Thursday, April 30, 2009

University of California plan angers Asian Americans

The University of California is a public university system in the state of California with 10 campuses, nine of which are undergraduate. With a new admissions policy, many Asian Americans are worried over whether they will be admitted in the same numbers as before.

By Terence Chea
The Associated Press
Last updated 4-30-09

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A new admissions policy set to take effect at the University of California system in three years is raising fears among Asian Americans that it will reduce their numbers on campus, where they account for 40 percent of all undergraduates.

University officials say the new standards — consisting of the biggest changes in UC admissions since 1960 — are intended to make the process fairer.

The new policy drops some testing requirements and dramatically expands the number of students who will be eligible to apply. Asians will make up a smaller portion of the applicant pool when the policy takes effect for the new class in 2012.
Asian Americans make up about 12 percent of California’s population and 4 percent of the U.S. population overall. But there are a higher proportion of Asians at California’s elite public universities because they tend to have higher test scores and grade point averages than other groups.

Asian American advocates, parents, and lawmakers are angrily calling on the university to rescind the new policy, which will apply at all nine of the system’s undergraduate campuses.

They point to a UC projection that said the new standards would sharply reduce Asian American admissions while resulting in little change for Blacks and Hispanics and a big gain for white students.

“I like to call it affirmative action for whites,” said Ling-chi Wang, a retired professor at UC Berkeley. “I think it’s extremely unfair to Asian Americans on the one hand and underrepresented minorities on the other.”

Asian Americans are the single largest ethnic group among UC’s 173,000 undergraduates. In 2008, they accounted for 40 percent at UCLA and 43 percent at UC Berkeley — the two most selective campuses in the UC system — as well as 50 percent at UC San Diego and 54 percent at UC Irvine.

The new policy, approved unanimously by the UC Board of Regents in February, will greatly expand the applicant pool, eliminate the requirement that applicants take two admission tests, and reduce the number of students guaranteed admission based on grades and test scores alone. It takes effect for the first-year class of fall 2012.

Some Asian Americans have charged that the university is trying to reduce Asian American enrollment. Others say that it is not the intent, but it will be the result.

UC officials adamantly deny that the intent is to increase racial diversity, and they reject allegations that the policy would violate a 1996 voter-approved ban on affirmative action that allowed admissions officers to favor minority students in some cases.

“The primary goal is fairness and eliminating barriers that seem unnecessary,” UC President Mark Yudof said. “It means that if you’re a parent out there, more of your sons’ and daughters’ files will be reviewed.”

Yudof and other officials disputed the internal study that projected a drop of about 20 percent in Asian American admissions, saying it is impossible to accurately predict the effects. “This is not Armageddon for Asian American students,” Yudof said.

At San Francisco’s Lowell High School, one of the top public schools in the country, about 70 percent of the students are of Asian descent and more than 40 percent attend UC after graduation.

“If there are Asian Americans who are qualified and don’t get into UC because they’re trying to increase diversity, then I think that’s unfair,” said 16-year-old junior Jessica Peng. “I think that UC is lowering its standards by doing that.”

One of the biggest changes is scrapping the requirement that applicants take two subject tests of the SAT college admissions exam. UC officials say the tests do little to predict who will succeed at UC, no other public university requires them, and many high-achieving students are disqualified because they do not take them.

The policy also widens the pool of candidates by allowing applications from all students who complete the required high school courses, take the main exams, and maintain a certain grade-point average. Under the current policy, students have to rank in the top 12.5 percent of California high school graduates to be eligible.

Students still have to apply to individual campuses, where admissions officers are allowed to consider each applicants’ grades, test scores, personal background, extracurricular activities, and other factors — but not race.

The policy is expected to increase competition for UC admission. This year, the university turned away the largest number of students in years after it received a record number applications and needed to cut freshman enrollment because of the state’s budget crisis. (end)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How Harvard Sorts Through 30,000 Applicants

Usually, everything that the Harvard admissions office says is a lie. However, here is an account of the admissions process from a logistical point-of-view by the Harvard Crimson. It is interesting in that it describes the voting process by which applicants are admitted to Harvard.

Don't Touch That File

Even with online applications, in the file room, paper reigns supreme
Published On Thursday, April 30, 2009 1:10 AM

By the end of December, most high school seniors never want to see a copy of the Common Application again. But in the basement of the Harvard College Office of Admissions, a framed four-by-two foot copy of the dreaded application hangs on the wall.

The enormous application—an actual submission from a hopeful applicant—is complete with the student’s name, high school, and address, with rows of “Harvard” written across the header, with a miniscule “Yale” in the middle.

“The biggest kick was that he sent it with a giant paper clip,” says Ian Anderson, the office’s file room director—perhaps the most important cog in the well-oiled machine behind Harvard Admissions. “I think he ended up going to Yale.”

The Admissions Office, where 29,112 hopeful students sent their painstakingly crafted essays, letters, and applications to be reviewed this year, is the most exclusive in the country. Behind this machine are 70 people—from Dean William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 to recent alumni to current Harvard students—who together determine the fate of each applicant, with only 7 percent receiving the coveted acceptance letter earlier this month.


