Mar 25, 2013

Surviving March Madness

More than ever before, the process of rolling out admissions decisions seems to be going on forever. Starting in early December and relentlessly continuing through the end of March, the lines between early and regular or deferred and waitlisted have definitely become blurred. 

And the focus has been even less defined by the proliferation of “likely” letters and relentlessly encouraging emails from admissions offices anxious to get a leg up on the competition.

Still money is on everyone’s mind with final decisions often taking second seat to financial aid packages, which have been notably slow to arrive.

Yes, the time-honored tradition of waiting beside the mailbox for a "fat" envelope has largely been replaced by runs to the computer lab or a mad dash upstairs for a peek at results flashed on a computer screen.

And with all the madness came the gaming. Because no decision could be taken for granted, students hedged their bets by submitting increased numbers of applications resulting in an embarrassment of riches or a heightened sense of failure driven by repeated rejection.

Although the ease of electronic applications may have facilitated the practice, anxiety drove it.

Then there are the lingering issues of how colleges will view “full pay” candidates and what strategies will be used to distribute scarce financial aid resources as colleges establish priorities somewhere between merit and need.

Seniors may be experiencing the madness first hand, but underclassmen who are "on deck" should be taking notes.

So here is some advice: the real key to surviving the next few weeks is to not let any admissions decision define you. The college admissions process for some schools has become nothing short of a crap shoot—pardon the language.

No one, not even college admissions staff, has a clear rationale for why certain students are admitted and others are not.

Harvard’s dean of admission, William Fitzsimmons, routinely reminds students that his office could go through the application screening process, carefully select a class, set it aside, and then start all over again and still have an equally competitive freshman class. It’s just that arbitrary sometimes.

And when all is said and done—does it really matter? Study after study has shown that it’s not where you go to college that counts as much as what you do once you get there. Success is all about hard work and perseverance and has little to do with credentials or prestige.

As the trickle of decisions slowly becomes a flood over the next few weeks, it will become apparent that students who took the time to research colleges and determine which represented the best possible “fit” will realize the best results.

Those who used the US News rankings as their primary guide to colleges probably will not do as well.

So, take joy in good news and don’t dwell on the bad.

Offer support to friends and continue to weigh your decisions carefully before eventually settling on the offer you accept. Pursue waitlists if you want, but look carefully at what you’ve already got before spending too much emotional energy in that direction.

And if at all possible, visit and revisit.  Spend the night, attend class, and envision your next four years.
Let the admissions folks make their case as to why you should attend their school. If money is a problem, contact the financial aid office and courteously explain your situation.

Between now and May 1st, you’re in the driver’s seat with the schools that admitted you, and they will work hard to “earn your business.”

Keep that in mind and enjoy the moment.

Mar 24, 2013

Princeton Dean Janet Rapelye Makes her Screen Debut in “Admission”

Princeton University
If you blinked at just the right moment, you might have missed Princeton Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye’s big screen debut in “Admission,” a newly-released comedy starring Tina Fey.

Hitting local theaters the weekend before admissions decisions are due to be sent to thousands of Ivy hopefuls, “Admission” pokes fun at an admissions process that appears to benefit wealthy, connected or otherwise “distinctive” students.  

And the film makes admissions professionals look a little self-centered, silly, and very disconnected from the students over whom they hold great power.

Even the tour guide is insufferable, but very familiar if you’ve ever had the experience of walking a campus with an undergrad who applied to 21 colleges and got into all 21 after achieving perfect SAT scores and founding several nonprofit organizations—as we did several years ago during a tour of none other than Princeton University.

But Dean Rapelye’s appearance midway through the movie in a scene with Tina Fey proves that even admissions professionals can take a joke at their own expense.

According to insiders at Focus Features, the on-campus footage shot at Princeton was left toward the end of production.  With full cooperation from the university, various campus locales such as Blair Arch, Whig Hall, Holder Court, and Firestone plaza were captured on camera.

And as evident from the rhododendron in bloom, access to campus facilities became feasible after school-year classes ended.

Along with Dean Rapelye, Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, soon-to-retire university president, and Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr., whose history with Princeton was told in the Academy Award winning film, “A Beautiful Mind,” also stopped by the set but stayed out of camera range.

Focus Features reports that scenes during which final admissions decisions were hotly debated and voted on were shot on a soundstage—the real Princeton committee room does not feature a trap door or so we are assured.

For admissions junkies, another cameo appearance worth noting was the on-screen close-up of Admissions Matters, an outstanding guidebook authored by Sally Springer, Jon Reider, and Marion Franck, who just finished a third edition due out in coming weeks. A handful of other guides and one poor bonsai tree completed the backdrop.

Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, who graduated from Dartmouth and was a part time reader for Princeton’s Office Admission during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, “Admission” touches on a familiar range of human emotion that surface during the college application process.  And it’s good we can laugh about it.

“I did apply to Princeton, because it was a dream of my mother’s that one day I would try to go there,” Tina Fey reveals to Focus Features.  “I was a good student, but I wasn’t ‘Princeton material,’ as Wallace Shawn’s character [Shawn plays the dean] would say…So I did not get into Princeton, but I went to a great school—the University of Virginia.

While it may be a little scary if you’re waiting for a real decision from Princeton, “Admission” is a funny film with a good message—more about a parent’s love than college admissions.

Mar 22, 2013

UVa admits 8,528 for the Class of 2017

University of Virginia

Minutes after the admissions folks at the University of Virginia pushed the button releasing decisions last night, the “regulars” on College Confidential began lighting up the discussion board.

“Accepted! So elated! Really nice news after a waitlist and two rejections!” crowed one happy admit from New Jersey.

“Soo happy that I’ll have an opportunity to study in the university Thomas Jefferson built,” exclaimed another.

But the news wasn’t universally good. 

“I live in Northern Virginia and we have always said that we don't know WHO gets into UVA. Someone here or there, but honestly it's a long shot for most people,” mused yet another.

And for those who thought there is “no rhyme or reason” to the decisions, Jeannine Lalonde, senior assistant dean of admission (Dean J) is always quick to point out, “We dedicate months to this process and arrive at decisions after collaboration and discussion.”

To give the decisions some context, Dean J posted preliminary numbers for this year and recommended that admissions junkies with a real “need to know” could research numbers as far back as 1977 on the webpage maintained by the UVa Office of Institutional Assessment.

But the simple comparison with 2012 is interesting enough. Last year at this time, UVa reported receiving 28,272 applications (this number later decreased to 27,186) and made initial offers to 7,758 students. Including those pulled from the wait list, the total number of offers for the Class of 2016 was 8,039, of whom 3,446 eventually enrolled.

For this year’s class, the total number of applications went up to 29,005, with the number of in-state applicants increasing slightly from 8,788 reported this time last year to 8,831.

But the bulk of the increase in applications came from out-of-state students who submitted a grand total of 20,174 applications.

To provide for a larger class size, the admissions increased offers to 8,528—almost 10 percent more than last year. Of these offers, 3,594 went to Virginians (3,403 last year), and 4,934 went to out-of-state students (4,355 last year). Overall, the initial admission rate went up from 27 percent in 2012 to 29 percent in 2013.

There was no discussion on Dean J’s blog of the size of this year’s wait list. Last year, the wait list increased to 4,493 applicants, 2,540 of whom accepted spots. According to numbers provided for the Common Data Set, 287 were ultimately admitted from the wait list.

In any event, here are all the "unofficial" numbers released today by the UVa admissions office:

Total number of applications: 29,005 (up from 28,272 last year)
Total number of VA applications: 8,831 (up from 8,788 last year)
Total number of out-of-state applications: 20,174 (up from 19,484)

Overall offers:
8,528 (7,758 this time last year)
Total VA offers: 3,3,594 or 40.7% of resident applications (3,403/39.4% last year)
Total out-of-state offers:  4,934 or 24.5% of nonresident applications (4,355/23.4% last year)

The offers for nonresidents are higher because historic yield—or percent of students accepting offers—for nonresidents is generally lower.

Dean J also reports that the middle 50% SAT score for admitted students was 1990-2230. And 95.3 percent of the students receiving offers of admission were in the top 10 percent of their class.

“Regardless of what your status page says, you are going to be just fine,” concludes Dean J. “You are going to attend a great school and you are going to grow tremendously while there.”


Mar 21, 2013

Money Concerns produce Stress among College Applicants and their Families

Two surveys released in two days confirm what families already know—it’s all about the money.  And money worries produce high levels of stress.

According to The Princeton Review’s (PR) 2013 “College Hopes & Worries Survey”—an annual poll of college applicants and parents of applicants—stress levels are up while cost remains a driving factor in college selection.

In fact, 79 percent said the state of the economy has affected their decisions about college—up 4 percent from 2012.

These findings exactly parallel survey results published yesterday by Inside Higher Ed, in which two-thirds of parents surveyed said they are very or somewhat likely to restrict the colleges to which their children apply because of concerns about costs.

And reflecting the feelings of many students, one PR survey respondent from Phoenix, AZ volunteered, “Getting into college is the easy part.  Paying for it, on the other hand, is difficult.”

Since 2003, The Princeton Review has polled college-bound students and their parents on issues related to the application process and what they hope—or afraid—will happen as the process draws to a close. 

Versions of the 2013 survey appeared in The Best 377 Colleges and ran on The Princeton Review website where the form could be completed online. Survey results reflected the views of 14,125 respondents (9,955 students and 4,170 parents) from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Among those responding to the survey, 89 percent said financial aid would be “very necessary” (up three percent from last year), and within that group, 66 percent marked financial aid as “extremely” necessary (a five percent increase over 2012). 

And not surprisingly, 97 percent reported having college application stress—69 percent gauged their stress levels as “High” or “Very High.”

Here are some of the other findings from the 2013 Princeton Review College Hopes & Worries Survey:
  • Stanford University was most frequently named by parents and students as their “dream college”—absent questions of admission and cost.
  • The biggest worry about applying to/attending college is “Level of debt incurred to pay for college” (39 percent).  In the previous two years, the answer most selected was “Will get into first-choice college, but won’t have sufficient funds/aid to attend.”  In 2009, it was “Won’t get into first-choice college.”
  • Parents typically estimate college will cost far more than what students think.
  • Most students (44 percent) applied to between 5 and 8 colleges, but 22 percent applied to 9 or more schools with 5 percent applying to 13 or more schools.
  • 51 percent saw the main benefit of a college degree as a “potentially better job and higher income” while 24 percent saw “education” as a key benefit.
  • Most respondents (34 percent) thought “Completing applications for admission and financial aid” was the toughest part of their application experience (last year most chose the answer “Taking the SAT, ACT or AP’s”).
  • Parents and students are increasingly concerned that college choice aligns well with “career interests.”
  • Parents want their children to attend college closer to home with 52 percent indicating they would like their children to be less than 250 miles away. Among students, 53 percent want to be 500 or more miles from home.
  • While most respondents (45 percent) said they/their child would likely attend the college that will be the “best overall fit,” only 1 of 10—or 9 percent—indicated they’d choose a college based on “reputation.”
On that last note, huge sighs of relief may be heard from college counselors all over the land.

Mar 20, 2013

Survey says Parental Concerns over Cost and Jobs will affect College Choice

Two-thirds of parents surveyed in a poll released today by Inside Higher Ed say they are very likely or somewhat likely to restrict the colleges to which their children apply because of concerns about costs. 

And not surprisingly, the poll found that parental concerns about paying for college and the importance of college programs that prepare students for jobs appear to grow as children get closer to college age.

These results are based on responses collected last fall from a survey of 3,269 adults with school-age children conducted on behalf of Inside Higher Ed by Gallup as part of the organization’s nightly poll of Americans on a range of topics.  

And they're not too different from the CIRP Freshman Survey which also concluded that college choice and economic reality are becoming increasingly connected.

It’s common knowledge within the counseling community that parents of college-bound students are becoming more and more vocal about college cost.  And these concerns are beginning to have a major impact on college choice despite reassurances from college and university leaders who insist that students should not be “scared off” by sticker price because of generous financial aid offered by many schools.

The Inside Higher Ed poll also asked parents to identify the most important reason for their child to go to college, and the top answer by far (38 percent) was “to get a good job.”  The third most common answer (12 percent) was “to earn more money,” while learning about the world or learning to think critically dropped well below 10 percent.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, said these results should be “a wake-up call” to college leaders.

“Emphasis on jobs and on affordability has been building for a very long time,” commented Ekman.  “What’s new is the tremendous acceleration of the emphasis of jobs at the same time there is a tremendous emphasis on affordability.  And this is a direct consequence of the economic meltdown.”

Despite clear messages about college cost and jobs, parents are a little more ambivalent about how much debt they were willing to accumulate for their child’s undergraduate education. 

One in five parents (20 percent) said that they were unwilling to accumulate any loan debt while another fifth (21 percent) said they would be willing to accumulate $50,000 or more in college loan debt for their child.

By contrast, only one percent of college admissions directors told Inside Higher Ed in a separate poll that $50,000 in undergraduate loan debt was reasonable for a student to accumulate.

As incoming admissions results gather steam in the coming weeks, more than one family will be closely scrutinizing costs vs. benefits along the lines suggested by the Inside Higher Ed poll, and enrollment decisions will ultimately be made that hopefully support the overall financial health of the family.  

But the point is that many of these decisions need to be made at the front end of the process, and not after students and families become  personally invested in outcomes they can neither afford nor justify.  And it appears that families are beginning to understand the harsh economic realities at the root of college choice.