College admissions in the United States
College admissions in the United States refers to the process of applying for entrance to institutions of higher education for undergraduate study at one of the nation's 2,675 schools. Generally, the college search begins in the student's junior year of high school with most activity taking place during the senior year, although students at top high schools often begin the process during their sophomore year or earlier. In addition, there are considerable numbers of students who transfer from one college to another, as well as adults older than high school age who apply to college.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Participants
- 3 Planning
- 4 Selection of colleges
- 5 Applications considerations
- 5.1 Extracurricular activities
- 5.2 Number of applications
- 5.3 Summer programs
- 5.4 Online identity
- 5.5 Choosing how to apply
- 5.6 Testing options
- 5.7 Common vs. college's application
- 5.8 Interviews
- 5.9 Essays
- 5.10 Teacher recommendations
- 5.11 Other considerations
- 5.12 International applications
- 6 How colleges evaluate applicants
- 6.1 Overview
- 6.2 Academic evaluation
- 6.3 Personal evaluation
- 6.4 Other factors
- 6.5 Other considerations
- 7 Acceptances and rejections
- 8 Transfer admissions
- 9 See also
- 10 Suggested reading
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Millions of high school students apply to college each year. While the number of graduates from high school peaked temporarily at 3.3 million in 2008, then to 3.4 million in 2014, numbers have been forecast to decline through 2015 and then rebound thereafter. Still, the number of students enrolled in college is expected to increase through 2020 when there will be approximately 23 million students in college. About a quarter of high school seniors apply to seven or more schools, paying an average of $40 per application. Fewer than half of all students entering college graduate in four years and slightly over half graduate from college during their lifetimes.
The application process takes considerable time and planning since it involves multiple steps, with choices to be made and deadlines to be met. Students file separate applications to each school, although the Common Application expedites the process in many instances. Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college and not to a particular department or major, unlike many European universities and American graduate schools, although some undergraduate programs such as architecture or engineering may require a separate application at some universities. As a general rule, applying to two-year county and community colleges is much easier than to a four-year school, often requiring only a high school transcript or minimum test score.
New developments in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries such as Britain in applying to American universities, more students applying by an early method, applications submitted by Internet-based methods including the Common Application, increased use of consultants, guidebooks, and rankings, and increased use by colleges of waitlists. One estimate was that 80 percent of applications were submitted online in 2009. As college costs have climbed during the past few decades, there is less relative assistance from governments through subsidies, and there has been a shift in the burden of paying from college from families to the students themselves via loans, although many of them are federally subsidized. As a result, many students graduate from college with considerable debt, and future estimated indebtedness is increasingly becoming a matter of concern.
Applying to colleges can be stressful. The outcome of the admission process may affect a student's future career trajectory considerably. Entrance into top colleges is increasingly competitive. Many students feel pressure during their high school years.
Private and affluent public primary education, test-prep courses, 'enrichment' programmes, volunteer service projects, international travel, music lessons, sports activities - all the high-cost building blocks of the perfect college application - put crushing pressure on the upper middle class and their offspring.
The college applications process can be stressful for parents of teenagers, according to journalist Andrew Ferguson, since it exposes "our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children."
High school counselors
Some high schools have one or more teachers experienced in offering counseling to college-bound juniors and seniors. They usually work in conjunction with the guidance department who assist students in planning their high school academic path. Counselors handle many students and schools and generally do not have a role of overseeing or managing a student's college applications. Advisors recommend that students get to know their school counselor. Counselors do not complete interviews, write essays, or arrange college visits. Parents often meet with the school counselor during the junior year. Most counselors have responsibility for helping many students and, as a result, it is difficult for them to provide individual help to a particular student; one estimate was that the average ratio for all high schools of counselors to students was 460 to 1. Only about a quarter of public high schools have a counselor devoted to college counseling issues full-time, while almost three quarters of private schools have a dedicated college counselor. A report suggested that private school counselors have substantially more contact with university admissions people than public school counselors.
Fee-based consultants, some available entirely online, can be hired to help a student gain admission to the so-called right schools, although there are some free programs to help underprivileged youth learn how to fill out applications, write essays, get ready for tests, and work on interviews. Consultants can help a student select schools to apply to, counsel them on test taking strategies, review scores, help with essay preparation (but not writing), review applications, conduct mock interviews, provide logistical planning, and collaborate with others such as athletic coaches. Consultants try to keep a low profile; however, one admissions dean explained that she can "sniff out when there has been some adult involved in the process." Assistance by consultants or other adults can go to extremes, particularly with hard-to-check variables such as the college essays; according to one view, plagiarism on admissions essays has been a "serious problem," particularly on applications to private universities and colleges. There is the possibility that hiring a professional admissions consultant can make an application appear artificial; for example, admissions personnel may suspect adult coaching when one part of an application is polished, while other parts aren't, such as varying quality regarding writing samples. Another risk in hiring a consultant, which can happen if parents become too involved in the process, is what Mamlet and VanDeVelde term overpackaging: the applicant appears so smooth and perfect that admissions officers suspect the person is not real but a marketing creation. Generally, when hiring a college admissions counselor, parents and students try to understand the counselor's philosophy, learn what services are provided, and whether any help will be offered regarding advice about financial aid or scholarships. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that it is improper for an admissions counselor to tamper with a student's "authentic self." According to their view, ideal counselors have experience with college admissions, meet regularly with college admissions officers, visit campuses regularly, and belong to professional affiliations.
College admissions staff
A typical admission staff at a college includes a dean or vice president for admission or enrollment management, middle-level managers or assistant directors, admission officers, and administrative support staff. The chief enrollment management officer is sometimes the highest-paid position in the department, earning $121,000 on average in 2010, while admissions officers average only $35,000, according to one estimate. Admissions officers tend to be in the 30-to-40 age demographic. They are chosen for their experience in admissions, aptitude for statistics and data analysis, experience in administration and marketing and public relations. They serve dual roles as counselors and recruiters, and do not see themselves as marketers or salespeople, according to one view. They are evaluated on how well they "represent their college, manage their office, recruit staff members, and work with other administrators." Michelle Hernandez suggested there were basically two types of officers: a first group of personable, sharp, people-oriented go-getter types who were often recent college grads; a second group was somewhat out-of-touch "lifers" who often did not graduate from a highly selective college. Officers are generally paid an annual salary, although there have been reports of some recruiters paid on the basis of how many students they bring to a college, such as recruiters working abroad to recruit foreign students to U.S. universities.
Many colleges and universities work hard to market themselves, trying to attract the best students and maintain a reputation for academic quality. Colleges spent an average of $585 to recruit each applicant during the 2010 year. There are efforts to make increased use of social media sites such as Facebook to promote their colleges. Marketing brochures and other promotional mailings often arrive daily in the hope of persuading high school students to apply to a college. According to Joanne Levy-Prewitt, colleges send "view books" not because they intend to admit them, but "because they want multitudes of students to apply" to improve the college's selectivity ranking and to make sure that they have as many well-qualified applicants as possible from whom to choose the strongest class. Colleges get access to names and addresses after students give permission to them after taking the PSAT or SAT exams.
US News compiles a directory of colleges and universities and has made a ranking of them, although there was a report that guidance counselors had major problems with their rankings. Other sources rank colleges according to various measures, sell guidebooks, and use their rankings as an entry into college admissions consulting services. College Board launched a website called BigFuture in 2012 with tools to help the admissions process. There are services to help expedite the college admissions process, including a web-based service that sells copies of applications which were successful in gaining the applicant admission to Ivy League colleges.
Test preparation firms
Companies such as the College Board have offered services to help students prepare for their tests and provide other services, usually web-based, to help students compare schools. Some firms work with schools to provide test preparation advisors who teach students how to take the test.
|Grades count towards GPA|
|Good study habits|
|Read, read, read|
|Fall: PSAT test|
|Meet guidance counselor|
|Build lists of colleges|
|Begin meeting college reps|
|Research, visit schools|
|Tests: SAT/ACT, Subject SATs, APs|
|Summer: write essays|
|Know admissions deadlines|
|Apply to schools|
|Ask high school to send transcripts|
|Winter: FAFSA/CSS forms|
|Check if colleges received materials|
|April: acceptances and rejections|
|Revisit accepting schools|
|May: deposit is due|
The admissions process usually begins during a student's junior year when a student meets with a guidance counselor, selects some colleges, and perhaps visits a few campuses. The summer before senior year is a time when many students finalize application plans and perhaps begin writing essays. Further, they decide whether to apply by early or regular decision. International students may need to take tests showing English-language proficiency such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE Academic. Senior year is when applications are submitted. The CSS can be submitted by October first of the student's senior year, while the FAFSA becomes available on the web after January first.
Selection of colleges
Counselors suggest one place to begin a search for colleges is to consult a ranking guide. Two well-known college and university rankings guides are the U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Monthly's "College Rankings" issue, but there are many different groups that produce college rankings of U.S. schools based on different factors and using different methodology. Advisors stress that consulting a ranking list is only a beginning, and that much more research is needed.
Rankings have been the subject of much criticism. Since much of the data is provided by colleges themselves, there are opportunities for schools to manipulate the rankings to enhance prestige. There have been instances in which school officials deliberately misreported statistics, such as an admissions dean at Claremont McKenna who falsified average SAT statistics, and a report that Emory University falsely reported student data for "more than a decade," as well as reports of false data from the United States Naval Academy and Baylor University. Writer Andrew Ferguson noted considerable hypocrisy surrounding rankings: some colleges pretend to loathe the guidebooks that rank them, yet if they get a good write-up, they “wave it around like a bride’s garter belt.” Lynn O'Shaughnessy criticized the "mindless pursuit of better numbers" by colleges to boost their college rankings as destructive and wrote that families place too much emphasis on the rankings as a way to select colleges. Further, she criticized the US News rankings for failing to take a college's affordability into account or factor in the average student indebtedness after college as well as failing to measure how well colleges actually educated their students. She noted how the US News algorithm "favors schools that spurn more students." College admissions counselors criticized rankings as misleading, and criticized the rankings inputs of peer assessments, student selectivity and alumni giving as being poor predictors of a college's overall quality. The rankings title "America's Best Colleges", prompted counselors to ask "best for whom"?
In 2007, members of the Annapolis Group discussed a letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the US News "reputation survey". A majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting agreed not to participate, although the statements were not binding. Members pledged to develop alternative web-based information formats in conjunction with several collegiate associations. US News responded that their peer assessment survey helps them measure a college's "intangibles" such as the ability of a college's reputation to help a graduate win a first job or entrance into graduate school. An article by Nicholas Thompson in Washington Monthly criticized the U.S. News rankings as "confirming the prejudices of the meritocracy" by tuning their statistical algorithms to entrench the reputations of a handful of schools, while failing to measure how much students learn. Thompson described the algorithms as being "opaque enough that no one outside the magazine can figure out exactly how they work, yet clear enough to imply legitimacy." One effort to systematize the compilation of college admissions data is the Common Data Set initiative.
Further information: Criticism of college and university rankings (2007 United States)
Choosing schools by selectivity
Advisors typically ask students to begin to see potential colleges in terms of four types:
- Reach schools provide a slim chance of acceptance, such as a 5% or slimmer chance.
- Possibles (or high matches) have greater chance of rejection than acceptance.
- Probables (or low matches) have greater chance of acceptance than rejection.
- Solid or safety schools seldom reject candidates with similar academic credentials. High school counselors recommend that a safety school be one that a student would like to attend if rejected everywhere else. Mark Kantrowitz advised having at least one financial aid safety school that is affordable even without financial aid. Another classification is "unlikelies" (5% chance of acceptance), "reach schools" (25% chance), "possibles" (50% chance), and "likelies" (80% chance).
Typically counselors will suggest an applicant apply to a mix of the different types of schools, usually having at least one safety school, but the numbers of the others are up to students and families. Andover's counseling director recommends that a student apply to a minimum of two "solid" schools and two "probable" schools. Many high schools subscribe to an online service called Naviance which, among other things, can help a student gauge the likelihood of admission to a particular college. It is based on a student's grades and test scores in comparison to the admissions results from students from previous years applying to that particular college (see diagram). Naviance uses a scattergram to graphically illustrate the chances for a student from a particular high school being admitted into a particular college or university. In addition, counselors can help a student consider different types of colleges, such as liberal arts colleges, research universities, and specialty schools. The difficulty of admissions to elite universities has sometimes prompted accusations:
The admissions system of the so-called best schools is rigged against you. If you are a middle-class youth or minority from poor circumstances, you have little chance of getting in to one of those schools. Indeed, the system exists not to provide social mobility but to prevent it and to perpetuate the prevailing social order.
Return on investment
Former US Education Secretary William Bennett suggested college should be seen as a long term purchase with the return on investment (ROI) being the future earnings potential of a graduate. Schools have been compared financially by examining average costs, student debt, and lifelong earnings, to yield an effective average ROI. Bennett suggested that only 150 out of the nation's 3500 colleges provided positive returns.