Once students click “send” on their computers or drop their applications into the mailbox, Anderson’s work begins. Physical and electronic versions of applications arrive in the basement of 86 Brattle Street, where Anderson leads a team of students and staff who organize the piles of paper.

The incoming documents—including the applications, secondary school reports, and teacher recommendations—then get scanned, a process that began this year as an electronic back-up system.

“It’s really a security device to make sure we have an electronic record of the applications in case the building burns down,” said Director of Admissions Marilyn McGrath-Lewis ’70-’73.

Every morning Anderson prints applications from the Common Application Web site—through which about 94 percent of the applications were submitted this year.

In addition to processing thousands of applications, the admissions office also receives gifts and trinkets from nervous applicants trying to differentiate their application from the thousands of others. Anderson pointed to handmade soaps, t-shirts, and a crocheted Harvard insignia on his office bookshelf. “The soaps made my office smell great,” he says, laughing.

“The most fun part about this job is the crazy things people send in,” says Elizabeth Adams ’10, who works in the file room. “I have a Crimson scarf in my room that none of the admissions officers wanted.”

All material must first be alphabetized, which is no easy task, according to Adams.

“The first couple weeks you’ll come in and say ‘Ian, what should I do’, but after a while you’ll come in ready to alph,” she says.

The alphabetized paper then gets made into applicant folders, for which Anderson has another “ingenious” system for organizing the thousands of applications, according to Adams, where each applicant has both a red and a manila folder in their file. The manila folder holds the official application, while the red, or “dummy,” folder, contains the student’s essential information and serves as a place holder when the application is being read.

Once the official application and secondary school report arrive, yellow barcode sheets in the folder get scanned. “It’s like working in a grocery store sometimes,” Anderson says. “Scanning tells the system we have the minimum requirement for the folder to be read.”

The students who work in the office create thousands of folders nearly each day.

“You make one mistake and it ripples through the whole run, so we tend to break it down into a much more manageable 900 or 1,000 at a time,” Anderson says.

“Actually, that doesn’t sound manageable,” he adds.


Once an applicant’s folder is made, it joins the nearly 30,000 other folders in the room that makes up the very heart of the admissions office: the file room.

The room contains 255 filing drawers, and the walls are completely hidden by the files, except for a small counter—which had to be cut in half last year to make room for still more files—used for alphabetizing and organizing. On top of the cabinets lie more boxes filled with overflow applications.

The sheer number of applications processed by the office cannot be fully understood until one is in the file room, according to Anderson.

“Every drawer gets so full that you can’t put anything in it,” he explains. “If you’re trying to file this one item, you have to pull out five folders to get one item in, and then jam all five back in.”

After his years of running this essential part of the process, Anderson is familiar with everything that could go wrong—and has a preemptive solution for it.

“You don’t want to have too many drawers open at once, because it tips,” he said. “Once it starts tipping, the drawers slide open and then you can’t catch the cabinet...these things weigh a ton.”

Anderson’s office, which adjoins the file room, contains the tools he needs to keep track of the thousands of sheets of paper for which he is responsible every year. He has a log book—dating back to the eight years that he has worked in the office—that he carefully fills out every day with a running count of the folders made, and the number sent out to readers, or “cleared.”

“See here in July and August,” he says, pointing to his records, “these are the kids who are very anxious and applied before their senior year even started.”

Anderson’s job requires balance, organizational skills, and even working through the winter holidays.

“We are sometimes clearing 2,000 folders on certain days,” he says. “It’s just about keeping every piece moving, you can’t ignore any of it because then you are in deep trouble.”

“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve gotten used to the stress. When you see a lot of things getting done at once, its very fulfilling,” he adds.


Anderson hires about 40 Harvard college students every school year to help in the file room. Students alphabetize, file, and “scrutinize” about once a month, after they have put together many applications.

“We sit at a file drawer and look at every single piece of paper to make sure it’s in the right place,” says Adams. “We check to make sure the drawer is in alphabetical order, and in each folder the names are correct. You cannot do it for more than two hours without losing your mind.”

Over winter break, Anderson leads a team of students from the Boston area who work full time to put 14,000 folders together in four weeks.

Anderson, who was responsible for more than 40 fellow soldiers when he served in the army before coming to Harvard, says the leadership style demanded by his current responsibilities is comparable but that the people he “commands” here have different expectations.

“Here I spend a lot more time explaining why students are doing what they are doing and the steps they must take to remain organized,” he says, comparing them to soldiers who were more ready to simply carry out the tasks he gave them without question.

And though the student workers have full access to applicants’ materials, they are trained in non-disclosure laws and Adams says they rarely look twice at any of the information.

“You’d think it’s this really glamorous thing where we have all this insight, but when you see the sheer number of materials that we are working with,” she says, “it just turns into paper, almost.”

But despite the monotony, Adams says she thinks it’s valuable to have undergraduates filling this role.

“I think it’s important to have people who care about future of this school, and understand where students are coming from to work in the admissions office,” she says.


Once Anderson and his team’s work is complete, the folders are distributed to the admissions officers’ boxes to be read.

The office employs about 40 admissions officers, who each are responsible for up to four or five geographic areas, or up to 1,500 folders, McGrath, the director of admissions, explains.

“It’s a process of gathering widely and sort of winnowing as comparisons occur over a ten week process,” she says.

