In the final installment of our multipart blog series, we are focusing on helping answer a question we have been asked repeatedly throughout the years. How much academic rigor is enough? How many honors and AP classes are enough? For colleges practicing holistic admissions which focuses on the whole applicant rather than just strict numbers, the answer is always going to be, “It depends.” However, to add some context to what needs to be taken into consideration, North Shore College Consulting took time after this last application season to speak to admissions officers from around the country..
When pressed to answer these questions, admissions officers stated that the amount of rigor they want to see will first depend upon the high school the student is attending and what classes are offered there. In most cases, applications are read by territory reps who are well versed in each school they are assigned to and can evaluate the student within the context of the opportunities available to them. Some high schools offer 20+ AP options, while others may not offer any.
In a high school where AP courses are available, a student needs to find a load that allows them to balance their life. The student needs to drill down into who they are and what their goals are to determine what they should do. More specifically, taking every possible AP course, but letting grades slip because the student cannot possibly get all of the work done can cause a low GPA that can be worrisome to an admissions officer. Similarly, overloading on rigorous courses, but not being able to get involved in activities outside the classroom is not displaying a favorable balance either. In addition to wanting to admit students who will be active in and out of the classroom, colleges are increasingly concerned with the mental health of their incoming students. They want students on their campus who are happy and secure.
This brings us to the next question. If a student is going to cut back on academic rigor, which courses should they cut back on? Again, the ultimate answer will be, “It depends.” For instance, a student looking to major in a math or science field should probably focus on adding rigor in these subject areas.
Beyond the benefits that a student may see in the admissions process, parents are pushing students to take more and more AP classes because they think this will save them money in tuition. Unfortunately, this is not usually an accurate assumption. Each college and even each major within a college will have different rules about the score needed to award credit, the number of classes that can be skipped due to AP credits and even which AP credits they will accept at all. In addition, co-op programs, study abroad programs, and the all-too-common change in major may also create a need to take additional courses or stay on campus for semesters beyond the traditional four years.
The take away for the students applying to schools that practice holistic admissions is that the colleges want you to take the most rigorous courseload you can take to be successful while still allowing you to be active outside the classroom. Schools want students who are both academically and personally successful.
In Part Four of our multipart blog series focusing on lessons we took away from the unpredictability of 2018-2019 to make sense of the process for the upcoming application season, we are talking about the declining admissions rates around the country along with the growing benefit of early application plans.
UCLA received 111,266 undergraduate applications for the UCLA Class of 2023. Although they haven’t released their admissions numbers yet, last year, UCLA hit its lowest admit rate of 14%. Assuming that the admissions rate remained at 14% again this year, UCLA accepted only 15,577 out of 111,266 applicants. While UCLA is the most applied to school in the country, application numbers are soaring with, by way of example, 64,000 students applying to NYU this year and over 65,000 students applying to the University of Michigan.
The increasing number of applications received by a college combined with an increasingly more competitive applicant pool have caused overall admit rates to rapidly decrease. In 2001, the overall admit rate of four-year colleges and universities in the US was 63.4%. In 2010, that admit rate dropped by almost 7% to 56.5% but still continues to hover around 56% overall.
With that said, admit rates at the country’s most competitive and well known universities and colleges continue to plummet. In 2001, the overall admit rate to the “most” competitive universities in our country (think Stanford, MIT, Ivy League) was 18.8%. In 2017, that dropped by over 11% to 7.4%. The admit rate at the next tier of most competitive schools in the US dropped from 31.7% in 2001 to 17.2% in 2017, and at the third tier, from 48.7% in 2001 to 32.6% in 2017.
In light of these numbers, more and more applicants are using early application plans such as Early Decision and Restrictive Early Action to boost their chances of admission. Often applicants feel that in order to have even a chance of admission to a highly selective school they have no choice but to strategically apply to their top choice using ED and/or EDII options. And, to be honest, often a highly qualified applicant’s best shot is to take advantage of Early Decision given the significant difference in Regular Decision and ED admit rates at most colleges, as well as the percentage of their freshman class colleges are now filling with ED applicants.
