Many parents are saving for their childrenís
college education, their goal to have their children attend the best
school they can afford. Some will be lucky, their children having the
ability to obtain a sports or academic scholarship, but most will face the
competitive college-admission process.
In December, the Washington
Post published an article on the University of Virginiaís (U.Va.)
early-admission process. After reading the article I decided to offer my
views on the college-admission process to the readers of Cooperative Living magazine. I donít claim to be an expert on the
subject; but I have had three children finish college and I spent over two
decades working in a university environment, which included recruiting
students for my programs.
Colleges would like parents to believe their
selection process is based on some magic formula that centers on the best
interest of an individual prospective student. In reality, the
universityís goals come first and students are chosen for a wide variety
of reasons in addition to the studentís academic ability. The university
would also like parents to think their selection process is an exact
science, but I believe for a significant number of applicants, the process
is more of an educated guess than a science. Each year a portion of
students admitted either fail or drop out. U.Va.ís retention factor is
the highest in the nation among public universities, but for many
colleges, retention rates are alarming. George Mason Universityís
retention rate over the past decade ranged from a low of 71 percent to a
high of 80 percent in 2001.
The universityís main goal is to fulfill enrollment
targets. All schools are competing for the so-called ďbest students,Ē
but adjust their expectations according to enrollment projections. A state
school that fails to meet enrollment targets will suffer loss of state
revenue. Revenue correlates with jobs and programs Ö need I go further?
The college-selection process is a complex matrix
that considers many factors, such as the following:
In-state versus out-of-state student population.
State schools need out-of-state students for economic reasons and for
prestige. International students are also considered in the demographics.
Regional considerations are very important. A
politically acceptable number of students must come from every region of
Diversity is also factored into the selection
process. This includes gender as well as race. A recent study showed that
70 percent of college slots would go to girls if current academic
standards were the main consideration. Colleges are going to strive for a
50/50 gender enrollment, regardless of qualifications.
Your parents can make a difference. Are they alumni?
Do they donate money? Are they well connected? You get the idea.
Universities are no different than other institutions of society.
allocated to various college programs. Some programs have strong
competition for their allocated slots and therefore can demand higher
requirements. I would like to note that above a certain level, higher
academic requirements donít necessarily correlate with a better product.
colleges have limited dorm space, whether a student would be a campus
resident or a commuter is also a consideration.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.
individual academic program, record and test scores are important
considerations. A studentís extracurricular activities and essay are
also considered in the admissions process.
Post article discussed this last item at length; little of the article
dealt with the others. The article gave the impression that 15 people sat
around a giant table agonizing over each individual studentís quest for
admission, which in most universities is probably far from the truth.
Universities use the high school GPA and the SAT as
the main screening criteria. As mentioned in previous articles, these two
items only account for about 42 percent of the variability leading to
college success. Many other factors contribute to an individual
studentís success or failure. In the Post article, a teacherís
recommendation was weighted heavily in one student decision. How much of
the remaining variability leading to college success can be predicted by
teacher recommendations? Does participation in extra curricular activities
or sports help predict college success? Students are also asked to write
an essay as part of their admissions package. I wouldnít want my English
teacher on that admissions committee. Iíd still be in third grade if it
was up to her.
A studentís program of studies is considered an
important item in the admissions process. An admissions counselor told me
that using only the math and English grades of a studentís program would
predict college success as accurately as using the entire high school
program. The Post article highlighted an admissions discussion that
involved a student who took a marketing course instead of French IV. It
was implied that the student was looking for an easy out by taking
marketing. Maybe the kid just likes marketing. How much influence should
colleges have on a studentís high school program? If 75 percent of the
studentís high school program generally shows academic strength, the
remaining 25 percent of the courses probably donít add to the accuracy
of predicting college success. The present line of reasoning illustrated
by the French IV discussion is a form of the academic snobbery that I
discussed in a previous article. The present college-selection process has
too much control over a studentís high school program.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of her sonís ACT
report. On the bottom it states the following: Remember that test scores
and past grades do not guarantee success or failure in college. Other
factors such as program of study and motivation count, too. Iíve
concluded that universities should be given the opportunity to determine
the top and bottom thirds of the applicant pool, and that the remaining
successful applicants should be chosen by lottery. This is especially true
of schools supported by state funds. It would be difficult to convince me
that a college can predict what group of students in the middle third will
do better than another group chosen from this same pool.
Maybe if we showed the same concern for getting into
heaven that we do for college admission it would make for better public
schools and a better society. I just hope French IV isnít a requirement
posted on the pearly gates.