Better fit or prestige
Prestige of colleges correlates with age, such that the oldest east-coast schools tend to have accumulated the most prestige by virtue of their longevity. There is widespread consensus that the fit between a student and a school is an important factor. Several reports suggest that "fit should trump prestige every single time," and that it is better for a school to match a student in terms of social, cultural, and academic qualities and not be chosen simply because of a school's prestige. Others see college admissions as essentially a choice between "price and prestige". Elite colleges have been compared to designer labels, a valuable credential in the job market, and an entryway into top graduate schools. Some advisors specialize in helping students find a good fit—a suitable list of colleges—which helps students in the long run. They help students to explore their values and needs, and provide counseling to help both students and parents find a college or university program that helps students meet long term goals. Questions include thinking about life goals, which activities a person likes best, and what style of learning works best for the student. Evaluating personal preferences is important and can take time. One advisor suggests it is important for a student to think through what is best, and choose on this basis, and "do not listen to your friends" since they have different needs and wants. "One of the worst ways to make a decision about where to go to college is to follow a friend because he or she is having a good time at that school," wrote one advisor. Since "barely half" of students entering college as freshmen ever graduate from college later in their lives, getting the right fit is important for parents and students to avoid wasting money. What is a good fit:
The college that fits you best is one that will: (1) Offer a program of study to match your interests and needs (2) Provide a style of instruction to match the way you like to learn (3) Provide a level of academic rigor to match your aptitude and preparation (4) Offer a community that feels like home to you and (5) Value you for what you do well.—report in US News
|William & Mary||4|
A private admissions counselor elaborates:
A school has to fit – academically, socially, and economically ... Ask whether a college feels right ... rather than is it best ...—Michael Szarek, 2011
One admissions dean likens "fit" to a friendship:
I draw the analogy of friends to explain why fit is so important in considering a college. You like your good friends for some reason. It may not be an objective reason. It's often subjective. There's some sense of compatibility, a kind of intuition, a match, a common sense of values, what you like to do, how you think – those are the things that really bind people together. It's similar with college. You don't want to spend four years with a college who isn't really your friend.
In addition, counselors can help less academically astute students find good colleges to help them pursue careers, and can point out colleges that are "gems" but relatively unknown. In some cases, choosing a college in a different part of the country can improve chances for admission, particularly if the college is seeking "geographical diversity." One study suggests that the overall prestige of a person's college is less important, overall, in predicting how they would fare in later life, and that personal characteristics, such as aptitude, are more important.
Sticker versus net price
The general pattern is that most colleges and universities, particularly private ones, have an artificially high and unreliable sticker price while charging most students a discounted price that varies considerably. Writer Lynn O'Shaughnessy in US News compared college prices with "airline tickets" since "everybody pays a different fare". Another report agreed:
Sticker price is the full price colleges list in their brochures and on their websites. Net price is the price students actually pay. Net price accounts for the fact that many students receive grants or scholarships. So it can be considerably lower than sticker price.—Jacob Goldstein, NPR, 2012
|New York Univ.||$61,977|
Discounting began in the 1970s and was dramatically expanded in the 1990s, according to one report. Discrepancy between sticker and average net prices can vary substantially. Estimates vary, but show a consistent pattern of sticker prices being much greater than real costs, sometimes more than double, sometimes only one and a half times as high. Estimates are that 88% or 67% get some form of discount. Generally, the sticker-to-net price discrepancy is greater at private colleges than public universities. For example, in 2011-2012, the average sticker price for tuition, fees and living expenses at private colleges, was $38,590 while the average actual cost was $23,060; at public colleges, the average sticker price was $17,130 and the average actual cost was $11,380. Another estimate was that the average full-time undergraduate gets $6,500 in grant aid along with $1,000 in tax-based aid to offset tuition and fees. There is widespread consensus that the most cost-effective college option is community colleges, which charge on average only $3,000 for full-time tuition.
Colleges use high sticker prices because it allows them wide latitude in how to use funds to attract the best students, as well as entice students with special skills or increase its overall racial or ethnic diversity. The most sought-after students can be enticed by high discounts while marginal students can be charged full freight. Further, the high sticker price is a marketing tool to suggest the overall worth of a college education, along the lines of encouraging people to think that "schools that cost more must provide a better education." A report by the Pew Research Center found that while there was growing concern about escalating college prices, most Americans believed that their personal investment in higher education was sound. But discounting adds complexity to decision-making, deterring some students from applying in some instances based on a false sense of unaffordability.
Net price calculators
In the fall of 2011, colleges were required by federal law to post a net price calculator on their websites to give prospective students and families a rough estimate of likely college costs for their particular institution, and to "demystify pricing." A student or family could go online, find the calculator at a college's website, and enter the required financial and academic information, and the calculator should tell them an estimate of the likely cost of attending that college. The first online calculators were started by Williams College. The online calculators look at financial need and academic merit to try to estimate the likely discounted price offered to a particular student from a particular college, using information including details from tax returns, household income, grade point averages and test scores. Schools vary in terms of their pricing formulas; some consider home equity as a factor while others disregard it. Lynn O'Shaughnessy recommends that families shopping for colleges go to a college's website and use the net price calculator to get a personalized estimate of cost.
|New York University||57858||40300|
There are numerous potential problems with the calculators. Some are difficult to find on a college's website; others require specific financial numbers, possibly leading to errors by parents or students; some are difficult to understand and use; some may be manipulated by schools to increase applications or to make it seem as if a college is "more affordable" than it is. Accuracy of calculator estimates may vary considerably from college to college. Ultimately aid decisions will not be made by calculators, but by humans in the admissions offices.
Types of financial aid
Advisors can help students and parents decide whether to choose private universities or public ones, including state-subsidized schools as well as community colleges, and to help students and parents understand different types of financial aid.
- Need-based aid is offered according to the financial need of a student. Generally colleges at the "top of the pecking order" dispense aid solely in terms of need using "fairly predictable formulas", according to one source. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that elite colleges had made little progress in helping poor students get need-based aid, and that less than 15% of undergraduates at the nation's 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-2009, which are offered on the basis of need to promising yet less affluent students. According to one source, about 30 elite universities have "coffers deep enough to meet all student need" and consequently only offer need-based aid.
- Merit-based aid is scholarships and grants awarded to top academic performers or others with special talents. One report suggested that academic scholarships tended to be few, and were usually awarded by the admissions office and are "highly competitive". Another report suggested that most colleges use merit scholarships, based on high scores or grades or other accomplishments, to lure students away from a competing college.
One view is that most colleges award aid using a mix of both. Further, student loans can lessen the immediate difficulty of large tuition bills but can saddle a student with debt after graduation; in contrast, grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back.
According to Lynn O'Shaughnessy, schools trying to climb the prestige ladder use merit based scholarships to attract top students to boost their rankings in the US News guidebook. She elaborated that as a school's "stock" rises, high performing students start attending in greater numbers, and consequently the college can "ratchet back on the merit aid to wealthy students" and shift funds towards "need-based financial aid". Elite schools such as the Ivies don't give merit scholarships, according to two reports. Another tool is to use the College Board's expected family contribution calculator that can give families an idea of how much college will cost, but not for any particular college.
Families think their sons and daughters are awarded a merit scholarship because of the fact that they are wonderfully smart and talented ... The primary reason for awarding a non-need-based merit scholarship is to change a student's enrollment decision from another institution to our institution. That's why colleges do it.
Applying for financial aid
There are many reports that many applicants fail to apply for financial aid when they are qualified for it; one estimate was that 1.8 million students in 2006 who would have qualified for aid did not apply for it. Applying for financial aid is recommended by almost all college admissions advisers, even for middle- and upper-class families applying to private colleges. Each college has its own criteria for determining financial need and loans. One advisor counseled against letting the sticker price of a college dissuade a student from applying, since many of the top colleges have strong endowments allowing them to subsidize expenses, such that the colleges are less expensive than so-called "second tier" or state colleges.
College advisers suggest that parents keep financial records, including tax forms, business records, for later use when applying for financial aid, and complete the FAFSA online early in January of their college-bound student's senior year. Admissions officers can see the names of up to nine other colleges which a student is applying to; according to several reports, some colleges may deny admission or reduce aid based on their interpretation of the order of colleges listed on the FAFSA; accordingly, several sources recommend that colleges be listed alphabetically on the FAFSA to obscure any preferences. The earliest that the FAFSA form can be filled out is January first of a student's senior year; in contrast, the CSS Profile can be filled out earlier during the preceding fall. There are reports that many parents make mistakes when filling out the FAFSA information, and mistakes include failing to hit the "submit" button, visiting an incorrect FAFSA website, leaving some fields blank instead of properly entering a zero, spelling names or entering social security numbers or estimating tax data incorrectly. Since FAFSA formulas assume 20% of a student's assets can be used for college expenses as opposed to 6% of a parent's assets, advisors recommend moving funds from student to parent accounts in prior years, including moving funds to a parent-controlled 529 plan tax-advantaged account. Filing taxes early is recommended, but using estimates for FAFSA from previous years is possible provided the numbers are updated later after taxes are filed. There are no fees for applying on the FAFSA site. According to one source, the best time to begin searching for scholarships is before senior year in order to meet deadlines. Several reports confirm that it is important to file aid forms such as the CSS Profile early in the school year.
In addition to cost factors, increasingly colleges are being compared on the basis of the average student debt of their graduates, and US News has developed rankings based on average student indebtedness. A report in the Utne Reader chronicled substantial student indebtedness, and suggested that 37 million Americans in 2009 held student debt, and that nine in ten students used an average of 4.6 credit cards to pay for some educational expenses. The report chronicled an increase in average indebtedness from an average of $2,000 in 1980-81 to over $25,000 in 2009, as well as substantial decreases in Federal aid and Pell grants during that time period.
US News and others suggest another factor overlooked in terms of financing college, which is the length of time it takes to earn a degree. Finishing a year early (in three years) lops off a substantial portion of the overall bill, while taking five years compounds the expense and delays entry into the workforce. Jacques Steinberg suggested that many college-bound students calculate how much debt they were likely to incur each year, and he suggested that debt for all four years of college should total less than the graduate's expected first year's salary after college, and preferably under $40,000. A handful of schools have "free tuition" policies for low income students, so that they graduate loan-free.
Selecting colleges by type
Although most educational institutions in the U.S. are non-profit, some are for-profit. Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business, engineering or technical curriculum while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above. Another consideration is the male-female ratio; overall, 56% of enrolled college students are women, but the male-female ratio varies by college and year and program. Admissions guidance counselors can offer views about whether a public or private school is best, and give a sense of the tradeoffs.
Two-year colleges are often county or community-oriented schools funded by state or local governments, and typically offer the Associates degree (A.A.). They are generally inexpensive, particularly for in-state residents, and are focused on teaching, and accept most applicants meeting minimum grade and SAT score levels. Students commute to school and rarely live in dorms on campus. These schools often have articulation arrangements with four-year state public schools to permit students to transfer. Consultants suggest that community colleges are reasonably priced, and after two years with solid grades and academic performance, many colleges are willing to accept transfers.
Four-year colleges offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Sciences (B.S.) degrees. These are primarily undergraduate institutions, although some might have limited programs at the graduate level.
Universities have both undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate programs grant a variety of Master's degrees including M.B.A.s or M.F.A.s. The highest academic degree is the Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. Medical schools award either the M.D. or D.O. degrees while law schools award the J.D. degree. Public and private universities are generally research-oriented institutions that teach both an undergraduate and graduate students.
Liberal arts colleges are four-year institutions that emphasize interactive instruction, although research is still a component of these institutions. They are usually residential colleges with most students living on campus in dorms. They tend to have smaller enrollments, class sizes, and lower student-teacher ratios than universities, and encourage teacher-student interaction with classes taught by full-time faculty members rather than graduate students known as teaching assistants. There are further distinctions within the category of liberal arts colleges: some are coeducational, women's colleges, or men's colleges. There are historically black colleges; in addition, while most schools are secular, some stress a particular religious orientation. Most are private colleges but there are some public ones.
State colleges and universities. Since they are usually subsidized with state funds, tuitions tend to be lower than private schools. They tend to be large, sometimes with student bodies numbering in the tens of thousands, and offer a variety of programs. They are generally less selective in terms of admissions than elite competitive private schools, and are usually less expensive, sometimes half or a third as much as a private institution for in-state residents; the affordability may be leading more students in recent years to choose public or state-subsidized or community colleges. There are reports that in budget shortfalls in the past few years, many state schools are selectively trying to attract higher-paying out-of-state residents. In the past few years, competition for spots in public institutions has become more intense, with some state schools such as the State University of New York reporting record numbers of students saying "yes" to their offers of admission, unlike years previously. There are reports that tuitions at state universities are rising faster than private universities. Flagship state universities are usually the most prominent public schools in a state, and are often the oldest, have the most funding, and are often the least expensive public college.
Engineering or technical schools specialize in technical and scientific subjects. Some programs can be more competitive and applicants are often evaluated on the basis of grades in subjects such as mathematics (particularly calculus), physics, chemistry, mathematics, and science courses. Military schools such as the United States Military Academy specialize in officer training.
The consensus view among guidance advisors is that it is a good idea to visit colleges, preferably when college is in session and not during a summer break, with a chance to meet an actual student in the form of a tour guide, and taking notes for reference later when applying. Sometimes a college will waive the application fee based on the college visit. A benefit is seeing a school as it really is—not just glossy pictures from a brochure or a promotional video from a website. Another suggested that students should ask themselves, when visiting a particular college: "can I see myself here"? Reporter Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post suggested that students contact a professor in an area of interest at the college before visiting, and try to meet with them briefly or sit in on one of their classes. Reporter Brennan Barnard in the New York Times recommended that student visitors should ask good questions (by avoiding factual questions better answered by the college's website), and ask for complimentary passes for dining or free food. Barnard recommends going beyond the usual tour to ask random strangers about life on campus and reading the student newspaper. He recommends arranging to speak with a professor in the department of interest as well as athletic coaches and music directors, possibly by emailing them in advance of the visit, to try to meet them even briefly. A followup "thank you" note to the host is a good idea (avoid texting abbreviations.)