For the 2018-2019 application cycle, the Early Decision admit rate at Brown University was 21% compared with their 7.7% overall admit rate. Brown filled almost 45% of their freshman class with ED applicants. Vanderbilt accepted 20.6% of it ED applicants and only 9.6% overall, filling over 53% of their freshman class with ED applicants. Tulane University’s combined EDI and EDII admit rate was 32.2% and overall rate was 17% (which included non-binding Early Action applications) filling 28% of it’s freshman class with ED applications.
Early Decision isn’t for everyone and many things must be taken into account by the applicant and his family before applying ED, especially how applying ED impacts an applicant’s financial aid package. For many lucky students without financial limitations, however, the benefit of a significantly increased chance of admission to their first choice college often outweighs any potential negatives.
As we continue our discussion on demonstrated interest, we wanted to dedicate Part Three of our multipart series to diving deeper into what colleges say about demonstrating interest. In a recent conversation with admissions officers from around the country, the consistent message shared from each college was that demonstrating interest is not just about checking off a list of things to do to make a college think you love them. Colleges can tell the difference between authentic interest and those applicants that are feigning interest. Demonstrated interest is not about “gaming the system,” but rather it is a true effort by students to learn more about a college.
The applicants that have done their due diligence in researching a college to make sure the school is a good fit for them will not have to worry about the college noticing their interest. In many cases, merely signing up for the mailing lists and opening the tracked emails is not enough. Reaching out to professors to learn more about a specific program, sitting in on a class while visiting campus, shadowing a current student, reaching out to the local admissions representatives, attending any local college fairs or information sessions, joining any online college fairs or live discussions, and interviewing when offered the opportunity will provide students with a deeper understanding of a college’s programs, strengths and values. This knowledge will ultimately show through in application essays and conversations with admissions officers.
While the interactions are tracked and sometimes assigned a point value in the admissions office, the true benefits of the applicant’s effort to learn more is invaluable. The effort to learn as much as possible about a college helps both the applicant and the college determine fit. Colleges want to make good, sound decisions for the benefit of the institution, but students should also place a high importance on making sure an institution is a match for them both socially and academically to ensure a future of comfort, happiness and success.
Students who put in the effort to research a college only to determine that a college is not a fit for them should never feel like they wasted their time. Not only did they learn more about themselves and potentially avoid ending up somewhere they would not thrive, but the steps a student takes will help boost confidence and build soft skills like interpersonal, communication and business skills that are so important in everyday life.
Continuing our focus on extracting teachable moments from the craziness of the 2018-2019 application season, today in Part Two of our multi-part series we will focus on the importance of demonstrated interest and the reliance on CRM systems in the admissions process.
According to a blog post by Meghan McHale Dangremond, an admission officer at Tufts University, “we . . . care if you’re a fit on our campus specifically, and if you are excited about joining our community. That’s why demonstrated interest matters (at Tufts and at many other universities). . . If you are really interested in a college or university, you should make the time to do it well. If you can’t or don’t want to take that time, perhaps this a good moment to sit and reconsider your list.”
Simply put, many, if not most, colleges want to know which applicants really love them and how much. Don’t forget, at the end of the day, colleges are businesses and the higher a college’s yield (the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll) the better the college’s bottom line. If State University admits ten applicants and eight of those applicants decide to attend people will think that State U is a great place to go to school and everyone will want to apply the following year thereby boosting application numbers and State U’s yield and then hopefully for State U the cycle continues.
Like many businesses these days, most colleges have begun to utilize customer-relations management systems, or CRMs, in order to track data about prospective students and provide those students with customized information. CRMs for higher education enable colleges to track every interaction an applicant has had with that particular college across different platforms. For instance, how much does a prospect engage with the content on the college’s website? Is the student reading the emails he receives from the college and clicking on various links? Did the student sign up for the mailing list? Visit campus? Email her regional admissions rep? Attend an admissions event at her high school? Follow the college on social media?
As a result, the use of comprehensive CRM programs allows colleges to distinguish between truly interested applicants and stealth applicants (those whose very first contact with the college is their application). Demonstrated interest can play a big role in increasing your chances of admission at colleges that track it. It is often the thing that distinguishes one seemingly identical applicant from another resulting in an offer of admission for one and a denial for the other. Likewise, demonstrated interest can be a very important factor in getting an applicant off the waitlist as we watched more and more colleges turn to their waitlists this season in order to reach their enrollment goals. Showing love in an authentic way can have a positive impact on the competitiveness of a student’s application and chances of admission.