The area subcommittee chair advocates for the applicant, “as if he were at a trial and he were the student’s attorney, in a sense,” says Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions.

In the more widely-known part of the process, admissions officers create a reader sheet for each application, which rate the student on their academics and extracurriculars.

After the subcommittee process, all the readers meet in full committee for about three weeks, and go through every school and every person, “asking again if we are sure this is a person we want to accept on April 1st,” Fitzsimmons says. “As far as we can determine, there is no other college that spends as much time in committee as we do.”

Once the full committee votes on each applicant, in a “one person one vote” process, the decisions are made, and the applications return to Anderson in the file room.


Students who are accepted and decide to matriculate have their applications held at the Freshman Dean’s Office where they later form the “nucleus” of what eventually becomes the student’s college record, McGrath says. Once students graduate, the folders go to the University’s archives. Applications from rejected students are kept for three years before they are shredded.

Anderson has a sheet of paper posted on his office fridge, listing the application numbers for the past eight years and the percent increase for each year. “It’s fun to look at,” he says. “When I started [working here] we were at 19,000 applicants, and here we are at 29,000.”

But once the yearlong process finishes, it starts again immediately. There is already one lone box containing applications for class of 2014, waiting to be alphabetized and filed.

Princeton walks lonely road with grading policy

The Daily Princetonian

By Angela Cai
Senior Writer
Published: Monday, April 27th, 2009

On April 26, 2004, the University faculty voted 156-84 to institute a bold policy to curb rising grades. Five years later, no peer institutions have followed Princeton’s lead, despite Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel’s repeated attempts to encourage them to do so.

Undergraduate deans at several peer institutions said in interviews this week that though they are concerned about rising grades and inconsistent grading practices across departments, they have no concrete plans to emulate Princeton’s policy. They cited concerns about the fairness of instituting university-wide grading policies and inhibiting professors’ freedom to assess academic work as reasons for not following Princeton’s lead.

Yet Malkiel told The Daily Princetonian in 1998 that grade inflation “is not a Princeton-specific issue and it really can only be dealt with effectively if other institutions like this try to take effective steps.” Thus, as reports of students at other Ivy League schools blanching at the prospect of a B continue to surface, Princeton students and alumni have expressed frustration at the prospect of being unwilling leaders in an ill-followed movement.

Some statistics show Princeton’s plan is working. A-level grades comprised 40.4 percent of all final undergraduate course grades between 2005 and 2008, down from 47 percent in the 2001 to 2004 period before the grading policy was enacted.

Perhaps precisely because it is working, “grade deflation” — as the policy is commonly known — has not been well received by most students, but Malkiel has stood resolutely behind it. So, too, have the nearly two-thirds of the faculty who voted for the policy. According to a 2006 survey by the ‘Prince,’ 94.5 percent of the faculty who voted for the grading policy in 2004 said they would have voted for it again, while 82 percent of those who voted against the policy said they would do so again.

While the percent of A-level grades has been falling at Princeton, grades have been steadily on the rise at other schools. At Brown, the overall percentage of undergraduate A-level grades exceeded 50 percent for the first time in the institution’s history in the last academic year. A-level grades made up more than half of all grades given at Harvard and Dartmouth in 2007.

According to — a grading data site compiled by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke professor and grade inflation expert — the average GPA at Princeton was a 3.28 in 2008, versus Yale’s 3.51.

Malkiel said in an e-mail last week that her counterparts “at two other Ivy League schools have requested all of our materials and have been having discussions in faculty committees about the possibility of taking their own actions.”

“I expect to be invited to meet with department chairs at one of those schools next year,” she added.

But deans around the Ivy League gave no indication that they plan to take immediate action.

Though Penn Dean of the College of Arts and Science Dennis DeTurck said he has been watching Princeton’s progress with interest, he noted that Penn has no immediate plans to emulate the policy.

Dean of Yale College Mary Miller ’75 said in an e-mail that in her 28 years at the university, “the Yale faculty has not discussed college-wide grading policy.”

“I would not want to try to guess what they would or would not consider instituting!” she added.

Michele Moody-Adams, the vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell, said that the faculty there has also “resisted the idea of a general university policy.”

“I’m amazed that your expectational policy even passed at Princeton,” said Moody-Adams, who will take office as dean of the college at Columbia on July 1.

At Dartmouth, discussions about grading policy are currently at an information-gathering level. Student Assembly president Molly Bode, a senior, said in an e-mail that all Arts and Sciences academic departments have been provided with “a list of questions regarding grade inflation to consider and respond to.” A discussion on potential future action is slated for the fall.

Deans at Harvard and Brown declined to comment for this article, and the provosts at Columbia and Stanford could not be reached for comment. Right after a grade deflation policy was passed at Princeton, John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford, told the ‘Prince’ that it was “very unlikely” that Stanford would enact a similar policy.

MIT’s dean of undergraduate education, Daniel Hastings, said that MIT does not and will not grade courses on a curve, adding that grades have been flat at the school for the last decade.

The only other elite institution with a school-wide grading policy is Wellesley College, which instituted its stipulation that median grades for introductory level courses be no higher than a B-plus two weeks before Princeton’s grading policy vote.