Counselor Michael Szarek commented on the importance of campus visits in dispelling false impressions:
Half of all college classes are not outdoors. Half of all college classes are not gathered around an electron microscope. Sometimes the leaves are brown, or even fall to the ground. So, use the viewbook to get a sense of the institution and what the college thinks are its strengths. But always rely on the campus visit.—Michael Szarek, 2011
However, one account suggested colleges structured the campus visit with the same boring format which rarely includes a faculty member:
First there is an “informational session,” conducted by an admissions officer. This is followed by an hour-long campus tour, which is led by a student with a talent for walking backwards .... On the campus tour, we are always shown a dorm room and a dining hall. We are always taken to a library and told how many volumes it contains. We are informed how many students study abroad (a lot), how many student clubs there are (ditto), and how small the classes are (very small.)—Carl Elliott in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012
There are conflicting views about student participation in extracurricular activities. A predominant position is that colleges were after "well-rounded bodies of individual specialists", suggesting that it is better for a student to be deeply involved in one or two activities rather than nine or ten superficially, such as a "violin-playing quarterback" or a "math-medalist poet," and that students should not "overdo it" and that parents should not become overconcerned about their child's extracurricular activities. Applicants who achieve a leadership position in an extracurricular activity are regarded more highly than applicants who merely participate in a bunch of activities. Advisors recommend that a student should choose which extracurricular activities they genuinely care about, pursue them with "gusto" and "joyful commitment" that demonstrates integrity and commitment. And, consistent with this view, is that too many extracurricular activities may look suspect to admissions officers, particularly if it seems unreasonable that any person could be as active and succeed scholastically at the same time. Jobs are generally viewed favorably by admissions committees, including even part-time service jobs such as flipping hamburgers, since it suggests that a student has learned to handle time management, to accept responsibility, and develop people skills. A less dominant position was that it is helpful to be involved in a "variety of activities", including jobs, internships, and community service. Some universities, such as the University of California, have formal programs for spot-checking applications for accuracy, such as sending a follow-up letter to the student asking for proof about an extracurricular activity or summer job. Advisors recommend that extracurricular activities should never interfere with a student's overall academic performance. A student with lots of extracurricular activities senior year, but little in preceding years, particularly when the essays focus on the extracurricular activities, are suspect; it suggests an applicant is being coached, and may reflect negatively on an application. Advisors warn against "overscheduling" students with too many activities or courses.
Number of applications
There are differing views on how many schools a student should apply to. Several reports suggest that applying to too many schools caused unnecessary stress and expense, and hampers a student from targeting applications to a few select schools. But other advisors suggest that applying to more schools increases overall chances for acceptance. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest applying to eight to ten schools is best, and that applying to too many schools is counterproductive. There are reports that the average number of schools that students are applying to has been increasing, perhaps because of greater use of the Common Application. In 2008, applications to Harvard University had increased to a record number at 27,278, a 19% increase from the year before. One effect of these numerous applications is to lower the average yield of colleges, which dropped from 46% to 38% in 2001 according to one account.
Summer academic programs, such as during the months between junior and senior year, can be helpful, particularly if a student has been having trouble in a specific area in high school. Another suggested that pre-admission programs, such as a summer program before senior year, could help students adjust to the transition to college, although some programs can be expensive; some admissions officers are skeptical of their benefit, and suggest that a part-time job or having fun is a better alternative. One suggested attending a community college during the summer before senior year, preferably for high school credits. Mamlet and VanDeVelde describe many summer vacations between junior and senior year as "adventure vacations", and wonder if they are somewhat "faddish"—a key question that admissions evaluators try to ascertain is did the student initiate the summer program or was it initiated by parents or a coach to make an application look better? Some summer programs have been crafted in a way to allow a student to write a compelling application essay:
A dizzying array of summer programs have cropped up to feed the growing anxiety that summer must be used constructively. Students can study health care in Rwanda, veterinary medicine in the Caribbean or cell cloning at Brown University, or learn about Sikkim, India’s only Buddhist state.—Jenny Anderson in The New York Times, 2011
There are reports that some college admissions departments scrutinize applicants' personalities online, such as Facebook or MySpace profiles, and as a result, they urge students to remove "sarcastic jokes, bad pictures, or political cartoons," and be wary about what their friends post on their pages as well. A concurring report suggested that some offices have people tasked with "checking out applicants' Facebook pages", although there is a contrasting report from one college recruiter who said that their policy is not to examine Facebook profiles and that "Facebook is reserved for students on a recreational basis." The same caution applies to email addresses; one advisor cautions against having jazzed-up email addresses such as "Spicychick@gmail.com", but rather that users should stick with their name, if possible, since it can help colleges find a student's records.
Choosing how to apply
Applying in the fall
Many schools have implemented a system through which students can apply at a time other than the most common usual deadline of January first of the senior year, to lighten the load on students and admissions officers. Several reports suggest an increase in early admissions.
Many open slots for students at many private universities begin to fill up early in a student's senior year of high school. One estimate is that a third of slots for next year's freshman class are filled by December, which is an increase from one-fifth ten years ago. Another estimate suggests 45% of positions are taken by December. There are reports for specific schools filling up by December 2011 for the 2012–2013 freshman year. For example, American University filled 31% of its class; Columbia 45%, Davidson 40%, Emory 32%, Hamilton 38%, Kenyon 29%, Middlebury 45%, Sarah Lawrence 21%, Smith 20%, and others.
Numerous reports suggest that more students are applying using early decision or early action approaches. Schools such as Duke University, Haverford College, and the University of Chicago reported increases in early applications in 2011. While early applications had been used by many students in elite prep schools and top high schools primarily in the northeastern United States, they are being used by a more diverse group of students including foreigners and minority applicants to apply to more colleges. A downside of applying early is an inability to compare competing aid packages from different schools, but to an extent this can be mitigated if parents and students ask the college for a fairly firm estimate of expected costs before applying by an early method. Several sources suggested that early admissions programs favor students from wealthier families since there was no need to compare financial aid offers. Adviser Michele Hernandez suggested that the early decision and early action candidate pools were "much more homogeneous" with most applicants being affluent white students. High-end academic applicants tended to want to have a choice, while minority applicants needed to compare scholarship offers from different colleges; accordingly, these latter two groups tended to avoid early applications. According to Hernandez, Ivy League financial aid packages were similar whether one applied early admission or regular admission, since the Ivies are 100% need blind meaning that they do not take into account an applicant's ability to pay. Early applicants are urged to submit applications in September and October, and not wait until November, in order to give the staff more time to consider the application. There has been controversy surrounding early admissions programs, since there have been reports that most of those accepted in early admissions tended to be white, from good high schools and having upscale family incomes. A report in US News suggested that early admissions approaches were not advised for students who were obviously under or over qualified, dependent on financial aid, undecided, behind in their college search plans, or late bloomers.
- Binding commitment. Early decision is a binding decision, meaning that students must withdraw applications to other schools if accepted. It is not legally binding, but there is a commitment involved with penalties for withdrawing for spurious reasons. Advisers suggest that this method is only for students who are absolutely certain about wanting to attend a specific school. If financial aid is a concern or if a family is "shopping for the best deal", then it is usually advised to apply early action or regular decision instead. The one stipulated situation under which a student may back out of the agreement is if the financial aid offer is insufficient. A student who backs out for other reasons may be "blacklisted" by the early decision college, which may contact the student's high school guidance office, and prevent it from sending transcripts to other colleges, and high schools generally comply with such requests. In addition, the jilted college may contact other colleges about the withdrawal, and the other colleges would likely break off their offers of acceptance as well. And by the time that an early decision aid package is offered it may be March or April of senior year, and then if a student backs out at that point for financial reasons, valuable time may be lost.
- November application. It is made early in the academic year, typically the first week in November, although deadlines vary somewhat, so a student who applies for early decision and is accepted, typically by mid-December, must attend that college. One report maintains that some colleges defer decisions on some early applicants until the next year, past their own deadlines for notifying early applicants.
- Benefits for universities. Admitting early decision applicants benefits schools because there is an almost certain probability that the admitted applicants will attend and, as a result, colleges can increase their yield by admitting them, and this can help a college improve its ranking. In addition, it helps admissions departments spread the work of sifting through applications throughout more of the school year. Generally counselors suggest this option is only for students who know with certainty that one particular college is their first choice.
- Greater chance of acceptance. There is strong consensus that applying early decision brings a greater statistical chance of being accepted, possibly doubling or tripling the chances of an acceptance letter. In 2009, the average early acceptance rate according to one estimate was 15 percentage points greater than regular decision applicants. There is less agreement, however, whether it will help a borderline student win acceptance to a competitive college. There are numerous reports that early decision candidates tend to have stronger educational credentials than regular decision candidates, and as a result, these candidates would have been admitted whether they applied by early or regular methods, and therefore the greater statistical likelihood of acceptance may have been explained by membership in the stronger applicant pool. But a more widely held view is that early decision method boosts the chances of a borderline student; as Robert J. Massa of Lafayette College explained, "colleges really want qualified students who want them" and are more likely to offer acceptances to students ready to make a full commitment. There was a report that the "acceptance rate gap" between early and regular decision—currently an average of 57% accepted if applied early decision versus 50% if applied regular decision—has been narrowing in recent years.
- Other benefits. Seniors can know sooner where they will attend and can get the hassle and uncertainty of the applications process over sooner. There is less work and expense applying to other colleges.
- How early decision affects financial aid. There are conflicting reports about how early decision affects aid offers. The more widely held view is that a student's bargaining position is weaker because the student cannot compare offers from different colleges. Since the applicant is declaring an intention to attend if accepted, then the school can "pinpoint the smallest amount of financial aid it will take for the student to attend." There have been reports of problems with early Decision aid offers falling below levels that had been expected prior to applying. A report in the Chicago Tribune suggested that applying early decision could cost "thousands more than necessary." A report in US News pointed to a research study concluding that regular decision applicants get more financial aid than early ones. Lynn O'Shaughnessy described early decision as "essentially applying blind" because a student has agreed to attend before seeing the financial aid package; and this practice "favors rich students." A second report confirms that early decision applicants tend to come from wealthier families. However, a contrasting view is that students who apply early have an advantage getting aid because they are applying earlier in the year when that aid is being doled out, and the early decision kids have "first crack at the money," particularly at competitive schools without extra-large endowments. Two reports suggested that while a student's bargaining position is somewhat weaker, it is not totally diminished, and that if a college thinks an early decision admittee may withdraw because of financial concerns, the college "may pull out all the stops" to prevent this, and that the possibility of backing out for financial reasons gives an applicant some form of negotiating leverage. Ivy League universities and other universities with large endowments may be somewhat different, in the sense that all aid offers are likely to be based solely on financial need, and that whether an applicant applied by early or regular methods would have no impact on the resulting financial aid package, according to one report.
Generally early action is similar to early decision except the decision is not binding, so a student could apply to multiple colleges. The time frame is similar: apply by early November, get a decision by mid-December, although specific deadlines vary by school. It allows a student to compare competing offers. The exception is that there are four colleges – Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale—which have a single-choice early action program, meaning that an applicant can only apply early action to one school. Early action can be the best choice for students who know they prefer one particular school and have done everything possible to secure admission since a student will know the result of the application sooner, and to varying extents allows a student to compare aid offers from different schools. One report suggested that non-binding early action programs continued to be highly popular, and noticed that three schools––Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia—which had abandoned early admissions programs in 2006, reestablished them in 2011 after other colleges failed to follow their lead. Generally fewer schools offer the early action program but ones that do include Georgetown University, MIT, and Boston College. One account suggested that early action did not give as much of an "admissions edge" as early decision because it was non-binding.
Regular admission is a good choice for students who are unsure where they would like to go. One advantage is that it can help students who have improved their grades substantially in the fall of their senior year, since decisions are not made until March of senior year. In addition, it offers students more time to make their decision about a college under somewhat less pressure than an early method. The fairly dominant view is that regular admission is more likely to result in higher offers of financial aid, particularly if students are admitted to several institutions that present different aid offers. Accordingly, one offer can be used as leverage to try to get a better offer at another institution, particularly if there are competing multiple acceptances. Several reports suggested that a "growing number of colleges" including Harvard, Cornell, and Carnegie-Mellon have stated publicly that they will consider matching offers from competing colleges. Kim Clark explained:
If you want to go to Cornell ... and you don't think your family can afford the full sticker prices ... you are likely to get bigger scholarships if you also apply—and get in—to wealthy and more competitive schools. ... Cornell will now adopt Harvard's definition of "need," which, in many cases, will mean bigger scholarships.
However, a dissenting view in the New York Times suggested that only one to two percent of colleges adjust aid packages based on offers from competing colleges, and that most colleges do not get into bidding wars over specific students.
Some colleges offer this type of admission, typically used by schools with large numbers of applicants, which means that colleges are continually receiving applications and making decisions, typically within four to six weeks after application. It allows prospective students to apply at any time between the fall and spring and to receive their result a few weeks later. One benefit is that if a student is accepted early in the school year, there is less anxiety about acceptance for the rest of the year. Rolling admission schools are also beneficial to students who are rejected from all the schools they applied regularly to, yet still wish to enroll without taking a gap year. Guidance counselors suggest that rolling admissions should not be used late in senior year since financial aid money may have already been distributed, and few slots may be left for September. One advisor suggests that if a college offers rolling admissions and is on a student's list, then it should be applied to as soon as rolling admissions becomes available for that year. Another report suggested that rolling admissions was more characteristic of noncompetitive colleges.
