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. PĂ©rez, 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.