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%

College Admissions Summer Reading

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Brennan Barnard, Director of College Counseling at The Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire, annually asks college admissions deans and high school counselors to send him recommendations of books that are “great” summer reads. You can see last year’s list here; the 2014 list here, the 2013 list here in the New York Times, and the 2016 list, below. Some solid reads on this list, and many that I have read!

For Parents:

“Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood” by Lisa Damour
Recommended by: Sally Diehl, Director of College Counseling, Roland Park Country School, MD

“Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” by Andrew Solomon
Recommended by: Suzi Nam Director of College Counseling, Germantown Friends School, PA

“Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids” by Wendy S. Grolnick, Ph.D. and Kathy Seal
Recommended by: Beth Ann Burkmar, The Hun School of Princeton, NJ

“Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert D. Putnam
Recommended by: Carrie Brodsky, Associate Director of College Counseling, Westtown School, PA

“Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence” by Laurence Steinberg
Recommended by: Amelia Johnson, Assoc. Dir. of College Counseling, Baylor School, TN

“American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers” by Nancy Jo Sales
Recommended by: Meg Scott, Associate Director of College Counseling, The Agnes Irwin School, PA

“The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Frances E. Jensen
Recommended by: Peter Jennings, Director of College Counseling, Concord Academy, MA

“How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Recommended by: Debra Shaver, Dean of Admission, Smith College, MA

“The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” by Rachel Simmons
Recommended by: Debra Shaver, Dean of Admission, Smith College, MA

“The End of American Childhood” by Paula S. Fass
Recommended by: Susan Zarwell, Director of College Counseling. University School of Milwaukee, WI

“The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey
Recommended by: Jed Stuart, Associate Director of Admissions, The Gunnery, CT

“Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood” by Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
Recommended by: Scott Orvis, Director of College Counseling, Saint Mary’s School, NC

 

Education-related Reads:

“Heroic Leadership” by Chris Lowney
Recommended by: Mike Sexton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Santa Clara University, CA

“The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College” by Harlan Cohen
Recommended by: Bruce Berk, Associate Director of College Counseling, The Derryfield School, NH

“The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way” by Bill Bryson
Recommended by: Michael Stefanowicz, Assistant Director of Admission, Saint Michael’s College, VT

“Class and Campus Life” by Elizabeth M. Lee
Recommended by: Jenni Pfeiffer, Associate Director of College Counseling, Rye Country Day School, NY

“Creating a Class” by Mitchell Stevens
Recommended by: Jenni Pfeiffer, Associate Director of College Counseling, Rye Country Day School, NY

“Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture” by Ron Stodghill
Recommended by: Jennifer Beros, Director of College Counseling, University School, OH

“The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” by Barry Schwartz
Recommended by: Carrie Horsey, Associate Director of College Counseling, Head-Royce School, CA

“U Chic, The College Girl’s Guide to Everything” by Christie Garton
Recommended by: Barbara Conner, Director of College Counseling, Foxcroft School, VA

“Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined: The truth about talent, practice, creativity, and the many paths to greatness” by Scott Barry Kaufman
Recommended by: Susan Tree, Director of College Counseling, Westtown School, PA

“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown
Recommended by: Alice Cotti, Director of College Counseling and 11th/12th Grade Dean, Polytechnic School, CA

“There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow” by Jeffrey J. Selingo
Recommended by: Bernadette Condesso, Director of College Counseling, Poughkeepsie Day School, NY

“Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” by Lisa Delpit
Recommended by: Liz Pleshette, Director of College Counseling, Latin School of Chicago, IL

“Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts” by Edited by: Rebecca Chopp, Susan Frost, Daniel H. Weiss
Recommended by: Karen Bartlett, Assistant Director of Admissions, Middlebury College

 

For Fun and Thought:

“The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach
Recommended by: Eric Ahlstrand, Assistant Director of Admission, Furman University, SC

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Recommended by: Chemeli Kipkorir, Director of University Guidance, African Leadership Academy

“Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals” by Mark Edmundson
Recommended by: Matt Struckmeyer, Director of College Counseling, Laguna Blanca School, CA

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Recommended by: Elizabeth Jamett, Director of College Guidance, University Liggett School, MI

“Where Am I Wearing?” by Kelsey Timmerman
Recommended by: Tracy Stockard, Director of College Counseling Gilmour Academy, OH

“Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” by Andres Ericson and Robert Pool
Recommended by: David Bonner, Dean, King Low Heywood Thomas School, CT

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini
Recommended by: Moira McKinnon, Director of College Counseling, Berwick Academy, ME

“Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything” by Victor J. Strecher
Recommended by: Mr. Nicholas Kourabas, Director of College Counseling, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, NY

“Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
Recommended by: Stephanie Balmer, Head of School, Harpeth Hall School, TN

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
Recommended by: Jody Sanford Sweeney, Associate Director of College Counseling, William Penn Charter School, PA

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Recommended by: Scott Herrmann-Keeling, Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School, MO

“Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth
Recommended by: Chadwick Fulton, Associate Director of College Counseling, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, TX

“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson
Recommended by: Janelle Holmboe, Vice-President for Enrollment, Warren Wilson College, NC

“Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End” by Atul Gawande
Recommended by: Matthew DeGreeff, Director of College Counseling, Middlesex School, MA

“David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by: Ivar Moller, Director of North American Admissions, The University of St. Andrews, Scotland

“Creativity, Inc., Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull
Recommended by: Rhody Davis, Director of College Counseling, Viewpoint School, CA

“Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work (A StoryCorps Book)” by Dave Isay
Recommended by: Mindy H. Rose, Director of College Counseling, Peddie School, NJ

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
Recommended by: Bruce Barton, Director of College Counseling, Holderness School, NH

“Straight Man” by Richard Russo
Recommended by: Corie McDermott-Fazzino, Director of College Counseling, Portsmouth Abbey School, RI

“City on Fire” by Garth Risk Hallberg
Recommended by: Carl Ahlgren, Director of College Counseling, Gilman School, MD

“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough
Recommended by: J. Carey Thompson, Vice President for Enrollment and Communications/Dean of Admission, Rhodes College, TN

 

Full article by Valerie Strauss/Washington Post here.

Advice College Admissions Officers Give Their Own Kids

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A few months ago, the New York Times interviewed admissions officers at Allegheny College, Georgia Tech, Kenyon College, M.I.T., Penn State, Vanderbilt, U.C.L.A., U.N.C.-Chapel Hill and the University of Richmond about college advice—and not jus to the general public, to their kids. And guess what? Every one of them emphasized the importance of their child finding a college that fits, not the other way around.

These admissions officers tell their own children that high school is far more than just a pathway to college — it’s a time for maturation, self-discovery, learning and fun. They encourage their teens to embrace activities and courses that reflect who they genuinely are, not who they think colleges want them to be.

I will be sending this article to all of my students and more importantly, their parents, this year! Please take some time to read (and enjoy) the full article and the interview responses here. This one is share-worthy!