Test preparation courses
There are conflicting reports about the usefulness of test preparation courses. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that "most students don't need a coach or a class" and that the single largest factor was "familiarity with the test". Another report agreed that SAT/ACT prep courses were a waste of money and that taking a few practice exams, and understanding how each test works, was all that was needed. According to NBC News, the multi-billion dollar private test prep industry, including coaching and tutoring as well as software and clinics, is a source of "inequality and injustice" in higher education since it enables the offspring of well-to-do families to improve their test scores by means of learning "tips and tricks"; there is a report in March 2014 that the College Board is planning to redesign the SAT to make it less susceptible to gaming. Test prep courses can cost $1,000 per course; tutors can cost $15,000 per year, according to one estimate.
Standardized admissions tests
In 2003, according to one estimate, 1.4 million students took the SAT and 1.4 million also took the ACT test, paying about $50 per test. Generally counselors suggest that students should plan on taking the SAT or ACT test twice, so that a low score can possibly be improved. One advisor suggested that students with weak SAT or ACT scores could consider applying to colleges where these measures were optional. One suggested retaking the tests if there are "subpar test scores" in September and October (if applying early admission) or November and December (if applying regular admission.) Generally over half of juniors retaking the SAT or ACT tests during the senior year saw improvements in their scores. Colleges vary in terms of how much emphasis they place on these scores.
A consensus view is that most colleges accept either the SAT or ACT, and have formulas for converting scores into admissions criteria, and can convert SAT scores into ACT scores and vice versa relatively easily. The ACT is reportedly more popular in the midwest and south while the SAT is more popular on the east and west coasts. Apparently there have been instances of persons taking admissions tests in place of the real student as paid SAT test-takers, which is illegal, but the existence of such services has been called "an open secret in competitive circles"; for example, in 2011, an Emory University sophomore was arrested for taking the test for another person on a fee basis. One report suggested the College Board was considering requiring test-takers to submit a photograph of themselves on the test day as a precaution against impersonation; the photos would be kept in a password-protected database but which would not be shared with college admissions departments.
Michele Hernandez recommended taking the SAT or ACT test only once or twice otherwise an applicant may appear "score obsessed." One report suggested that a benefit of the ACT test was that it allowed the test-taker to have greater freedom to choose which scores to send to which colleges. Counselors suggest that students practice taking the test under actual testing conditions. Counselors advise students taking tests should become familiar with directions beforehand so there will be more time to focus on problems during the actual test. And the use of tests by colleges has been criticized as being ineffective at predicting ultimate life success; one study suggested that SAT results "don't mean much long term".
|ACT test||SAT test|
|Content-based test||Tests reasoning ability|
|Emphasizes higher math||Emphasizes vocabulary|
|Longer questions||Trickier questions|
|More popular in south & midwest||More popular in east & west|
|Science reasoning section||Vocabulary section|
|No penalty for wrong answers||Penalty for guessing|
|Greater choice in selecting which scores to send to colleges||Fewer options|
|Difficult questions randomly interspersed||Difficulty progresses within each section|
Regarding whether to choose the SAT or ACT, the consensus view is that both tests are roughly equivalent and tend to bring similar results, and that each test is equally accepted by colleges. Reporter Jacques Steinberg in the New York Times suggested that admissions deans repeatedly inform him that colleges view the ACT and SAT tests equally and do not have a preference. At the same time, there are slight differences between the tests which may translate into a slight benefit for the test-taker. One source noted that there is no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT so advisors suggest that it is okay to guess if time is limited; but on the SAT, incorrect guessing is penalized. One report suggested that the SAT favors "white male students" from upper income backgrounds. Another report suggests that the ACT has more questions geared to higher levels of high school mathematics, suggesting that students who do well in math may perform better, but that the SAT is a better choice for students with an excellent vocabulary. According to one view, the SAT is more focused on testing reasoning ability while the ACT is more of a content-based test of achievement. In addition, according to this view, some SAT questions can be trickier and harder to decipher while some ACT questions may be longer; question difficulty progresses within each SAT section while difficult questions are randomly interspersed in the ACT; the SAT has a separate vocabulary section while the ACT has a separate science reasoning section.
SAT subject tests
Several sources suggested that the SAT subject tests were becoming more important in evaluating applicants. One described them as "true equalizers" in admissions, suggesting how strong a high school is, and elaborated that some admissions officers considered them to be a better indicator of academic ability than high school grades. Another suggested that selective colleges like to get results from SAT subject tests in addition to other ones, while public universities placed less emphasis on them.
Advanced placement tests
There was a report that scores on Advanced Placement exams could be helpful in the evaluations process. One report suggested there was a limit on the number of AP tests that should be taken, such that taking 12 AP tests was not as helpful as taking five and doing well on those five.
Common vs. college's application
The advantage of the Common Application is that it is the same for numerous colleges, and can save time and trouble for a student. It is accepted at 488 colleges out of several thousand, but only a third of the 488 use it exclusively, meaning that two-thirds allow an applicant to submit either the Common Application or the school's specific application form. According to Hernandez, many admissions officers complain that the Common Application stifles creativity and encourages "dull responses", and she recommends that students use the college's particular application when there is a choice.
There are differing recommendations about the importance of interviews, with the consensus view that interviews were overall less important than college admissions essays, but should be done if they were offered. One counselor suggested that if an interview was offered by a college admissions program, then it was not really optional but it should be seen as a requirement––not going to such an interview could be detrimental to a student's chances for admission. One counselor suggested that a student try to get an interview, even if it was not required, since it might help "exhibit character strengths" that might not show up via grades on high school transcripts. Several reports noted that most Ivy League schools have abandoned the interview requirement, but that if there is an opportunity for an interview, even with an alumnus of the college, then it is a good idea to do it since not doing it signals a lack of interest in the school. Knowing a college can be helpful during an interview, so that an applicant can say something specific about the school, or a professor who teaches there, or a subject or internship opportunities, since it shows sincere interest. Counselor Donald Dunbar suggested that a goal of interview preparation should be to present oneself as "comfortable with spontaneous conversation" and being able to talk about interests without sounding like the answers were prepared in advance. He suggested it was important to show intellectual passion and loving learning with a deep excitement, and show "social maturity" with sensitivity, empathy for others unlike oneself, and concern for issues larger than personal career ambitions. He advised that an applicant's attitude should not be what can the college offer but what can the student offer the college, and to avoid asking questions about facts which are better answered elsewhere, and to show an openness to new ideas, an ability to work cooperatively with others, ambition, and caring about others. Counselors suggest that interviewees should be ready for sometimes provocative questions to test social sensitivity; Dunbar suggested that if an interviewer asks a "baiting or leading question", an applicant should respond by laughing while politely disagreeing with the perspective, and to keep trying to enjoy the conversation with the interviewer. Dunbar advised that applicants should avoid sounding snide, annoyed, contemptuous, and avoid describing oneself as humiliated, bored, depressed, angry, shy, inhibited, anxious, frightened, and frustrated, and should be upbeat but avoid going for the hard sell. Another report suggested that shy or timid applicants were at a disadvantage. Hernandez suggested that visits by college admissions personnel to the high schools were a waste of time for colleges, since there was not enough time to get to know specific applicants. In addition, she felt that personal interviews were generally overrated, although she noted that many Ivies have alumni interviews which can help in borderline situations. Hernandez suggested that a student try to find a common bond with the interviewer, and send a brief follow-up letter afterwards. Interviews rarely matter at big colleges but may be more of a factor at small liberal arts colleges if offered:
Our advice is that if offered an interview, a student should take it ... And they should dress as if they are going to dinner with their grandparents. The biggest faux pax comes in inappropriate dress for both sexes. Spaghetti straps, buttons that pop open. For boys a rumpled T-shirt.... If you look in the mirror and you think you look good, change your clothes. This is not a date.—Mamlet and VanDeVelde
There are differing opinions about the importance of the college essay. The consensus view is that the essay is less important than grades and test scores, but that an essay can make a difference in some instances, often at highly selective colleges where they can "make or break your application." There was one report that essays were becoming more important as a way to judge a student's potential, and that essays have supplanted personal interviews as a primary way to evaluate a student's character.
Generally counselors recommend that the essay should not be too long, such as over 500 words. The Common Application suggests 250 to 500 words in length. One advisor suggested that an essay longer than 700 words risked "straining their patience," but the 500-word suggested maximum length is not a hard–and–fast rule, and what's important is honing and rewriting:
Writing is easy; rewriting is hard. And essays deserve to be rewritten several times. Lots of kids think the objective is to write about something that will impress the admission office. In part that is true, but what impresses an admission officer is an essay that conveys something positive about the applicant; that allows the committee to get to know the kid just a bit from those few pieces of paper. The essay is an opportunity to provide a different perspective about the applicant, a reason to accept a kid. It is an opportunity not to be wasted.—Steve Cohen in The Washington Post, 2011
Advisors suggest that the essay should be concise, honest (with no embellishments), coherent, not boring, accurate, evoking vivid images, revealing a likeable and smart individual, with cautious use of humor, and possibly touching on controversial topics but in a balanced way. Other tips include avoiding jargon or abbreviations, overly emotional appeals, profanity or texttalk (example: Schools H8 2 C texttalk), or artiness (e.g. poetry in an application) or being cocky.
Former guidance counselor for students at Andover and college admissions authority, Donald Dunbar, suggested that essays must emphasize personal character and demonstrate intellectual curiosity, maturity, social conscience, concern for the community, tolerance, and inclusiveness. He advises don't just "be yourself", but show your "best self", and that demonstrating class participation suggests a "willingness to go beyond selfishness" and shows enthusiasm for learning. Alan Gelb suggests that the only no-no is "shameless self-promotion". Topics to avoid include babysitting experiences, pets, encounters with illegal drugs or alcohol or criminal activity, excuses to explain a low grade, stories about a former home or big brother or sister, simply listing achievements, expressing thanks for being chosen as a leader, talking about a "wilderness leadership course," general complaining or whining, racism or sexism or disrespect for groups of people, bad taste or profanity or vulgarity or bathroom humor, early love or sex experiences, criticism or disrespect for parents, telling only jokes, excessive bragging or too many instances of the "I" pronoun, divulging personal health information about yourself or a friend or a family member, copy-and-pasting a term paper in the essay form such as about global warming or the European debt crisis, and experiences involving lawbreaking or illegal activity. Applicants should not express opinions too strongly as if no possible counterviews were possible. The topic should be something the applicant cares about, and which shows leadership in the sense of "asserting yourself to help others have more success"; according to Dunbar, leadership was not necessarily about being in charge such as being the team captain or school president. Applicants should present a broad perspective and avoid simplistic words such as "never", "always", "only", or "nobody", which suggest narrow thinking. Dunbar advised against the standard "tell 'em what you've told 'em" essay formula but doing something different, interesting, exciting.
Former admissions director Michele Hernandez agreed, and suggested that the best essay topics were a slice-of-life story, with poignant details, in which the writer "shows" and does not "tell". She suggested that a student show their essay to a literate friend and ask if would they admit this person to the college She recommended that applicants not try to come across as a "preppy well-off kid" but downplay parental status. Advisors Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that students proactively try to explain an unusual grade, such as a low grade in a core course.
Some colleges ask for teacher recommendation letters, typically from 11th or 12th grade teachers of core courses, and preferably who know the student well. One report suggested that having more than four recommendations was a mistake, and that a "thick file" indicated a "thick student" to admissions personnel. One report, however, was that teacher recommendations were becoming less important as a rating measure, according to one report. There is a report that some colleges are asking for recommendation letters from parents to describe their child:
You might think they do nothing but brag ... But parents really nail their kids. They really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can’t get anywhere else.
Advisors counsel that applicants should meet deadlines, spend time researching colleges, be open-minded, have fun, communicate what "resonates" to the applicant about a particular school, not fall in love with one or two colleges, follow directions precisely and make sure to click the "submit" button. Rudeness towards staff members, feigning enthusiasm, and being pretentious are other turnoffs reported by admissions officers. There is strong consensus among counselors and advisors that starting the college search early is vital. One recommends starting early in the senior year; another suggests that even this is too late, and that the process should begin during the junior year and summer before senior year. And sources suggest that students who begin the process earlier tend to earn more acceptance letters. Another advantage of beginning early is so that applications can be proofread for mistakes. Advisors suggest that emails should be sent to specific persons in the admissions office, not to a generalized inbox. Advisors suggest that applicants sending in paper applications should take care that handwriting is legible, particularly email addresses. Advisors counsel that mistakes or changes should be explained somewhere in the application; for example, an adviser at Grinnell College suggested that a record need not be perfect but there must be an "explanation for any significant blip." Advisors suggest that applicants should "own up to any bad behavior" such as suspensions since schools are "dutybound to report them", and suggest that a person should "accept responsibility and show contrition for "lessons learned," according to one view. Disciplinary actions are usually reported to the colleges by the high school as a matter of course. Advisors suggest that the application should help a student position themselves to create a unique picture. It helps, according to one advisor, if a person knows himself or herself, because that enables an applicant to communicate effectively with a prospective school.
Foreign (non-US citizen) students applying from another country form a large and growing percentage of applicants (including accepted applicants) to American universities. According to Andover counseling director Sean Logan, applications to American universities from foreign students have increased dramatically in the past decade. International applications are typically similar to domestic ones but with additional complications. Most international applicants do not receive a GPA score or transcript from their school. Most will not normally take SAT or ACT exams, so these must be arranged. Most American universities are happy to accept international and foreign qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate or IB, or British A Levels, although it is often up to the applicant to elaborate on the meaning of these qualifications. Non-native English speakers may be asked to provide English language qualifications. If a university requires or offers an interview, these can normally be conducted over the phone or with alumni residing in the applicant's country, according to Uni in the USA, a guide book catering to the growing number of British students seeking to study in the United States. International applicants often must cope with higher tuition fees and less available financial aid, although this varies significantly by college. Further, international applicants also have to apply for a student visa, which can be a complex and time-consuming process.
How colleges evaluate applicants
|Grades in college prep courses||83%|
|Strength of curriculum||66%|
|Admission test scores||59%|
|Grades in all courses||46%|
|Essay or writing sample||27%|
|Student's demonstrated interest||23%|
|Subject test scores||10%|
|SAT II scores||5%|
|State graduation exam||4%|
|Source: 2010 survey by NACAC|
Colleges use a variety of methods to evaluate applicants. One source noted that four of every five colleges accept more than half of all applicants, and three-fourths of students who apply to colleges are accepted by their first choice college. Depending on the size and values of the school, admissions criteria can vary from being almost entirely formulaic to involving significant subjective judgment regarding the student's "fit" for the institution. Criteria vary considerably by school, and one view is that the "great deal of inconsistency across institutions" sometimes gave an incorrect impression that "student selection is arbitrary." Criteria include standardized test scores (generally ACT and/or SAT), class rank, grades (as shown in the high school transcript), degree of extracurricular involvement, and leadership potential. One report suggested that the most important criteria, in order of importance, were (1) grades in college preparatory courses (2) strength of curriculum (3) grades in all courses and (4) class rank. Many colleges also rely on personal essay(s) written by the applicant and letters of recommendation written by the applicant's teachers and guidance counselor; one benefit of the essay is to help colleges such as Pitzer College, which claims that half of its applicants have "perfect or near-perfect grades and test scores", have a way of further differentiating students. Institutions place different weight on these criteria: for example, some schools do not require or even accept the SATs for admission. It should be noted that some factors are beyond a student's control, such as a college's need in a given year for diversity, legacy applicants, or athletic recruiting.
It is a gargantuan task for admissions staff at selective colleges to analyze and process thousands of applications with a "huge mail deluge" since there are often six pieces of mail for each applicant, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and the application itself. College admissions personnel spend less time on average reading each particular application; in 2009, the average admissions officer was responsible for analyzing 514 applications, and the trend was in the direction of officers having to read more and more applications. A typical college application receives only about 25 minutes of reading time, including three to five minutes for the personal essay if it is read. Advisors suggest that understanding some of the criteria can help an applicant apply to colleges with greater success. Some colleges extract information from the federal FAFSA financial aid form, including names of other schools which the applicant is applying to. Counselors urge students and parents to understand what types of things colleges tend to look for in applications, and plan accordingly. A key attribute which admissions evaluators look for, according to Mamlet and Vandevelde, is authenticity—a real person who comes through the application, not a packaged artificial entity or distortion crafted to impress an admissions officer. An admissions officer at Vanderbilt University wrote about how their office evaluates applicants: "It's really about, 'What did I take advantage of in the environment I was given.'" Several reports suggested that colleges were not looking for the "well-rounded kid" but rather a "well-rounded class":
Colleges are looking for ... the well-rounded class. Colleges put together their entering class as a mosaic: a few great scholars for each academic department; a handful of athletes; some musicians, dancers, and theater stars; a few for racial and economic diversity; some potential club leaders, etc. Colleges want a kid who is devoted to – and excels at – something. The word they most often use is passion.—Steve Cohen in the Washington Post, 2011
Colleges want students who have demonstrated through their actions an ability to see and connect with a world that is larger than they are.—Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde, 2011
Admissions results 2012
|UC San Diego||CA||60838||38%|
|UC Santa Bar||CA||54831||42%|
|UC Santa Cr.||CA||32954||60%|
|UNC Chapel H||NC||28491||27%||38%||16%|
|U Puget Sou.||WA||6772||53%||88%||53%|
|Wash & Lee||VA||5970||18%||40%||15%|
|William & M.||VA||13651||31%||48%||29%|
Results for admissions decisions for selected colleges are posted in the table to the right.
There are numerous reports that colleges use proprietary mathematical algorithms as part of their process for evaluating applications. Some colleges hire statistical experts known as "enrollment consultants" to help them predict enrollment by developing computer models to select applicants in such a way as to maximize yield and acceptance rates. Some of these models take into account factors such as an applicant's "zip code, religion, first-choice major and extracurricular interests, as well as academic performance". Colleges have been reported to have mathematical algorithms which recalculate an applicant's high school grade point average by weighting different course grades by such factors as perceived course difficulty and strength of high school curriculum; this allows the college to come up with a revised GPA number for a student they can compare against applicants from different schools. Furthermore, many colleges track how well other students from the same high school have done—that is, applicants from the same high school who attended or are attending the college—by comparing their high school grades against their college grades, and admissions officers use this data to try to estimate the likely college grade performance of a given applicant. Generally admissions departments do not reveal the particulars of such mathematical analyses. According to Michele Hernandez, Ivy League admissions departments compile an academic index based on three main factors: (1) highest SAT Reasoning Math/Critical Reading score (2) average of three highest SAT Subject tests (3) converted rank score which is based on grades, class rank, and high school difficulty. In her view, two-thirds of this evaluation is based on tests, while only one third is based on grades, leading her to conclude at one point that grades were less important overall as a factor than test scores, while in a different chapter she also suggested that the high school transcript information described roughly 60% of the college's perception of a student's academic performance. Next, the composite academic index score was combined with an analysis of personal factors such as extracurricular activity or the essay, such that the academic factor was weighted 70% to 85% while the personal evaluation was weighted only 30% to 15%. Generally the particulars of the mathematical formulas are not revealed to the public, and different colleges have different formulas. Part of the purpose of algorithms is to expedite the handling of thousands of applications in a short amount of time. For example, at Dartmouth College, data goes into a "master card" for each application, which leads to a "ready sheet", where readers summarize applications; then, an initial screening is done: top applications go directly to the director of admissions for approval while lackluster ones go to another director. Dartmouth uses "A" for accept, "R" for reject, "P" for possible, with "P+" and "P-" being variants. A committee might spend a week with the "P" ones, of which only about a sixth will become acceptances, according to Hernandez.
Analysis of grades
The consensus view is that high school grades are probably the single most important factor in winning admission. Maintaining high grades is particularly important for the fall semester of senior year, as well as winter grades if applying by regular admission, and there is a report that colleges are paying greater attention to a student's grades throughout senior year. Particularly important is academic performance in core courses, and having a high grade point average based on good grades in AP-level or honors courses. Colleges evaluate applicants often by examining how a student has successfully exploited what a high school has had to offer. High school guidance counselor Erin Day of Summit High School in New Jersey suggested that of the top five criteria for getting into college, having good grades were first, second, and third most important overall (test scores were fourth, extracurricular activities and essay were fifth). An ideal academic record is one of increasingly better grades in courses of progressive difficulty. Hernandez wrote that colleges looked for patterns with both grades and test scores; high grades with low test scores suggested a hard-working student, but high test scores with low grades suggested a picture of a lazy student. Ninth grade grades generally do not count much, but trends are important—an upward trend in grades was a positive factor, a decline a negative one. Public universities are more likely to evaluate applicants based on grades and test scores alone, while private universities tend to be more "holistic" and consider other measures, according to one view.
ACT and SAT scores
The consensus view is that these are important, although Mamlet and VanDeVelde feel the scores "don't count as much as people think they do." There are many reports that admissions departments consider only the highest test results in different test subsections, sometimes called superscore results or superscoring, so if a student takes a standardized test during multiple sittings, for example, the highest math score and the highest verbal scores will be considered, regardless of which particular test date they were achieved. Two sources in the Washington Post suggested that colleges routinely superscore the SAT test but rarely the ACT, possibly because of difficulty processing five separate rounded numbers.
Rigor of high school courses
A consensus view is that taking rigorous high school courses is a plus. Guidance counselors report that admissions personnel take a student's course of study into serious consideration when evaluating applications. Admissions officers construct a high school profile and take into account such data as curriculum offerings, demographics, and grade distributions at the high school. One adviser suggested taking the hardest courses that there were, and that the worst thing, in terms of evaluations, was to drop a hard course.
A survey of admissions officers revealed that 28% agreed that their school had accepted athletes despite having lower grades and test scores than others. A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that schools with strong athletics departments tended to have athletes with lower SAT scores than non-athletic students. Athletes get better treatment even at elite colleges, according to one academic study. A report suggested that some applications by athletes go first to a special committee for review by coaches, who may then, in turn, advocate for particular players. Recruited athletes who play in-demand or "revenue" sports (i.e. generate ticket sales) such as football or basketball can have a "significantly greater advantage in admissions" than others. Some Ivy League coaches, seeking to improve the average academic performance of their teams, would admit mediocre athletes with top academic skills as a means to balance out the stellar athletes with below-average academic ability. To fix this "average score" arrangement in which there had been a temptation to admit an extremely poor student with great athletic ability, many schools went to a banding arrangement. For example, coaches would consider all wrestling applicants within a specified range or band of academic performance, and coaches could admit more wrestler-applicants who showed greater scholastic promise. Howard and Matthew Greene report that coaches do not make admissions decisions, but they can advocate for a particular applicant. And they report that committed athletes should explain in their applications how much time they have used towards perfecting their athletic ability:
We often talk with highly involved athletes who have little time for other activities outside of their sports. In many cases their grades suffer. Most student-athletes are not "recruited" to colleges, but colleges will respect their commitment and drive.—Howard and Matthew Greene, 2003
Some colleges are more likely to admit students with in-demand skills, such as writing, debating, theater management, science competitions, organizational skills, musical skills, and so forth.
Admissions personnel look favorably on applications where it is clear that the student, himself or herself, appears to be firmly in control over the whole application process; the appearance of pushy parents or coaching can have a dampening effect. Ideally it is best if the student, himself or herself, is in charge of organizing the college search and decision-making process; the "student must be in the driver's seat". One admissions dean explained: And admissions officers are turned off by "micromanaging parents".
Students who really manage the show on their own, fill out the application on their own, make their own appointments for interviews, correspond with you on their own email account – these students get extra points because they're managing their lives.
This can be an important factor in some situations, sometimes a "driving factor", since a college may be more likely to say yes to a student likely to matriculate. Accordingly, it has been advised to become knowledgeable about schools being applied to, and "tailor each application accordingly." College visits (including overnight ones), interviews, attending College Fair days, comments in the essay, contacting college faculty members, answering and opening emails, place position of the college on the FAFSA form or its FAFSA position, and other indications of interest can be a factor for many colleges concerned about their yield––the percent of students who will say yes to an offer of enrollment. According to Andover's college counseling director Sean Logan, it is important to have numerous contact points with colleges to show demonstrated interest: visiting, phone contact, emailing, visits to websites (including number of clicks as well as length of time on the website), whether a college visit included a tour and interview, and whether a college-recommended off-campus personal interview was done. Schools such as Connecticut College and Emory University have been credited as "popularizing the yield game" by refusing well-qualified students who failed to show much real interest in attending, as a way to boost their yield scores. One top high school student was waitlisted at a "likely" college for showing lack of interest:
We assumed they weren't coming, because we didn't have much contact from them. We know they're probably using us as a back-up and they haven't done much to show any sincere interest, so we decided to waitlist them.—Andover college counseling director Sean Logan, remembering a comment from a college admissions director.
One report suggested that colleges seek students who will be actively involved on campus and not spending every day studying alone in their rooms. As a result, they are interested in teacher recommendations which suggest active classroom participation in high school classrooms, describing students who speak up in class, who ask questions, who are almost like an "unpaid teaching assistant" to help a high school teacher make a class great, or make a weak teacher's class bearable.
Weeding out problem people
Admissions tries to screen out difficult people, spoilers, and "self-involved brats". According to Dunbar, many colleges are "afraid of aggression", and recommends avoiding "harsh humor" or signs of severe emotion, anger, and aggression. Admissions evaluators look for signals possibly indicating difficult people, such as nonconstructive or disrespectful criticisms of people by an applicant, or evidence of a drug or alcohol problem. Colleges try to weed out dependent people who either follow their parents too closely, or do only what the "cool kids" do. Dunbar advised that "parental control of any kind, if detected, can be very damaging", and advised that students should not appear to be controlled by parental whims.
Analysis of essays
Michele Hernandez suggested that almost all admissions essays were weak, cliche-ridden, and "not worth reading". The staff gets thousands of essays and have to wade through most of them. When she worked as an admissions director at Dartmouth, she noticed that most essays were only read for three minutes. Some too-common essay types were the "outward bound" essay about how a person discovered their inner grit while hiking tough mountains, or the "community service" essay about how a student discovered, while working among disadvantaged peoples, that "all persons were the same". Admissions officers seek to learn how a person thinks, what kind of person they are, and their level of intellectual promise. Essays are generally important only in borderline cases.
One report was that at Ivy League universities, 40% of students were so-called "special cases" including student-athletes, minorities, low-income, legacies, and development cases, and that admissions standards were typically lowered for these groups.
Ability to pay
While there is general agreement that chances for admission are higher for students who are prepared to pay the full price, there are indications that this has been even more prevalent in the past few years given economic uncertainty and rising college costs, particularly at schools without large endowments. Half of admissions officers at both public universities and a third of officers at four-year colleges were actively seeking students who could "pay full price" and did not need financial aid, according to one survey of 462 admissions directors and managers in 2011. The report suggested that full-pay students tended to have lower high school grades and test scores than other students, compared to other applicants, on average. Two other reports confirmed that public university admissions officers were actively seeking out-of-state and international students since they paid higher rates for tuition. Another report found that one in ten admissions officers had said that their college admitted full-pay students despite their having lower average grades and test scores. Reports vary about whether the financial neediness of applicants impacts admissions chances; one suggested that applicants with strong academic credentials or talents are more likely to get financial aid, but that depending on the college, "borderline admits" needing money were most vulnerable; a second report was that "colleges like rich students". George Washington University, despite claiming to have need blind admissions, was more likely to waitlist financially needy applicants, according to one report. One view was that financial aid depends on how a specific student compares with other students:
What this means is that your financial aid package from a reach college may not be as attractive as the package from one of your target, or well matched, colleges. If you are looking for generous scholarship aid, you need to look at colleges and universities where your academic profile is strong compared to that of the average admitted student.—Hannah Serota, college counselor
By contrast, other schools practice need-blind admission.
One view was that state schools strive to admit students from "all parts of a state," which suggests that applicants who live farther away from a given school had a better chance of admission. But a contrary view was that geographic location of the applicant matters perhaps only slightly, if at all; Hernandez looked at acceptance ratios to Dartmouth for different geographic locations, and found that geographic distance was not a factor influencing admittances.
Race and ethnicity
A survey of admissions personnel suggested that two-fifths had said yes to applicants from minorities despite having lower grades and test scores than other applicants, on average. At the same time, rulings by the Supreme Court have prevented race from becoming an "overriding factor" in college admissions. A report suggested minority students have a better chance overall at selective colleges. In the case of multiracial students, they have a choice of which box to check since it may be perceived either as "gamesmanship" or reflecting one's racial makeup. Some Asian-Americans have felt loathe to describe themselves as Asian, or to reveal information about their ethnic background, on the supposition that college admissions departments discriminate against them because of their ethnicity and consider them incorrectly to be "boring academic robots", according to several reports. Typically, Asian applicants require a SAT score 140 points above that of a comparable white student, and considerably higher than that of a non-Asian minority, to have a similar chance of admission. Asians get a "raw deal" in Ivy admissions, according to Hernandez, and have to be much better students than the typical white applicant to be admitted. She wrote that it benefits an applicant to be African American, Latino, or Native American, since colleges can advertise their diversity as a result. The admissions practices of Harvard and Princeton were investigated for possible discrimination against Asian-American applicants by Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
There are differing views about how important it is to have a family member or relative who also attended a college. It is clear that it is a factor; one report suggested that having a family member who is an alumnus gives "a leg up" for applicants. One report suggested that siblings do not count as legacies. In some cases, a parent's attendance at a related graduate school counts as a legacy, but most colleges do not count this. Many selective private colleges have a higher admit rate for alumni children as a way to "keep the larger set of alumni happy and giving", and being a legacy applicant can mean as much as "100 or 200 points on the SAT".
Legacy admissions have had a history of controversy; economist Peter Sacks criticized the practice of legacy admissions as a "social reproduction process" in which "elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni ... ’You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.'" Another agreed that legacies perpetuated a "hereditary aristocracy". But an opposing view is that all colleges, to varying extents, make choices as part of the admissions process, including state schools which charge in-state residents (with taxpaying parents) a lower rate than out-of-state residents, and it was argued that there was not really much difference between taxpaying parents contributing to a state school as well as generous alumni contributing to a private school—both with the possibility that it will help their offspring get into college. Consultant Donald Dunbar suggested that admitting legacies encourages future donations, and in turn these incoming money flows help the school subsidize the education of more minority students; another source suggested that alumni gifts was important in helping a college pay for need-blind programs. Legacy admissions was criticized by Daniel Golden in his book The Price of Admission in which elite schools gave "heavy preferences to the wealthy", according to essayist Neal Gabler in the Boston Globe.
In certain cases, family wealth of applicants is considered, based on potential to make a substantial donation to the school (above and beyond paying tuition, and separate from considerations such as ability or fame). Such candidates are known as development cases, and are intended to bolster the finances of the university, especially to its further mission. The practice is not widely discussed by universities that use it, but is reported to be used by a number of top-ranked schools, Ivy League and otherwise, and has been associated with Duke University (which acknowledges its use) and Brown University (which does not comment), especially since the 1980s.
Counselors and admissions directors tend to agree that in a few selected cases, connections were important. A report based on a survey of admissions directors suggested that "whom you know does matter", since higher-level administrators and prominent alumni and trustees can exert pressure on the admissions departments to admit certain applicants.
There was a report that more colleges are resorting to computerized fact-checking software, as well as anti-plagiarism tools such as Turnitin, which checks documents for unoriginal content on the web, possibly as a response to well-publicized scandals in which a student won admission to Harvard University by fraudulent means. Supplementary materials generally carry "no weight" in college admissions, according to one view. A report in Time Magazine suggested that many elite colleges used a vaguer measure of institutional fit to decide who is admitted, which is based on nonacademic qualities and may favor "underrepresented minorities and students who demonstrate exceptional talent." Students who take a "gap year" between high school and college can benefit if the year was enriching and developing and helped the student mature.
Acceptances and rejections
Students are usually notified of a college's decision in April, sometimes in the last two weeks of March, unless they had applied using an early approach, and are usually notified by email, although some colleges still send "fat" envelopes (usually an acceptance) or "thin" envelopes (usually a rejection). A trend appears to be declining percentages of acceptances to leading schools. There are indications that the percentage of students who say "yes" to an offer of admission (the yield) has been declining, from 49 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2009. Admitted students may also be awarded financial aid. There are two kinds of financial aid: need-based aid, awarded entirely on the financial specifics of the student's family, and merit-based aid, given to students judged to show exceptional academic promise. Several reports confirm that accepted students who are dissatisfied with an aid offer should contact the college to see if the offer can be improved. International students who have been accepted should complete an I-20 form. A disappointing aid package may be appealed with a polite call to the school's financial aid office, while being thankful for any funds that have already been offered. In some cases, it is possible to bargain with a school for a more generous aid package, particularly if there is a more generous offer from a second school which the first school sees as a competitor. One report suggested that even by May 2012, there were 375 colleges which still had space for freshmen or transfer applicants for fall of 2012. Seniors accepted to college are expected to maintain good grades during the spring; for example, one hundred high school applicants accepted to Texas Christian University, whose grades plummeted in the spring of their senior year as a symptom of senioritis, received so-called "fear of God" letters from an admissions dean asking them to explain themselves, and threatening to rescind offers of admission.
Wait list considerations
About half of colleges use a wait list, particularly those which accept fewer than half of all incoming applications. Since students on average tend to be sending out more applications, colleges have been having a tougher time knowing for certain whether the students to whom they have offered admission will, in fact, attend in the fall. Some of the uncertainty is related to the phenomenon of students applying to more and more schools, sometimes 15 or more, to increase their chances in a statistical sense, but this adds a new layer of guesswork for colleges trying to predict how many accepted students will say yes, and puts waitlisted students in "limbo" or the "basic equivalent of purgatory," according to US News. In addition, many colleges lose some students due to a phenomenon sometimes called summer melt, meaning that some students, even ones who have sent in a deposit, will not show up in the fall, and melt away, and this "melt percentage" can be as high as 5% to 10% of persons who have paid a deposit.
The admission process is a complicated dance of supply and demand for colleges. And this spring, many institutions have accepted fewer applicants, and placed more on waiting lists, until it becomes clear over the next few weeks how many spots remain.—Jacques Steinberg in The New York Times, April 2010
As a result, colleges use wait lists as a hedge to make sure they have enough students in the fall. Some schools "under-invite" applicants in the regular admissions season to appear highly selective and then about-face and accept them from their wait lists later. One report is that Vanderbilt gets a tenth of their freshman class from the wait list. But it varies from college to college and from year to year. For example, in 2010 Stanford and Yale wait-listed 1,000 students while Duke wait-listed 3,000 students. Overall, one survey suggested that 30% of wait-listed students are eventually accepted, but this is an average figure for all wait-listed students, and the percentage is dramatically lower at elite or prestigious schools. There is a report suggesting that in recent years, the lists are more fluid than in previous years in the sense that there is more activity regarding wait lists which have become more of a "safety net" for colleges rather than students. Estimates vary about how many college applicants find themselves on a wait list; one report was that 10% of applicants were wait-listed.
|SUNY New Paltz||21%|
|U. North Carolina||54%|
One adviser suggested that students who are wait-listed "work the wait list" by staying in touch with the admissions office to make sure they know the student will attend if accepted, and possibly take steps such as forwarding new grades and making a subsequent college visit, or send a one-page letter or 60-second video describing a strong desire to attend and the reasons. A former dean of admissions at Franklin and Marshall College suggests that students not view the wait list letter as a "polite denial" but rather as a possible opportunity. A second report in 2011 confirmed this, and it suggested that private colleges without "billion-dollar endowments or 40,000 applicants" were finding that the period from May to the start of classes in fall was a time of uncertainty, with many institutions seeking new applicants, and unsure how many of the applicants that had promised to attend would, in fact, show up in the fall. What can happen is that institutions at the top of the "food chain" accept students from their wait lists, and these students in turn sacrifice their deposit to schools lower down the chain, generating vacancies and uncertainty. A downside to wait lists is that by the time a student is accepted, there may be much less money available for scholarships or grants. There was a report in The Wall Street Journal of a few colleges such as Franklin & Marshall which deliberately waitlisted overqualified students on the assumption that even if accepted, they would almost certainly not enroll. The alleged purpose was to boost the admissions yield rate––the percentage of students who accept a college's admissions offer––as a means to improve the college's overall performance on the influential US News college rankings.
Duke University in 2010 had 27,000 freshman applicants, accepted 4,000 and placed 856 on its waiting list in April, since it was uncertain how many of those accepted would choose to attend; in this sense, the wait list is a form of hedge for the university to guard against uncertainty. Duke does not rank students on the wait list, but chooses based on other characteristics.
While most college admissions involves high school students applying to colleges, transfer admissions are important as well. Estimates of the percentage of college students who transfer vary from 20% to 33% to 60%, with the consensus position being around a third of college students transfer, and there are many indications that transfer activity is increasing. One report suggested that nearly half of all undergraduates in the nation were attending community colleges. Media coverage of student transfers is generally less than coverage of the high school to college transition. A common transfer path is students moving from two-year community colleges to four-year institutions, although there is considerable movement between four-year institutions. Reasons for transferring include unhappiness with campus life, cost, and course and degree selection. There are no consistent national rules for transfers, and requirements vary by college. Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year schools, particularly flagship state universities, so that matters such as the transfers of credits are handled appropriately. There are indications that many private colleges are more actively seeking transfer applicants. Still, transferring can be difficult; transfer students have been described in the past as "academic nomads".
- Dunbar, Donald What You Don't Know Can Keep You Out of College, Gotham Books, 2007, 978-1-59240-302-8
- Hernandez, Michele A. A is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges, Grand Central Publishing, 2009, 978-0-446-54067-4
- Mamlet, Robin and Vandevelde, Christine College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2011, 978-0-307-59032-9
- Mamlet 2011, p. 109.
- This source cited statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education; this count reflects four-year nonprofit colleges and universities.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 20.
- "COLLEGE ADMISSION TRENDS INCLUDE INCREASED RELIANCE ON EARLY DECISION AND WAIT LISTS, ACCEPTANCE RATES ON PAR PREVIOUS YEAR". States News Service via Highbeam Research. October 20, 2010. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (October 19, 2011). "Latest Trends in College Admissions: 15 Things You Should Know". CBS News. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Peter Van Buskirk (2010). "Finding a Good College Fit". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Graeme Paton (6 Jun 2012). "British university 'malaise' forcing bright students to US: Growing numbers of bright teenagers are rejecting British universities in favour of those in the United States amid claims they no longer represent value for money, a leading headmaster has warned.". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved January 14, 2013. "... the proportion of students taking the US college entrance exam in Britain increased by a third last year compared ..."
- Valerie Strauss (April 4, 2012). "Some 2012 college admissions rates hit new lows". Washington Post. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Schumpeter (December 10, 2011). "University challenge: Slim down, focus and embrace technology: American universities need to be more businesslike". The Economist. Retrieved 2011-12-23.
- Steve Cohen (September 23, 2011). "Top 10 myths of college admissions". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Andrew J. Rotherham (May 5, 2011). "Five Biggest Myths About College Admissions". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Anthony Zurcher, 25 July 2014, BBC News, Ivy League miseducation, Accessed July 26, 2014
- DWIGHT GARNER (March 3, 2011). "Application Adventure: A Dad’s College Essay". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 27.
- Marc Silver (August 16, 2010). "Rocketing Past the College Admissions Blunders: Deans and college counselors have seen it all, from the sublime to the ridiculous.". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 28.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 30.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 32.
- Kathleen Kingsbury (Jan 9, 2009). "Dirty Secrets of College Admissions". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 45.
- MICHAEL WINERIP (November 20, 2011). "Learning to Play the Game to Get Into College". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 157-158.
- Mamlet 2011, pp. 34-35.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 42.
- quoting Jennifer Delahunty, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Kenyon College
- Eyder Peralta (2011-09-21). "Survey: Universities Increasingly Admitting Students Based On Wealth". NPR. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 40.
- Mamlet 2011, pp. 38-39.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 35.
- Melissa E. Clinedinst, Sarah F. Hurley, David A. Hawkins (2011). "2011 State of College Admissions". National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Retrieved January 14, 2013. "Previous admission experience...statistics/data analysis...higher education administration... marketing/public relations..."
- Eric Hoover (August 4, 2010). "On ‘Finite’ Recruitment". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "...They are counselors, but also recruiters. They use marketing techniques, but many don’t like to use the “m word.”..."
- Kelly Truong (July 1, 2010). "Admission Officials’ Tweets Fall on Deaf Ears". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "...but college admissions officers typically fall into the 30-to-40 age demographic..."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 1-3.
- Eric Hoover (June 29, 2011). "A ‘Sea Change’ in Admissions". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "... rising costs ... impact of the web ... social media such as Facebook or YouTube that admissions offices need to master."
- JOANNE LEVY-PREWITT (December 30, 2006). "Juniors should be wary of slick college admission come-ons". The Record (Bergen County, NJ) via Highbeam Research. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "... If you are a junior in high school, this winter or spring you are very likely to be inundated with glossy view books and slick brochures ..."
- JACQUES STEINBERG (May 19, 2011). "‘Best Colleges’? Counselors Beg to Differ With U.S. News". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Tanya Caldwell (March 26, 2012). "The Start of BigFuture, a New College Planning Web Site". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- Eric Hoover (October 14, 2010). "For Sale: Successful Ivy League Applications—Only $19.99". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "...the Application Project Inc., which sells copies of successful applications to Ivy League colleges. Want to browse applications submitted by 21 members of Brown University’s 2009–10 freshman class? You can buy access to them for $19.99 ...."
- TANYA CALDWELL (April 6, 2012). "For International Students, a College Admissions Checklist for April". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- "Frequently Asked Questions about Finding a College". diycollegerankings.com. 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
- US News & World Report rankings
- Mamlet 2011, p. 127.
- Washington Monthly's College Rankings
- TANYA CALDWELL (April 18, 2012). "Rankings Did Not Motivate College Official Who Falsified SAT Scores, Report Finds". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- JUSTIN POPE (August 17, 2012). "Emory University Sent False Data To Rankings Groups For More Than A Decade: Report". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "... Prestigious Emory University intentionally misreported student data to rankings magazines for more than a decade ...."
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (September 12, 2012). "How U.S. News’ College Rankings Can Hurt You". The College Solution. Retrieved September 14, 2012. "One of the perverse aspects about the rankings is that turning out thoughtful, articulate young men and women, who can write cogently and think critically won’t budge a school’s ranking up even one spot."
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (May 3, 2012). "The Realities of Merit Scholarships". The College Solution. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (March 10, 2011). "The Real Cost of Attending an Expensive East Coast University". The College Solution. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "Rankings Perversion – ... US News & World Report’s college rankings doesn’t ... bestow demerits for being unaffordable. ..."
- ""BEST FOR WHOM?": COLLEGE ADMISSION COUNSELORS CHALLENGE KEY ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT COLLEGE RANKINGS.". States News Service (via Highbeam Research). May 19, 2011. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "...The annual rankings of undergraduate colleges and universities by U.S. News and World Report generate negative opinions among professionals who work most closely with students and families..."
- Note: this "reputation survey" makes up 25% of the ranking.
- Jaschik, Scott (20 June 2007). "More Momentum Against ‘U.S. News’". Inside Higher Ed.
- "ANNAPOLIS GROUP STATEMENT ON RANKINGS AND RATINGS". Annapolis Group. 19 June 2007.
- Note: associations include the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.
- Morse, Robert (22 June 2007). "About the Annapolis Group's Statement". U.S. News and World Report.
- Nicholas Thompson (September 2000). "Playing With Numbers: How U.S. News mismeasures higher education and what we can do about it". Washington Monthly. Retrieved January 11, 2013. "... U.S. News rankings don't measure how much students learn; ..."
- Mamlet 2011, pp. 133-134.
- MARK KANTROWITZ (April 11, 2009). "Guidance Office: Answers About Financial Aid, Part 6". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Sally Holm (interviewer) Sean Logan (interviewee) (Winter 2013). "Inside College Counseling with Director Sean Logan". Andover Magazine. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 160.
- Mamlet 2011, pp. 116-117.
- Neal Gabler (January 10, 2010). "The college admissions scam". Boston Globe. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Lauren Lyster, Yahoo Finance. Only 150 of 3500 U.S. Colleges Are Worth the Investment: Former Secretary of Education, Accessed May 7, 2013
- Note: for the complete list see external links under "ROI"
- Carolyn Butler (September 13, 2011). "Follow 7 Strategies to Get Into College: To stand out in the admissions game, prepare early and use common sense". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Carolyn Butler, Arlene Weintraub, Justin Snider, Margaret Loftus, Rett Fisher, Kimberly S. Wetzel (others) (2012). "Best Colleges: Choose the Right School For You". US News & World Report. "2012 edition; various authors and rankings; pages 19, 20, 30, 62, 63, 68-70, 78, 84, 86, 88, others"
- TANYA CALDWELL (March 30, 2012). "6 Tips About College Admissions Results". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Howard and Matthew Greene (October 22, 2003). "PBS: 'Ten Steps to College' (transcript)". Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Valerie Strauss (interviewer) Angel B. Perez (interviewee) (March 7, 2010). "College admissions strategies: Don't listen to friends, and more". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Diana Hanson, Esther Walling, Craig Meister, Kristen Tabun (November 16, 2011). "Which College Admissions Deadline Should You Choose?". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- "Lectures – Professors". The Teaching Company. 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2012-07-18. "Note: in some instances, professors may have changed university affiliations since the year of publication of their respective Teaching Company courses"
- Michael Szarek (2011). "17 Things to Remember". College Counseling for the Rest of Us. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 166.
- THEO EMERY (September 25, 2009). "College Options (And Strategies) for the ‘B’ and Even ‘C’ Student". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Daniel de Vise (October 28, 2011). "College Web sites to post cost calculators for prospective students". Washington Post. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Mary Beth Marklein (2/7/2012). "'Best value' colleges: Some have high price tags". USA Today. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (May 31, 2011). "Don't Believe a College Sticker Price". US News. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Jacob Goldstein (May 25, 2012). "The Price Of College Tuition, In 1 Graphic". NPR. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Kelley Holland, CNBC, Business Insider, July 11, 2013, The most expensive colleges in America – really, Accessed July 11, 2013
- Paul Fain (May 2, 2010). "Why Deep Tuition Discounts May Not Spell Financial Doom: They can be a useful tool as long as tuition revenue is solid". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "...Discounting in higher education began in the 1970s, as college admissions officers copied the pricing systems used by airlines and other businesses. The approach of charging as much as people would pay was novel in the academy. ...."
- "The Real Price Of College". NPR. May 11, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- JUDITH SCOTT-CLAYTON (November 4, 2011). "College Is Cheaper Than You Think". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Jacob Goldstein (October 28, 2010). "Average Sticker Price For Private College: $36,993 A Year". NPR. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Kim Clark (October 29, 2011). "College costs climb, yet again". CNN Money Magazine. Retrieved May 25, 2012. "While community college tuition posted a sharp 8.7% gain, it's still a bargain: only about $3,000 a year for full-time tuition."
- REBECCA R. RUIZ (November 15, 2011). "Only One in Three Full-Time Students Pays Full Tuition". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Chana Joffe-Walt and Jacob Goldstein (May 2, 2012). "How Colleges Fight For Top Students". NPR. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Jay Conley (September 14, 2011). "New Online Tools Expected to Lift Veil on College Sticker Prices: With federal mandate, all schools must offer net price calculators online by October 29.". US News. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- Brian Burnsed (May 16, 2011). "Americans Split on Value of a College Degree: A Pew study indicates many are skeptical, but college graduates remain confident in their choices.". US News. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
- JACQUES STEINBERG (January 20, 2012). "The Choice on ‘Today’: Tips on Fafsa, and Net-Price Calculators". The New York Times and The Today Show. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (June 25, 2012). "Will Your Home Equity Hurt Financial Aid Chances? A Case Study". The College Solution. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
- CNN Money college cost calculator
- Beckie Supiano and Andrea Fuller (March 27, 2011). "Elite Colleges Fail to Gain More Students on Pell Grants". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved September 14, 2012. "...Just under 15 percent of the undergraduates at the country's 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-9, ..."
- Kim Clark (September 13, 2010). "College Cash 101: "Financial Aid eBay" Winners Set Off Scholarship Bidding Wars". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Grace Wong (December 12, 2005). "Early decision action plan: Your child has been accepted to the college of their dreams – but are you sure you can afford it?". CNN/Money. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (May 22, 2012). "Do You Really Expect Me to Pay That Much for College?". The College Solution. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
- Valerie Strauss (10/03/2011). "A new college admissions bible". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 22.
- Ry Rivard, October 28, 2013, Inside Higher Ed, Using FAFSA Against Students, Accessed Dec. 12, 2013, "...Now, some colleges use this FAFSA position when considering students’ applications for admission, which may affect decisions about admission or placement on the wait list, said David Hawkins..."
- CBS News, Lynn O'Shaughnessy, October 30, 2013, Be careful what you share on the FAFSA, Accessed Dec. 12, 2013, "...The order, however, could also be hurting students who list their favorite school as No. 1. If a teenager shows too much interest in a school, the admission office may decide to offer the applicant a lower award because its assumed that the child will enroll anyway...."
- Liz Weston, Reuters, November 11, 2013, Daily Finance, Colleges May Penalize Students Over Preference on Financial Aid Applications, Accessed Dec. 12, 2013, "... Students can list up to 10 schools to receive their financial aid information, and the ones they list first strongly predict which enrollment offers they're likely to accept, college consultants say...."
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy, October 30, 2013, The College Solution, A Dirty Little FAFSA Secret, Accessed Dec. 10, 2013
- Rachel Fishman, October 28, 2013, Access to Higher Education, Higher Ed Watch, The Dark Side of Enrollment Management, Accessed Dec. 13, 2013, "...The FAFSA should either not allow institutions to see where students have applied or it should list the institutions in alphabetical order...."
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (November 29, 2011). "Take First Step to Apply for College Financial Aid". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Note: there are impostor websites similar to the official government website, sometimes asking for fees; the official FAFSA website is free; see FAFSA for further information
- Victor Luckerson (Jan 25, 2013). "10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of College Financial Aid". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2013-02-12.
- Student Debt, by the numbers, Utne Reader, July–August 2012, page 39
- JACQUES STEINBERG (April 11, 2012). "Transferring to a State University, and Saving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in the Bargain". The New York Times: Education. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- "No Loans for Low Income Students". Smart Student Guide. May 17, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- "Table 1. Number and percentage distribution of Title IV institutions, by control of institution, level of institution, and region: United States and other jurisdictions, academic year 2009-10". National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. 2011. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- LISA W. FODERARO (March 1, 2009). "Well-Regarded Public Colleges Get a Surge of Bargain Hunters". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Andrew J. Rotherham (December 1, 2011). "The Latest Wrinkle in College Admissions: State schools are increasingly recruiting out-of-state students who pay higher fees. But is this fair?". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Brennan Barnard (June 11, 2012). "How to Make the Most of a College Visit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-05. "...there is still no match for the gut feeling one gets when stepping on a college campus ..."
- Allen Millett and Leslie Goldberg (1999). "E-Campus Discussion Lounge". Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Carl Elliott (June 27, 2012). "Lawn Boy: the College Years". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 14, 2013. "Never have I seen such careful attention to landscaping. ..."
- Jenna Johnson (2012-03-26). "Tips for maximizing your college admissions visits". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Source: presentation by Michael Szarek, April 2012.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 142.
- Jay Mathews (2012-01-20). "5 wrong ideas about college admission". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 67-70.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 74.
- Stacey Kostell, Michele Hernandez, Steve Loflin, Katherine Cohen (October 12, 2011). "How Can High School Seniors Improve Odds of College Admissions?". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 76.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 73.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 43.
- Source: Jim Nordorf, admissions dean at University of Chicago.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 23.
- KAREN W. ARENSON (January 17, 2008). "Applications to Colleges Are Breaking Records". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- DANIEL GOLDEN (May 29, 2001). "Glass Floor: Colleges Reject Top Applicants, Accepting Only the Students Likely to Enroll". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 74-5.
- JENNY ANDERSON (August 5, 2011). "For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Nancy Meislahn, Don Fraser Jr., Jolyn Brand, George Mills (July 20, 2011). "What Are Some Mistakes to Avoid in the College Admissions Process?". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 35.
- RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and JENNY ANDERSON (January 13, 2012). "As a Broader Group Seeks Early Admission, Rejections Rise in the East". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-13.
- JACQUES STEINBERG and REBECCA R. RUIZ (December 20, 2011). "Early Line on Early Admissions". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 36.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 39.
- Kim Clark (November 15, 2010). "8 Big Changes to College Admissions in 2010 and 2011". US News. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Scott Jaschik (February 25, 2011). "Elite universities surrender to early admissions". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Kim Clark (December 27, 2010). "6 Kinds of Students Shouldn't Apply to College Early: Late bloomers and those who need financial aid benefit from regular applications.". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "Ask the Experts: Early Decision and Early Application". Peterson's College Search. 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "Early Decision – Financial Aid". The Princeton Review. 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- ROBERT J. MASSA (December 13, 2010). "The Case for Early Decision". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- ANNAMARIA ANDRIOTIS (November 10, 2009). "Do Early Decision Students Get More Aid?". SmartMoney. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (September 8, 2011). "Early Decision: 10 Things You Need To Know About Applying". CBS News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 33.
- Kim Clark (December 15, 2010). "Early Applicants More Likely to Gain College Admission: Higher admission rate of early college applicants fuels controversy". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Peter Van Buskirk (September 19, 2011). "The College Admissions Insider: Decide if an Early Decision College Application is the Right Choice". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "Financial Aid and Early Decision". College Confidential. 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Christopher Avery; Andrew Fairbanks, Richard Zeckhauser (2004). The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01620-3.
- Margaret Loftus (September 12, 2011). "Know if Applying to College Early is Right for You: Getting in could be easier, but a search for financial aid might suffer". US News. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Sarah Winkler (2012-07-07). "How Early Decision Affects Financial Aid". HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "The Financial Aid Effect on Early Decision and Early Application". Peterson's College Search. 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "How Early Decision Can Affect Financial Aid". CollegeMadeSimple.com. 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Gail MarksJarvis (September 20, 2010). "Applying to college? 'Early decision' could cost more". Chicago Tribune: Business. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Nona Willis Aronowitz, March 6th 2014, NBC News, Does the New SAT Spell Doom for the Test Prep Industry?, Accessed March 6, 2014
- Note: answer = 14; for further explanation, click on the picture and read the description.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 98.
- Hunter, Jeffrey G.; Samter, Wendy (July 1, 2000). "A college admission test protocol to mitigate the effects of false negative SAT scores". Journal of College Admission via Highbeam Research. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "According to Gandara and Lopez (1998), SAT scores will be weighted anywhere from "almost not at all" to "heavily" in the admission decision, depending upon the college or university."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 57.
- "ACT vs SAT: Key differences between the ACT and SAT". Studypoint.com. 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
- SUSAN DOMINUS (December 2, 2011). "Studying, Testing or Paying Their Way In". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Tanya Caldwell (March 28, 2012). "SAT’s Student Photo Database Draws Comparisons to Facebook Profiles". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 56-57.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 93.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 92.
- Jay Matthews (July 8, 2010). "Your SAT score has little to do with your life". Washington Post. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- JACQUES STEINBERG (September 12, 2010). "Q. & A. COLLEGE ADMISSIONS; ACT vs. SAT: Deciding Which Exam to Take". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Sarah Gonzalez (November 10, 2011). "SAT Tests Favor White, Male Students, Book Argues". NPR Florida. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 59-65.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 94.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 97.
- Mamlet 2011, pp. 76-80.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 115-116.
- "All Members". The Common Application. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 153-156.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 29.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 36, 38.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 83-96.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 62.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 66.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 67.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 93.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 110-122.
- Hanley, Thomas A., Jr. (January 1, 2005). "Shyness and the College Admission Process: Who is Being Left Out?". Journal of College Admission. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "...If two applicants appeared academically equivalent on paper and both were interviewing at a top tier school, the gregarious, self-confident candidate would most likely be perceived more favorably than the timid and self-conscious one..."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 107.
- MATT FLEGENHEIMER (October 28, 2011). "College Application Essay as Haiku? For Some, 500 Words Aren’t Enough". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Jeremy S. Hyman, Lynn F. Jacobs, Jonathan Reider (September 15, 2010). "10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Dunbar 2007, p. ix.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 11-21.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 25.
- ALAN GELB (May 14, 2012). "The College Admissions Essay: Finding a Topic". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012. "For your college admissions essay, you will be asked to write 500 flawless words ... As far as I’m concerned, the only taboo is shameless self-promotion."
- Mamlet 2011, p. 207.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 34.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 67-68.
- For example: "I did this, I did that, then I did this" and on and on...
- Dunbar 2007, p. 50.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 54.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 136+.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 147.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 130-136.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 6-9.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 58.
- Bonnie Rochman (March 26, 2012). "The Latest Trend in College Admissions: Parents Write Letters of Recommendation: Some colleges are starting to ask Mom and Dad to put in a written plug for their progeny in the college admissions process.". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 153.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 137.
- Halls, Andrew (September 29, 2011). "The American dream: How to apply to a US university". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Wallis, Janette (October 7, 2011). "Why study in the US could be a bright idea". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- NACAC (2010). "Survey". Summit High School. "(from a handout by the SHS guidance department); note: percent is those colleges agreeing that each factor exerted "considerable importance" in their decision to admit students"
- Mamlet 2011, p. 3.
- Kayla Webley (April 12, 2012). "How Colleges Really Make Admissions Decisions". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 104.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 6.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 15.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 71.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 42.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 69.
- TANYA CALDWELL (June 6, 2012). "A First Draft of 2012 Admissions Decisions at Dozens of Universities". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2012. "2012 Admission Decisions : Updated June 6, 2012"
- JACQUES STEINBERG and REBECCA R. RUIZ (December 20, 2011). "A First Draft of 2012 Admissions Decisions at Dozens of Universities". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2012. "Early Admission: 2012 : Updated December 20, 2011"
- Source: Caltech Common Data Set Note: 2011-2012 year
- Source: The Harvard Crimson Harvard Accepts Record Low of 5.9 Percent to the Class of 2016
- Source: The Tech 1,620 students admitted to Class of 2016
- Source: Ohio State Common Data Set 2011 year
- Source: Rice Common Data Set 2010–2011 year
- Source: TCNJ Common Data Set Note: 2010–2011 year
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 66-71.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 146.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 110-111.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 57.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 41.
- Note: quoting William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard University.
- Note: from a speech given in October, 2011
- Mamlet 2011, p. 53.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 13.
- Peter Van Buskirk (June 9, 2010). "9 Testing Tips for College Applicants". US News. Retrieved October 15, 2012. "....Keep the "superscore" in mind: At most colleges, admissions officers will look at the best combination of scores."
- Devon Keefe (August 17, 2009). "Develop a Testing Strategy.(Kaplan)(presenting SAT Reasoning Test scores for college application)". Newsweek via Highbeam Research. Retrieved October 15, 2012. "Even many schools that have "opted out" of Score Choice have suggested that they will continue to "super score" students' test scores (i.e., take the highest sectional score from each test and combine them)."
- Valerie Strauss (June 9, 2010). "Do colleges superscore ACT and SAT equally?". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 15, 2012. "....most schools superscore both the ACT and the SAT. While many schools do, many more do so for the SAT than the ACT."
- Daniel de Vise (February 8, 2012). "College, Inc.". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 15, 2012. "Not many superscore the ACT, because they'd have to work with five separate numbers, including a composite that often has been rounded up or rounded down...."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 139.
- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (December 31, 2009). "Athletes get break on college admission standards". Charleston Daily Mail. Retrieved 2012-08-20. "... A review of admissions data submitted to the NCAA by most of the 120 schools in college footballs top tier shows that athletes enjoy strikingly better odds of having admission requirements bent on their behalf. ..."
- REBECCA R. RUIZ (November 15, 2011). "Debating Legacy Preferences in Admissions". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 155.
- Steve Cohen, Anne Dwane, Paulo de Oliveira & Michael Muska (2011). "Getting In! The Zinch Guide to College Admissions". Wiley Publishing. Retrieved May 3, 2012. "(see page 197)"
- Mamlet 2011, p. 9.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 121.
- Note: colleges can tell whether emails are opened or not by a prospective student.
- Note: admissions officers can see all colleges applied to that are listed on the FAFSA form, and there are reports that some colleges interpret being first or second on the FAFSA list as a sign of demonstrated interest
- Note: "likely" meant there was an estimated 80% chance of acceptance by the college
- Dunbar 2007, p. 55.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 56, 57.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 69-82.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 97-109.
- An admissions staffer at Gettysburg College (who requested to remain anonymous) agreed most application essays were boring.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 130-131.
- KATE ZERNIKE (March 30, 2009). "Paying in Full as the Ticket Into Colleges". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- TAMAR LEWIN (September 21, 2011). "Universities Seeking Out Students of Means". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Stacey Kostell (November 23, 2011). "Does Financial Need Impact College Admissions Chances?". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Jeremy Diamond, Sarah Ferris, October 21, 2013, The GW Hatchet, GW misrepresented admissions and financial aid policy for years, Accessed Dec. 13, 2013, "...Administrators now say the admissions process has always factored in financial need. But that contradicts messaging from the admissions and financial aid offices that, as recently as Saturday, have regularly attested that the University remained need-blind...."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 209-210.
- Claudio Sanchez (March 1, 2012). "Case Renews Focus On Race In College Admissions". NPR. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Valerie Strauss (2012-02-22). "College admissions: How diversity factors in". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Pete Williams and Erin McClam, NBC News, June 24, 2013, Supreme Court raises bar for affirmative action in college admissions, Accessed Dec. 31, 2013, "... it amounts to a warning to colleges nationwide that the courts will treat race-conscious admissions policies with a high degree of skepticism..."
- Susan Saulny and Jacques Steinberg (June 13, 2011). "Mixed-Race Students Wonder How Many Boxes to Check". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- "Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'". USA Today. Associated Press. 2011-12-04. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- DANIEL E. SLOTNIK (February 8, 2012). "Do Asian-Americans Face Bias in Admissions at Elite Colleges?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Kara Miller (February 8, 2010). "Do colleges redline Asian-Americans?". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 201.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 118.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 121-122.
- NEAL CONAN (January 15, 2004). "Analysis: College admissions and legacies". NPR Talk of the Nation (via Highbeam Research). Retrieved 2012-08-20. "... it can mean as much as 100 or 200 points on the SATs, ..."
- Dunbar 2007, p. 166.
- Golden, Daniel (2006-09-09). "How Lowering the Bar Helps Colleges Prosper". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
- JACQUES STEINBERG and KATIE ZEZIMA (May 18, 2010). "Campuses Ensnared by ‘Life of Deception’". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Blake Ellis (March 30, 2012). "Harvard, Princeton post record low acceptance rates". CNN Money. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Tanya Caldwell (May 3, 2012). "Many Colleges Are Still Taking Applications for the Fall". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- TANYA CALDWELL (June 18, 2012). "University Sends ‘Fear of God’ Letter to Students With Senioritis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-06-22. "College-bound seniors beware: ... failing grades ... your university may soon threaten to rescind your admission..."
- Note: figure for Fall 2010 admission cycle was 48% of colleges using wait lists.
- JACQUES STEINBERG (April 13, 2010). "For Students, a Waiting List Is Scant Hope". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (April 9, 2010). "Getting Off a College Wait List: 5 Things to Do Now". CBS News. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Zach Miners (April 9, 2010). "You've Been Put on the Wait List for College. Now What?". US News. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Scott Jaschik (April 4, 2011). "The Other 'Summer Melt' in Admissions". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- JACQUES STEINBERG (May 12, 2010). "The Early Line on Admission Yields (and Wait-List Offers)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- The Daily News Staff (May 7, 2010). "Stanford yield rate may be highest ever". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Tracy Jan (April 18, 2009). "Students hope to beat college waiting list". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Note: the yield is the percent of students offered admission by April who commit to enroll by May; wait list acceptances are the number of students initially put on the wait list, who were eventually offered admission and who accepted this offer.
- Scott Jaschik and Kevin Kiley (May 5, 2011). "Private colleges try to round out fall's enrollment into summer". USA Today. Retrieved 2011-12-12.
- David Moltz (2010-2-18). "More private colleges court community college transfers". USA Today. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (November 16, 2010). "Transfer Students: 8 Things You Need to Know". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Bill Schackner (2012-03-28). "Transfers a hot commodity for colleges". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Roman, Marcia A. (January 1, 2007). "Community College Admission and Student Retention". Journal of College Admission (via Highbeam Research). Retrieved 2012-08-20. "Community colleges enroll nearly half the undergraduates in the U.S."
- Kim Clark (January 16, 2009). "Obama's Lessons for Transfer Students: His former roommate talks about what he and Obama learned about switching between colleges". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Tim Barker (February 5, 2012). "Meet the transfers – they are academic nomads: Schools, government seek to streamline system to help more students make switch to four-year colleges, keep credit hours they have earned.". St. Louis Today. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Dunbar, Donald (2007). What You Don't Know Can Keep You Out of College. New York: Gotham Books. pp. various. ISBN 978-1-59240-302-8.
- Hernandez, Michele A. (2009). A is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges. New York: Grand Central Publishing. pp. various. ISBN 978-0-446-54067-4.
- Mamlet, Robin; VanDeVelde, Christine (2011). College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step. New York: Three Rivers Press. pp. various. ISBN 978-0-307-59032-9.
- Christopher Avery; Andrew Fairbanks; Richard Zeckhauser (2004). The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01620-3.
- Howard Greene; Mathew W. Greene (2000). Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning: The Hidden Ivies: Thirty Colleges of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-095362-4.
- Loren Pope (2006). Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will change The Way You Think About College. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-303736-6.
- Jacques Steinberg. The Gatekeepers. New York: Penguin Group, 2002.
- Compiled and Edited by the Staff of the Yale Daily News (2007). The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2008 (34th edition). New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-36689-6.
- United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006–2007). Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- How To Choose a College That's Right For You – NPR
- Uni in the USA, a guide to studying in America aimed at British students
- CNN Money tool for estimating college's average net price based on income
- CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
- College Board's Expected Family Contribution Calculator A tool to get a rough idea of cost but not for any specific college
- 2013 College Education Return on Investment (ROI) Rankings
- 100 colleges meeting 94% to 100% of demonstrated financial need
College search engines