Even if an earnest discussion were to begin at a peer institution, it may be years before any concrete action is taken at all. At Princeton, the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing released a report calling for fewer A-range grades in 1998, but the proposal never came to fruition because of faculty and student opposition. Five years later, the Committee released another report, and later that year, the faculty passed the policy.

Though Malkiel has long maintained that other institutions are working to implement similar policies, she recognizes that the process may be very difficult. “It requires a great deal of time,” she said. “If there are other matters high on their agendas, it may be difficult to devote the necessary attention to the effort.”

The fundamental problem that drove the change in grading policy, Malkiel said in her 2007 e-mail “On Grading” to then-undergraduates, was that there was compression of the range of what is considered an acceptable grade. “With compression,” she said, “the A grade had come to cover a spectrum from work that marginally exceeds expectations to truly superior work; the B grade had come to signify work that was barely acceptable.”

DeTurck said he agreed with this reasoning, though he did not see grade compression to be urgent enough at Penn to elicit action. “We’re OK with what’s going on,” he said, adding that if compression becomes more serious, “we will be more inclined to impose some school-wide standard.”

Though Moody-Adams said she would not prefer to see Cornell adopt a Princeton-esque policy because of its potential to “lower grades in a setting where it is not appropriate … such as small seminars” and because of its potential to dishearten students, she said she was concerned about the “decrease in the range of acceptable grade you can give to a student.”

“I don’t think the solution is a formula, but you do need students to be aware that it’s not a shame to get a B or a B-minus,” she said. “I have students looking at a B the same way they see a D in my day. It deeply troubles me.”

While DeTurck said he was also concerned about compression, he noted that part of the rise in grades might be “attributable … to the simple fact that the best students are getting better and better, and so of course you would expect their performance to get better and better.”

Former Harvard Undergraduate Council president Matt Sundquist said the meaning of a grade at Harvard varies depending on academic discipline. “Departments are notoriously easier or harder in their grading, and the culture is that you get better or worse grades depending on which departments,” he explained.

“Certainly the engineering students feel [down] at any institution because they’re doing labs, while other people ... are sitting under a tree reading Nietzsche,” DeTurck noted. “But does that mean the discipline is more difficult or more intense?”

Though the proportion of A-level grades in all disciplines at Princeton has fallen since 2004, there are still gaps across departments. The biggest disparity, however, is not between the humanities and engineering. A-level grades comprised 35 percent of all grades given in the natural and social sciences, 45.5 percent in the humanities and 41.5 percent in engineering, Malkiel said at a faculty meeting in September 2008.

Schools like Columbia, Cornell and Dartmouth are trying to combat such grading disparities by putting students’ grades in context. Student transcripts at Columbia identify what percentage of each class received A’s, while transcripts at Cornell and Dartmouth list the median grade in each course.

The problem with these measures, Malkiel said, is that they don’t change faculty grading practices. “When we had discussions some years ago about implementing such a plan here, we heard significant reservations from both students and faculty,” she added.

DeTurck acknowledged that merely putting pressure on academic departments to curb grade inflation doesn’t work in the long run. “At different times we’ve nudged different departments when the grading standards seemed to be getting too lax,” he said. “That nudge works for a while, but you see a backsliding.”

Prior to 2004, the University attempted to encourage individual departments to tackle rising grades with little success.

Malkiel has long maintained that because the school-wide policy at Princeton has proven numerically successful, other institutions are working to implement similar policies. “I would not be the least bit surprised to see some of our Ivy peers follow in their own way,” she told the ‘Prince’ in March 2006. “Each institution has to work through its own faculty and in its own context,” she added, noting, “That is a long and laborious process.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rejection: Some Colleges Do It Better Than Others

The Wall Street Journal
APRIL 29, 2009

Members of this year's record-size high-school graduating class applied to more colleges than ever -- and now, that's resulting in a heavier than usual flurry of rejection letters.

Hundreds of students at high schools from Newton, Mass., to Palo Alto, Calif., have created cathartic "Wall of Shame" or "Rejection Wall" displays of college denial letters. On message boards at, students critique, attack and praise missives from various schools, elevating rejection-letter reviews to a sideline sport.

You're Rejected

Even with impressive test scores and grades, abundant extracurricular activities, good recommendations and an admission essay into which "I poured myself heart and soul," Daniel Beresford, 18, of Fair Oaks, Calif., netted 14 rejection letters from 17 applications, he says. Among the denials: Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago. (He's bound for one of his top choices, Pepperdine University.) When he "realized it was going to be so much harder this year," he started calling in reinforcements, asking teachers and friends to open the rejections for him.

Here, based on my own highly unscientific survey of actual letters, student interviews and message boards, are my picks for this year's most noteworthy college rejection letters -- and the liveliest response by a student.

Toughest: Bates College, Lewiston, Maine. Most rejection letters, in an effort to soften the blow, follow a pattern: We're sorry, we had a huge applicant pool, all our applicants were terrific, we wish we could admit everyone. Bates, a competitive, 1,700-student college, expresses its regrets to rejected applicants and praises its applicant pool. But it delivers a more direct, and perhaps more honest, message: "The deans were obliged to select from among candidates who clearly could do sound work at Bates," the letter says.

