day Association (NPDA) sponsors a series of Portfolio Days in 26 US and Canadian cities.

NACAC’s PVA College Fairs are targeted to students interested in pursuing undergraduate or graduate study in music, theater, art, dance, or other related disciplines.

These fairs assemble groups of experts who provide information on educational opportunities, admission requirements, and financial aid. They also advise on portfolio development and auditions.

Free and open to the public, PVA College Fairs do not require pre-registration, although the opportunity to register is offered online. And a list of participating institutions is provided with registration.

An entirely separate program, NPDA Portfolio Days offer opportunities for students to receive free advice, counseling, and critique from some of the best academics in the art business.

Upcoming Portfolio Days are scheduled in major cities across the country from Boston to San Francisco, and they traditionally wrap up in January at the Ringling College of Art & Design, in Sarasota, Florida.

And these are pretty incredible events. Students drive long distances to stand in lines clutching portfolios, paintings, sculpture, pottery, and other creations. They bring sketchbooks, works in progress, and finished pieces—some small and others quite large. It’s an amazing experience!

At the head of each line, experts from National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)-accredited colleges take considerable time to offer support and constructive criticism, as well as to give pointers on how to build a portfolio. No one is hurried, and every question is answered. Several (not all) participating schools even accept portfolios on the spot as the visual portion of an individual application.

Also free and open to the public, Portfolio Days require no registration and operate on a first come, first served basis. Note that sometimes the lines can be quite long!

Although PVA College Fairs and NPDA Portfolio days generally attract high school students, some Portfolio Days are now labeled “graduate.” Check the website for more details.

And be aware that high school programs are not just for seniors. Underclassmen are strongly encouraged to get a head start by taking advantage of the opportunity to get free advising from experts in the arts.

More information on Portfolio Days may be found on the NPDA website. A complete schedule of PVA College Fairs as well as terrific advice on the application process for performing and visual arts students is provided on the NACAC website.

And for the “backstory” on the college arts scene, be sure to check out the 2019 Guide to Performing & Visual Arts Colleges which is offered as a free digital download by TeenLife Magazine.

Sep 11, 2019

Resumes continue to add value in the college admissions process

Note: This is an update of an article posted last year.

High school students who invest time creating résumés may be handsomely rewarded in the college admission process. Of the Common Application member colleges and universities that are “live” as of this writing, at least 272 — or about one-third — have made specific provisions for submitting this handy document.

Résumés haven’t always been so popular. In fact, there remains a lingering controversy over the appropriateness of asking students to develop and maintain résumés throughout high school. And many colleges are quite deliberate about not including them as part of their applications.

In her blog on college admissions at the University of Virginia, Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde makes a point of repeating, “The Common App has a résumé upload function and lets each school decide whether they want to use it. We are one of the schools that turned that function off. We prefer the Common App activity section to the various ways people choose to present their activities on résumés.”

On its website, Duke University clearly states, Please note that Duke will not accept resumes for the 2019-2020 application process.” And Tufts agrees, “Keep in mind that the Common Application is your one chance to show your extracurricular engagements: we are not able to accept a supplemental resume of activities.”

But they are in the minority, and many college advisers and lots of colleges very much disagree.

“Almost as soon as I start guiding a student through college planning, I learn about the student’s interests and hobbies and discuss the importance of extracurricular commitment in and out of school – both for college admission and life enrichment. That naturally leads to an analysis of student engagement and the creation and continual updating of a résumé,” said Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner in Palm Beach and Broward counties, Florida. “The résumé becomes far more than a list of activities. Rather, it highlights a student’s special accomplishments, focusing on major themes in her life that set her apart from her peers —what she has done, why, how, and, most especially, leadership, initiative, creativity, and how these actions have impacted lives (hers and others’).”

Robinovitz adds, “Here’s an important secret: when you share a thoughtfully prepared and detailed résumé with anyone who will write a recommendation, you’re likely to get a stronger and more anecdotal piece of writing that supports your application. Plus, through résumé creation now, we lay critical groundwork for undergraduate summer job and internship applications – and ultimately, for graduate school and vocational opportunities. And the résumé certainly facilitates a more impactful presentation on the activities page of both the Common and Coalition Applications.”
In other words, a résumé represents an opportunity to collect, keep track of and reflect on accomplishments. And it’s likely to be a document the student will maintain, using different formats and styles, through college and beyond.

But there’s no reason to include a résumé with a college application if it totally duplicates information contained in other parts of the application, unless of course, the school specifically asks for one. And plenty of colleges outside of the Common App system do, such as Georgetown University and MIT.

For students using the Common Application, basic extracurricular-related information may be presented in the Activities section, which provides space to describe involvement in ten activities. Within each activity, the Position/Leadership blank allows 50 characters to give a solid indication of your position and the name of the organization in which you participate. A second box allows 150 characters to provide insight into what you’ve done and any distinctions you earned.

The Coalition provides space for Activities/Experience in the Profile section of the application. Students may enter up to eight activities and are asked to specify “the two experiences outside of your academic program that are most important to you.” For each activity, the student is allowed 64 characters for the activity/experience name (Cashier, Wegmans Grocery Store, Fairfax VA), as well as 255 characters for “a description of your experience” and an additional 255 characters to “List any individual distinctions you earned in this activity or experience.”  

Students using the Universal College Application (UCA) may enter up to seven “Extracurricular, Personal and Volunteer Activities” and up to five employers or job-related activities for a total of 12 entries. While the characters allowed are more limited (35 for extracurricular and 32 for jobs), students are encouraged to provide more details in the Additional Information section.

But for some students, these activities sections are still limiting and don’t provide enough of an opportunity to showcase specific accomplishments or direct attention to relevant online content. In this case, the applicant has a couple of options. 

First, check college-specific questions for additional opportunities to provide details about extracurricular activities. This is where some Common App members have made provisions for an upload of a fully-formatted résumé. These include:
  • Boston College
  • Brandeis University
  • Brown University
  • Bucknell University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • George Mason University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Kenyon College
  • Lafayette College
  • Macalester College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Northeastern University
  • Northwestern University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Santa Clara University
  • Trinity College
  • Tulane University
  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Vanderbilt University
Coalition members providing for résumés place the option in the Upload section of the application. Some examples are
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Colgate University
  • Drew University
  • Florida State University
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas-Austin
  • Vassar College
  • Washington University in St. Louis
Note that a handful of Coalition members placed their Additional Information questions in the upload section of the application and seem to invite documents such as résumés. Similarly, the UCA provides for fully-formatted résumés by allowing PDFs to be uploaded in the Additional Information section of the application. But before acting on this plan, it’s wise to check with the college first to see if they’d like a copy of your résumé as part of your application for admission. They may not!

In addition to asking outright for a résumé, a number of institutions make provisions for an applicant to provide a URL on the Coalition or Common Application. The UCA not only dedicates a question to this, but also makes the response conveniently “clickable” for the application reader. This is another way students may provide a résumé on a personal website or via Linked In.

And sometimes colleges specify they only want a résumé as part of a “portfolio” or “arts supplement” submitted through a separate portal. Columbia University and Princeton University are among those falling into this category.

A résumé can be a very powerful document for pushing your college candidacy forward. It can serve to color between the lines or provide extra detail beyond what may be crammed into a standardized application form. It can also serve as vehicle for showcasing links to websites, blogs, videos or other online media.

If given the opportunity, use it. But make sure it reflects well on you and contains accurate and up-to-date information.

For lists of colleges providing for résumé uploads and/or those asking for URLs on their applications, email: