2016 Survey of Admissions Directors – Insights

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A few important, key insights from the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors. Read all of the notes on key themes in the full article by Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed here.

A New Application

A year ago, the big buzz at the NACAC annual meeting was the announcement of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a group of elite public and private colleges that aimed to make the application process more personal, more open to the needs of individual students and colleges and more educational. At the NACAC meeting, coalition members heard plenty of skepticism and vowed to explain in the months ahead just what their effort entailed and why it would help colleges and students.

To judge from the Inside Higher Ed survey, the coalition still has a lot of work to do. Among the findings:

  • Only 29 percent of admissions directors agree or strongly agree that the Common Application needs to have more competition, compared to 49 percent who disagree or strongly disagree. This finding suggests that the Common Application has repaired much of the damage from its technology meltdown two years ago that left many colleges frustrated to be stuck without what they considered viable alternatives to the Common App.
  • Only 23 percent of admissions directors agree or strongly agree that the “digital locker” — an online tool the coalition is creating to let high school students save materials throughout their high school careers — is a good way to prepare for college and the admissions process. Thirty-eight percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  • Only 8 percent of admissions directors agree or strongly agree that the coalition has done a good job of explaining its process to colleges and their applicants — compared to 68 percent who disagree or strongly disagree.
  • And only 15 percent of admissions directors agree or strongly agree that the coalition application would encourage more applications from minority and disadvantaged applicants (a rationale offered by many coalition supporters). Fifty-seven percent disagree or strongly disagree.

Annie Reznik, executive director of the coalition, said she wasn’t surprised by some of the negative reactions, even if she thought they might not reflect the work the group has been doing. “Any new initiative brings hesitancy and skepticism,” she said via email.

And much of the initial public discussion, she said, didn’t focus on efforts by member colleges to increase outreach to disadvantaged students. Numerous efforts have been started in recent months by the group and by its member colleges to increase college awareness in low-income areas and to talk to more students about the importance of college. In time, she said, people will see that the coalition is about these efforts, not just the application.

Much has been misunderstood about the locker, she said, but that is proceeding with positive results. “Many individuals external to the coalition have identified additional, excellent uses for this student space,” she said. “Some ideas include: supporting a portfolio grading system using the locker, encouraging students to save pieces from an English class’s personal writing unit in their lockers, collecting letters of recommendation from service work that could be shared with a teacher or counselor, scanning a copy of a student’s hard-earned compliment card for providing great service at work.”

The New SAT

Since Inside Higher Ed‘s 2015 admissions survey, the College Board has started using a new SAT, designed to align itself more closely than the previous version with a college-preparatory high school curriculum. A key feature of the new SAT was to revamp the widely criticized writing test.

The response of admissions directors to these changes appears underwhelming. And the new writing test is not attracting broad support. Nor is ACT’s writing test.

Admissions Directors on the SAT and ACT Writing Tests

Statement Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
The new SAT version represents a significant improvement over the old version. 2% 12% 65% 13% 9%
I expect more colleges to go test optional in the years ahead. 26% 47% 22% 4% 2%
I consider the writing test on the SAT to be a good measure of student writing ability. 0% 19% 44% 21% 16%
I consider the writing test on the ACT to be a good measure of student writing ability. 2% 18% 44% 22% 15%

The expectation that more colleges will go test optional may be of concern to both the College Board and the ACT, although it is important to note that most applicants to most test-optional colleges continue to submit scores.

But the test-optional numbers are growing. Just this week, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a critic of standardized testing, released data showing that half of the colleges on U.S. News & World Report‘s list of the top 100 liberal arts colleges are test optional.

Also this week, ACT released a report questioning the rationale behind colleges going test optional. The report says that these policies are based on false assumptions and that test scores add to the information admissions officers need.

Race and Admissions

The Supreme Court ruled in June that colleges have the right to consider race and ethnicity in admissions (and presumably also in financial aid) in certain circumstances. The ruling came in a challenge to the policies of the University of Texas at Austin in litigation that had been going on for years. The Supreme Court ruling cited the research Texas did over the years to show why it needed to consider race in admissions — and the decision said that colleges need to have conducted such studies to consider race.