The letter touched off a chorus of moans online. One recipient, a 17-year-old high-school student from California, says it "implied that you had been rejected because you s-." Bates Dean of Admissions Wylie Mitchell acknowledges that he had one applicant "take me to task for such an abrupt letter." But he says he carefully considered how to convey respect for applicants and decided that brevity is the best route. The letter aims to clarify that Bates is "denying the student's application, and not rejecting the student," Mr. Mitchell says. He doesn't see counseling recipients as the role of college deans.

Stanford University sends a steely "don't call us" message embedded in its otherwise gentle rejection letter. In addition to asserting that "we are humbled by your talents and achievements" and assuring the applicant that he or she is "a fine student," the letter says, "we are not able to consider appeals." It links to a Q&A that reiterates: "Admission decisions are final and there is absolutely no appeal process." It also discourages attempts to transfer later, an even more competitive process. One recipient, whose heart had long been set on Stanford, cried for hours, her mother says, after interpreting the letter as, "we never want to hear from you again so don't bother."

Stanford admissions dean Richard Shaw says the ban on appeals is necessary because other California universities allow appeals and families assume Stanford does too. Even after sending that firm message, Stanford, which has an admission rate of 7.6%, still gets about 200 attempted appeals. "We care deeply about the repercussions" of the letter, Mr. Shaw says, but "there's no easy way to tell someone they didn't make it."

Kindest: Harvard College. Despite an estimated admission rate of about 7% this year, this hotly sought-after school sends a humble rejection letter.

"Past experience suggests that the particular college a student attends is far less important than what the student does to develop his or her strengths and talents over the next four years."

"I didn't feel a teensy bit bitter about" it, says recipient Evelyn Anne Crunden, 18. Instead, the letter's "warm and apologetic tone ... made me feel proud for having even applied."

Duke University, Durham N.C., also drew raves for a gracious missive emphasizing that it's not passing judgment on individuals, but trying to put together a well-rounded class. Undergraduate admissions dean Christoph Guttentag won particular praise from students and parents for the line, "I know you will find an institution at which you will be happy; I know, too, that the school you choose will benefit from your presence." Says Mr. Beresford, who was one of the 18,000 recipients: "It made me feel like I was a good applicant, not just another rejection."
Work & Family Mailbox

* Columnist Sue Shellenbarger answers a reader's question on teaching young women how to dress for professional jobs.

Mr. Guttentag says he's had particular empathy for rejected applicants since his own daughter was rejected by several kindergartens four years ago. "We know we're imparting bad news, and we just want to make it as human as we can," he says.

Most Confusing: University of California, San Diego. Officials there rejected 29,000 candidates not once, but twice. After sending a first round of rejections, they accidentally sent all 47,000 applicants, including those who had been denied, an email invitation to an open house for admitted students: "We're thrilled that you've been admitted ... join us this Saturday ... and get a glimpse of the powerful combination that can be you plus UC San Diego." The errant message raised some false hopes. "It would be cool if this means they changed their decision," one rejected applicant says he thought.

Less than two hours later came 29,000 re-rejections. "We deeply regret this mistake, because we understand the level of distress it has caused" for many, university officials wrote. "We continue to wish you success." The admissions staff worked all night and through the next two days, making and taking calls, to straighten things out, a spokeswoman says. "We would never intentionally confuse students."

Another surprise package came from Penn State, which sent the hoped-for "fat envelope" with a rejection letter inside. Applicants who receive a fat envelope assume they've been admitted. But Penn State sends a fat envelope to students who have been denied admission to its biggest campus, at University Park, Pa. One mother says her daughter was "so excited then ... No!" She adds, "I had to pick her up off the floor."

The envelope contains information on others among Penn State's 20 campuses where the student is invited to enroll, with the right to transfer later to University Park, says admissions executive Anne Rohrbach. "We've had some people not laugh about that," she concedes. "We don't see them as denials," she says, but as invitations to qualified students the university would like to enroll elsewhere.

Most Discouraging: Boston University. To students who have family ties to the university, its letter begins: "We give special attention to applicants whose families have a tradition of study at Boston University. We have extended this consideration in the evaluation of your application, but I regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission." Consideration of family legacies is common practice at many universities. But Rob Flaherty, 17, a North Reading, Mass., recipient, said he felt the wording in BU's letter translated to "we made it even easier for you and you STILL couldn't get in." Admissions head Kelly Walter says BU tries to deliver such bad news "with as much sensitivity as possible." Most applicants appreciate an acknowledgement of their family ties, she says, and she regrets that "our efforts fall short with some."

Biggest Spin: Numerous colleges spin the data in their rejection letters as a well-intentioned way of comforting denied students. University of California, Davis, says it had "42,000 applicants from which UC Davis could enroll a freshman class of 4,600." This implies an 11% acceptance rate. Its actual admission rate is closer to 50%, because many accepted candidates ultimately enroll elsewhere.

UC Davis undergraduate admissions director Pamela Burnett says most applicants understand that actual enrollment rates vary and she hasn't received any complaints that the language is misleading.

Best Coaching: Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick. This 2,200-student institution added handwritten notes to almost all the 600 denial letters it sent this year, explaining areas of weakness, such as math grades or English skills. The personal detail, says Ron Byrne, a vice president who oversees admissions, helps students understand "it's not a rejection of them, and they know very concretely some of the things they can do" to improve their chances if they apply again.

Best Student Response: Living well. As the rejections sunk in, many students rebounded to console each other. After getting rejections from Harvard and Yale, Isaac Chambers, 17, Champaign, Ill., a top student, track athlete, student-government leader and an editor of his school's online newspaper, posted these words of advice for other rejected candidates on "When you're in the dough," he wrote, "fax the colleges that denied you a copy of your rejection letter every day -- letting them know just how badly they screwed up."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dan Golden on College Admissions

Dan Golden, who wrote "The Price of Admissions" and won a Pulitzer Prize, had this to say recently about college admissions:

Q. How will the economic hit on college endowments affect admitting students whose parents are donors or are potential donors?

A. My feeling is that the downturn in the economy and the drastic decline in college and university endowments could make the problem I wrote about -- preference based on wealth rather than ability --much worse because colleges are going to feel the strong temptation to let in the children of people who are still in a position to make major do­nations, no matter the qualification of those kids. It poses a real threat to whatever shred of independence college admissions still has.

Q. How pervasive is this at public universities?

A. Most selective flagship public universities, for example, have legacy preference. They give an edge to children of alumni. They often will treat out-of-state applicants as instate applicants, which is a somewhat lower bar for admission. Much like private universities giving preference to children of their donors, public universities of­ten give preference to children of their funders who are state legislators and public officials in charge of their budget. So there is a similar element of preference for wealth at public universities.

Q. How do universities suffer by choosing wealthy kids over kids who have met the guidelines on their own merit?

A. There's a variety of ways they suffer. One is if they're a pri­vate university, they're a non­profit and they get a tax break. And if they're a public university, they're directly funded by the government. And one of their missions is to try to identify diamonds in the rough and elevate poor kids of great potential to a higher place in society. Every time you deny one of those kids a slot because it's reserved for somebody who comes from a rich family but isn't as motivated, you lose something. I think you have an impact on the quality of debate in the classroom when you don't have economic diversity and when you're passing up the potentially best students.

Q. Is there an argument to be made that healthy endowments allow universities more opportunity to provide scholar­ships to underrepresented populations?

A. I certainly think univer­sities should have healthy en­dowments. The issue is, is the only way to have a healthy endowment by compromising the admissions process? In my book, I did a chapter on several colleges that raised a lot of money that are pure merito­cracies when it comes to admis­sions. And in case of Berea College in Kentucky, you have to be from a low-income family to go there, and yet, Berea raises huge amounts of money because it has a distinctive mission and a high-quality education. It's kind of a brand. If what a college offers is good enough and distinctive enough, they can raise the money on the quality of their services. They don't have to appeal to the baser instincts of parents who want to get their kids in a name school.

Q. What is your opinion on Wake Forest's decision, and the decision of other colleges, to make the SAT an optional part of the admissions process?

A. I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it is disturbing to see a gap in performance on the SAT between different groups. It's worth asking the question why this is and is there bias in the test. Those are very important questions. On the other hand, sometimes I think the focus on the SAT also diverts attention from the kind of preferences I write about. The SAT should not be seen as the only factor that hurts low-income students. It should be seen as one of a great many factors in the admissions process that affects the chances of students without connections. My concern is that if you eliminate standardized testing, then you open the door even further in some ways to the admission of children of wealthy and powerful people, particularly with the economy the way it is. If you have a student from a wealthy background who does poorly on the SAT, that at least sends a warning signal. Without the SAT, where does that warning signal come from? Grades mean different things at different schools.

Q. How can middle-income parents with bright children get their children into highly selective schools?

A. They have to be realistic and understand the odds may even be longer than they look. You have to understand that there are many wonderful universities in this country that are not in the Ivy League or Duke or Stanford. There's a very wide choice out there, and I think parents should think more about what college has a program that suits their child rather than how do I get my child in one of the top five schools in the country because no matter how bright the child is, it's very difficult without some sort of connection. It's not that easy with a connection, but without one, it's very hard.

i’m really glad this massive tool is not attending my school

A graduate of North Carolina had this to say about a student blogger named Nicholas Geiser on the New York Times College Blog "The Choice":

nicholas geiser, an 18-year-old prospective college student from san francisco, calif., turned down a morehead-cain scholarship to attend yale. that’s fine. i don’t begrudge anyone for choosing what they think is best for themselves when it comes to higher education. what upset me is the way this pretentious sack of douche carried on about his decison, and the drivel he spilled on the new york times that borders on the absurd:

But what I realize now is that, as Sartre observed, our facticity in no way precludes us from choice.

translation: i read wikipedia entries about existentialism and am thus compelled to share my pseudo-enlightenment with the ignorant masses!

some of my favorite lines: “what I perceived to be the lack of diversity at UNC” (umm, like there’s going to be a plethora of minorities at your skull and bone meetings) “I don’t know that I want to be such a big fish in the pond” (like mika said–she shared the article with me on google reader–, unc is not a small pond, asshole) “The experience of being a student at a school, rather than a scholar, could be a much bigger lesson in my own personal development.”

that last line proves he has almost no clue what the purpose of a liberal education is. everyone in college is a “scholar.” all that word means is student. look it up.

this article only could have made me happier if he had either a) been from new jersey, or b) picked dook instead of yale. durham is going to be short one asshole this year. but seriously, nytimes, why do you give no-talent ass clowns with silver spoons surgically implanted in their colons space on your blog? it’s embarrassing.

so yea, yale, take this nicholas geiser. our admissions office humbly apologizes for the mistake. he’s clearly not univeristy of national champions material. where the sense of community and intellectual enthusiasm would have rocked his “factitious,” ivy-addled brain.

Bravo! I couldn't have said it better myself...

This fella Geiser appears to have no accomplishments other than being a rich, white mediocre swimmer who once attended a Model Congress meeting. He is exactly the type of student that Asian Advantage clients must overcome in the college admissions process, typically by achieving more by the age of 17 that Geiser is likely to accomplish in his lifetime.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Advanced Admissions: what to do right now to get in next April

Advanced Admissions: what to do right now to get in next April

Lauren Starkey
College Admissions Examiner
April 7, 2009

Most juniors think their job right now is to find the schools they want to apply to in the fall. The more ambitious ones might be writing application essays now, too. And they’re right. But what they don’t know is something of a secret in admissions counseling. The term “demonstrated interest” gets tossed around in articles on admissions trends, but there is very little concrete advice on what it is and how to do it.

If you’re not familiar with demonstrated interest, it describes a student’s efforts in showing that a school is at the top of his or her list. Admissions officers gauge interest in an attempt to predict who will attend if admitted.

I asked two leading college counselors, Marilyn Emerson and Howard Verman, for their advice on how best to demonstrate interest. Marilyn prefaced her list with an important distinction: the applicant, rather than a parent, must be the one showing the interest! Phone calls and emails from parents can actually hurt your chances for admission at some selective schools.

Here are their ideas:

· Visit the college if possible. It shows you’ve invested the time to visit the campus. While there, take the tour, arrange to sit in on a class, and talk with students. If you’re interested in majoring in a specific department, arrange to meet with a professor or students in that department and ask questions.

· Request an on campus interview if the college offers one, or with an alumnus in your area. Prepare for the interview by learning about the school and thinking about what you want the interviewer to know about you. This shows initiative, even if the interview never takes place.

· If you cannot get to the school, arrange to visit with the college admissions staff at a local or national college fair. You can check out national college fairs at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling website,

· Identify the Regional Admissions Officer at each college on your list. This is the person responsible for applications from your part of the country. Get to know this person through both E-mail and phone conversations. Ask this person to help you decide if the school is a good fit for you.

· Let the college know if is your first choice or a top choice.

· Attend a prospective student day.

· Participate in online chats.

· Email well thought out questions and spend time on the college’s website on a regular basis. Colleges keep track of how often you contact them and visit the site.

· Respond to recruiting emails or correspondence.

· Attend a college fair or a college reception.

· Meet with the admissions officer who visits your high school or local area.

· Develop a relationship with someone at the college or university.

· Answer the “why you want to attend” question on your application thoughtfully.

· Once you’ve sent in your application, check back with the admissions office to make sure they have everything they need and that your application is complete.

Marilyn offers a final word of caution: “college admissions officers are usually very skilled at reading students, so do not think of this process as a game and try to fake your interest.”

Howard Verman is a senior associate with Strategies For College, Inc., a Vermont corporation specializing in college selection, admissions, and financial aid counseling with offices in Shelburne, VT, Montpelier, VT, West Lebanon, NH, and Canton, MA. He can be contacted at (802) 985-8700 or through

Marilyn Emerson is the President of College Planning Services, Inc. She specializes in college and graduate admission counseling. She has offices in Chappaqua and New York City and can be reached at

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Paying in Full as the Ticket Into Colleges

What Asian Advantage College Consulting said is true: College are lying about having need-blind admissions.

Paying in Full as the Ticket Into Colleges

Published: March 30, 2009
The New York Times

In the bid for a fat envelope this year, it may help, more than usual, to have a fat wallet.

Facing fallen endowments and needier students, many colleges are looking more favorably on wealthier applicants as they make their admissions decisions this year.

Institutions that have pledged to admit students regardless of need are finding ways to increase the number of those who pay the full cost in ways that allow the colleges to maintain the claim of being need-blind — taking more students from the transfer or waiting lists, for instance, or admitting more foreign students who pay full tuition.

Private colleges that acknowledge taking financial status into account say they are even more aware of that factor this year.

“If you are a student of means or ability, or both, there has never been a better year,” said Robert A. Sevier, an enrollment consultant to colleges.

The trend does not mean colleges are cutting their financial aid budgets. In fact, most have increased those budgets this year, protecting that money even as they cut administrative salaries or require faculty members to take furloughs. But with more students applying for aid, and with those who need aid often needing more, institutions say they have to be mindful of how many scholarship students they can afford.

Colleges say they are not backing away from their desire to serve less affluent students; if anything, they say, taking more students who can afford to pay full price or close to it allows them to better afford those who cannot. But they say the inevitable result is that needier students will be shifted down to the less expensive and less prestigious institutions.

