The Admissions Game: 2020 and Beyond FAQ’s

The recent interview between Cyndy McDonald and Peter VanBuskirk generated a number of  insightful questions about admissions practices and how to guide students to find the best fit.  If you missed the interview, you can catch it on Cyndy’s blog.

FAQ: The Admissions Game: 2020 and Beyond

Peter VanBuskirk answers questions posed after his interview with Cyndy McDonald, with GuidedPath.

Peter VanBuskirk Interview: The Admissions Game, 2020 and Beyond
1Peter, when the Common Data Set says that students on the wait list are not ranked, is that really true?
This is an example of how the rhetoric and the reality often differ. Colleges will typically, at least for internal purposes, organize their “active Wait Lists” with some indicators of preference, usually academic. As the need/opportunity for acceptances from the WL materialize, various institutional priorities emerge as well. Money will be a factor for offers made prior to May 1. Likelihood of enrollment is always a factor. Other contingent needs to address gender imbalances, enhance the ethnic participation, and support roster needs in different talent areas factor in as well.
2At Franklin & Marshall, how much weight was given to demonstrated interest. And what was the most effective way a prospective student could show demonstrated interest?
When I was at F&M, we were very mindful of demonstrated interest. That was quite a while ago before the metrics for tracking it became very sophisticated. Back then, we intuitively looked at the campus visit as the best indicator of likely enrollment—after ED!
3Does the final admitted rate of a school include the admitted kids from the wait list?
Sometimes. Just as the final profile of enrolled students will include only those students who begin their enrollment for the first time in September, informally reported WL activity often includes data through June 1.
4Can you speak to the increase of Spring Admissions to select schools - pros/cons of Spring Admissions.
As I indicated on the interview, the Spring Admission phenomena is an enrollment management strategy. Colleges are effectively stashing students, usually low profile, full pay students as a hedge against needing to admit quite so many low-yielding students in the Regular Admission process. For the student, Spring Admission does provide a viable path to graduation at a school. It is a path, however, that is fraught with “landmines” as there is very little in the way of orientation/acclimation afforded the student who is, by definition, already at greater risk academically.
5What resources can we used to educate families about the misconceptions of rankings and their usefulness?
Facts—and common sense. Ask parents to reflect on their own professional paths. Point out that most of the leaders of business, industry and government graduated from schools that are not most highly ranked. And remind folks that rankings are distilled composites of flawed (self-reported) data, the most prominent of which is a computation of “reputation” based on opinions/ratings of educators—most of whom admit that they don’t know much about most of the colleges they are rating. Finally, ask the family: “When a college is ranked is best, the question must be—best for whom?” Rankings that do not take into account the individual needs, goals and learning styles of the consuming students do more damage than good.
6Early Decision (ED) seems to benefit the college - What would you say is the benefit for the consumer?
Statistically, ED provides a statistical advantage over other application options. Moreover, the student admitted ED is able to arrive at earlier certainty regarding her educational future.
7Did the ranking and listing try to be like a consumer report reference but some how it went sideway?
Many believe that US News & World Report did indeed want to emulate Consumer Reports back in the early 1980’s. The fact that people literally “bought in” encouraged colleges, who themselves were feeling vulnerable in very uncertain demographic times, to invest in maintaining or improving upon their respective places on the mythical pecking order.
8Is it true that Spring admits and accepted Wait-List students don’t get included in stats, so if there is a student that may be a good fit but their Test Scores are low compared to other accepted students, then they might be given these other options?
They are only counted as applicants, not as admitted students. Moreover, their scores, GPAs, etc. do not appear in reported profile data. As I indicated earlier, this route to enrollment can work, but it carries with it certain risks for students who are below profile academically.
9What tips do you have for students increasing their chances of getting accepted from a waitlist?
Remain engaged. Revisit the campus. Make sure the decision-makers (college rep for your high school!) know how to reach you!
10What is the nature of students who have already "become"? In your experience, what do these students look like?
Wow! This could involve a PhD dissertation! Generally speaking, these are young people who consistently demonstrate the capacity for high level, complex, abstract thought and who are tangibly engaged in related intellectual inquiry.
11Can you speak to distinctive institutional values (mission) - and how students can learn more deeply about them, and to understand how they may align (or not) with their own values.
Students need to begin the process by assessing themselves, their goals/objectives and their learning styles. From this reflection will emerge a set of priorities that become the lens through which they can begin to interpret the viability of different academic environments. Then, they need to get out and visit college campuses and immerse themselves in institutional cultures. Most institutions hold the same basic values. They do differ, however, in the manner in which they engage undergraduates. Students need to be discerning about these differences.
12What do you think of students taking time off before going to college?
Smart move—more students should do it! They should not, however, reveal this intent to colleges until they have been admitted.
13Parents seem to be looking more at outcomes from colleges due to the high cost of its education. How are colleges and universities responding to this?
Colleges are responding differently (internships, honors programs, etc.) and this is a matter that families investigate early in the college search process.
14I totally agree with your assessment of rankings, but it seems like the rankings are self-fulfilling in that "more competitive"/ stronger students are more likely to want to attend higher ranked schools, and the peer group is therefore stronger. How can we as college consultants counteract this thinking in helping our students find their actual best fit?
Fit is something that is best understood as a result of thoughtful, intentional reflection. I provide a broader discussion, along with related exercises, in my book, Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students
15What about those schools, like Northeastern, who take kids but then tell them they have to go abroad the first semester?
They are effectively offering Spring Admission with the bait of an international experience.
16It seems to me that the Jan amit and 2nd year amit is almost like rolling back the odometer of a used car - it feels slimey ? I am I wrong to feel that like at all.