The survey results suggest that relatively few colleges have done or plan to do such studies. This may be because many colleges do not consider race in admissions (and aren’t competitive in admissions). But this could make some colleges vulnerable to lawsuits.

Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of admissions directors said they believed the Supreme Court ruling would preserve the legal right to consider race and ethnicity for the foreseeable future.

But only 13 percent of colleges said they conducted studies similar to those the Supreme Court cited as making the Texas approach legal. And only 24 percent said they planned to either start or continue such studies.

Only 4 percent said they planned to change admissions practices in light of the court’s ruling.

Critics of affirmative action, during the months before the Supreme Court ruled, repeatedly argued that colleges’ current practices have the impact of making it more difficult for Asian-American applicants to win admission.

This year’s survey asked the admissions directors two questions related to that argument. A significant minority indicated that they believe Asian-American applicants are held to a higher standard generally, and that this is the case at their institutions.

Admissions Directors on Asian-American Applicants

Statement Public % Yes Private % Yes
Do you believe that some colleges are holding Asian-American applicants to higher standards? 39% 42%
At your college, do Asian-American applicants who are admitted generally have higher grades and test scores than other applicants? 41% 30%

Coalition Application Users Posted

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The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is unveiling a new college application this summer and has announced which of its members will be using it in the next admissions cycle and which are holding off a year. Fifty-eight will use the new application and 36 will not. The list may be found here.

The (58) schools planning to accept the Coalition application for 2016/2017 are:

American University
Amherst College
Bowdoin College
Bryn Mawr College
CalTech
Carleton College
Claremont McKenna College
Clemson University
Colgate University
College of the Holy Cross
College of William & Mary
Columbia University
Connecticut College
Davidson College
Denison University
Duke University
Emory University
Hamilton College
Harvard University
Indiana University – Bloomington
Johns Hopkins University
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
Ohio State University
Pennsylvania State University
Pomona College
Purdue University
Reed College
Rice University
Rutgers University – New Brunswick
St Olaf College
Stanford University
State University of New York – Binghamton University
State University of New York – College at Geneseo
Swarthmore College
Texas A&M University
Tufts University
Union College
University of Chicago
University of Connecticut
University of Florida
University of Iowa
University of Maryland – College Park
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
University of Notre Dame
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of South Carolina
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Vanderbilt University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Wake Forest University
Washington University in St. Louis
Williams College
Yale University

The (36) additional member schools that will accept the Coalition application for 2017/2018 are:

Bates College
Brown University
Colby College
College of New Jersey
Colorado College
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Florida State University
Franklin and Marshall College
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Grinnell College
Haverford College
Illinois State University
James Madison University
Miami University – Ohio
Michigan State University
Middlebury College
Mount Holyoke College
Oberlin College
Princeton University
Ramapo College
Skidmore College
Smith College
State University of New York – University at Buffalo
University of Georgia
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Mary Washington
University of Michigan
University of Missouri
University of New Hampshire
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Vermont
Vassar College
Wellesley College
Wesleyan University

The Coalition Releases Application Essay Prompts

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The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success recently released its application’s 2016-2017 essay prompts. With the inclusion of the “topic of your choice” prompt, it looks like students will not have to write a new personal statement if they decide to submit apps via this prompt in addition to the Common Application—so that’s good news! Additional information from their site, and the prompts, below.

Submission Guidelines

With so many institutions participating in the Coalition, there are many different admissions guidelines, and schools will treat these general application essays differently in their admissions processes: some schools won’t require an essay at all; other schools will require one of the general essays and answers to additional school-specific essays or short answer questions. Please consult the application requirements for each Coalition school in which you are interested.

Suggestions for Use

You are free to work on these essays at any time. (You can even store essay drafts in your Locker!) They are useful for honing your essay writing skills as well as for inclusion with your application. If you plan to submit one of our general essays with your application(s), please use one of the prompts offered during your application year.

Essay Prompts

The prompts for the 2016-17 application year are:

-Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

-Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

-Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

-What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

-Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.