“There’s going to be a cascading of talented lower-income kids down the social hierarchy of American higher education, and some cascading up of affluent kids,” said Morton Owen Schapiro, the president of Williams College and an economist who studies higher education.

And colleges acknowledge that giving more seats to higher-paying students often means trading off their goals to be more socioeconomically diverse.

Some admissions officers and college advisers say richer parents are taking note of the climate, calculating that if they do not apply for aid, their children stand a better chance of getting in.

“They think their kids will have more options,” said Diane Geller, a college counselor in private practice in Los Angeles and president of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, a nonprofit group that represents private academic counselors. “And anecdotally, it would seem that that’s the case.”

“I do think the colleges want to give aid where they can,” Ms. Geller added. “But we all know the economic realities.”

Only the wealthiest institutions traditionally have been need-blind, admitting students without regard to what they can pay. But the definition has often been fuzzy, and this year, it may be more so.

Bowdoin College announced plans to expand by 50 students over the next five years, which Scott Meiklejohn, the interim dean of admissions, said would allow it to accept more transfer and waiting-list students, whose applications are not considered on a need-blind basis.

Brandeis University, which is need-blind except for international, wait-listed and transfer students, accepted 10 percent more international students than usual this year, and Gil Villanueva, the dean of admissions, said he expected that the university would take more wait-listed and transfer students, as well.

Middlebury, which is need-blind and pledges to meet students’ full financial needs, will require students on financial aid to contribute more of their work earnings. It has cut its financial aid budget for international students. It is not need-blind for those on the waiting list or for transfers, but the college has not yet determined how many of those students it will take.

“We consider being need-blind and meeting full demonstrated need one of our basic operating principles,” said Patrick J. Norton, the college’s treasurer. “That is one of the last things that we would consider going away from.”

Those colleges that are need-aware typically admit part of the class without regard to ability to pay, but begin to consider it when the financial aid budget runs thin.

This year, many of these colleges say they are more inclined to accept students who do not apply for aid, or whom they judge to be less needy based on other factors, like ZIP code or parents’ background.

“We’re only human,” said Steven Syverson, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. “They shine a little brighter.”

The advantage is not across the board; it goes to the students at the margins, the ones who would probably be “maybes” when the admissions committee considered applications. Those students are less likely to get in if they are financially needy and more likely to get in if they can afford to pay.

“This is not the majority of the class, or even the preponderance,” said Rob Reddy, the director of financial aid at Oberlin College. “But it’s a factor.”

Even though there is more financial aid this year, more students are vying for it, so resources do not stretch as far.

“It’s not unusual to see families earning $200,000 applying for aid, especially if they have a couple of kids going to college,” said Rodney M. Oto, director of student financial services at Carleton College.

And some campuses are shifting more financial aid to merit aid, money that goes to highly qualified but not necessarily needy students; if tuition is $50,000 and the college offers an award of $7,000, it still gets $43,000, where a needier student might net the college nothing.

Some say it is time to reconsider the cachet that accompanies a boast of being need-blind.

“You can’t say someone should be need-blind unless they have the resources to fund it,” said Dr. Schapiro, at Williams. “It sounds immoral to replace really talented low-income kids with less talented richer kids, but unless you’re a Williams or an Amherst, the alternative is the quality of the education declines for everyone.”

At Carleton, which is need-aware, Mr. Oto said, “I do think we’d all be better off if we were honest with kids that you may not get in because you need assistance, or you need too much assistance.”

Mr. Oto’s fear — shared by many other admissions officers — is that being honest will scare off students who might, in fact, qualify for financial aid.

On the other end, Mr. Oto said: “I suspect it may be a strategy for some folks. We do get the sense that people are getting advice that if you can pay, then you should shoot for the highly selective school.”

Many admissions counselors ascribe the increase in early decision applicants this year to wealthier students’ seeking an advantage. Early decision requires students to attend if they are accepted, so those students give up the ability to negotiate financial aid, and tend to be wealthier.

“Those families in a position to afford the cost of attendance capitalized on that,” said Mr. Villanueva, at Brandeis.

Many colleges, in turn, accepted more students early decision, as a way of securing students in December.

Some families have come back and tried to renegotiate aid after an offer of admission, but colleges caution that there is no guarantee: they have accommodated some requests, but told other students that their offers are firm, and in some cases, released students from early decision agreements rather than give a larger scholarship.

If endowments do not rebound, some colleges say that it will be harder to maintain commitments to the needier in coming years.

Tufts says it is reading applications on a need-blind basis this year, but may not be able to continue doing so. William D. Adams, the president of Colby College, told students in a letter that the college would continue its new policy of replacing loans with grants this year, but that he could not guarantee that future budgets would be able to afford to do so. Grinnell College in Iowa also intends to meet a promise this year that no student graduates with more than $2,000 a year in loans, but officials say it may be hard to sustain that.

“These are things you’ll have to pry from our hands,” said Seth Allen, Grinnell’s dean of admission and financial aid. “At the same time, you have to be realistic.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 1, 2009
An article on Tuesday about colleges looking more favorably on wealthy applicants referred incorrectly to a pledge by Grinnell College to limit the amount of loans that students must pay back after graduation. The college promises that no student will graduate with mor
e than $2,000 a year in loans — not a total of $2,000 in loans.