Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others

By Russell K. Nieli
July 12, 2010

When college presidents and academic administrators pay their usual obeisance to "diversity" you know they are talking first and foremost about race. More specifically, they are talking about blacks. A diverse college campus is understood as one that has a student body that -- at a minimum -- is 5 to 7 percent black (i.e., equivalent to roughly half the proportion of blacks in the general population). A college or university that is only one, two, or three percent black would not be considered "diverse" by college administrators regardless of how demographically diverse its student body might be in other ways. The blacks in question need not be African Americans -- indeed at many of the most competitive colleges today, including many Ivy League schools, an estimated 40-50 percent of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants.

As a secondary meaning "diversity" can also encompass Hispanics, who together with blacks are often subsumed by college administrators and admissions officers under the single race category "underrepresented minorities." Most colleges and universities seeking "diversity" seek a similar proportion of Hispanics in their student body as blacks (since blacks and Hispanics are about equal in number in the general population), though meeting the black diversity goal usually has a much higher priority than meeting the Hispanic one.

Asians, unlike blacks and Hispanics, receive no boost in admissions. Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as the quota-like mentality that leads college administrators to conclude they may have "too many" Asians. Despite the much lower number of Asians in the general high-school population, high-achieving Asian students -- those, for instance, with SAT scores in the high 700s -- are much more numerous than comparably high-achieving blacks and Hispanics, often by a factor of ten or more. Thinking as they do in racial balancing and racial quota terms, college admissions officers at the most competitive institutions almost always set the bar for admitting Asians far above that for Hispanics and even farther above that for admitting blacks.

"Diversity" came to be so closely associated with race in the wake of the Supreme Court's Bakke decision in 1978. In his decisive opinion, Justice Lewis Powell rejected arguments for racial preferences based on generalized "societal discrimination," social justice, or the contemporary needs of American society as insufficiently weighty to overrule the color-blind imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. That imperative, however, could be overruled, Powell said, by a university's legitimate concern for the educational benefits of a demographically diverse student body.

Virtually all competitive colleges after Bakke continued with their racial preference policies ("affirmative action"), though after Powell's decision they had to cloak their true meaning and purpose behind a misleading or dishonest rhetoric of "diversity." Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a critic of racial preferences, accurately explains the situation: "The raison d'etre for race-specific affirmative action programs," Dershowitz writes, "has simply never been diversity for the sake of education. The checkered history of 'diversity' demonstrates that it was designed largely as a cover to achieve other legally, morally, and politically controversial goals. In recent years, it has been invoked -- especially in the professional schools -- as a clever post facto justification for increasing the number of minority group students in the student body."

While almost all college administrators and college admissions officers at the most elite institutions think in racial balancing and racial quota-like terms when they assemble their student body, they almost always deny this publically in a blizzard of rhetoric about a more far-flung "diversity." Indeed, there is probably no other area where college administrators are more likely to lie or conceal the truth of what they are doing than in the area of admissions and race.

Most elite universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class "white ethnics," social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce. Students in these categories are often very rare at the more competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League. While these kinds of people would surely add to the diverse viewpoints and life-experiences represented on college campuses, in practice "diversity" on campus is largely a code word for the presence of a substantial proportion of those in the "underrepresented" racial minority groups.

The Diversity Colleges Want

espenshade.jpgA new study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford is a real eye-opener in revealing just what sorts of students highly competitive colleges want -- or don't want -- on their campuses and how they structure their admissions policies to get the kind of "diversity" they seek. The Espenshade/Radford study draws from a new data set, the National Study of College Experience (NSCE), which was gathered from eight highly competitive public and private colleges and universities (entering freshmen SAT scores: 1360). Data was collected on over 245,000 applicants from three separate application years, and over 9,000 enrolled students filled out extensive questionnaires. Because of confidentiality agreements Espenshade and Radford could not name the institutions but they assure us that their statistical profile shows they fit nicely within the top 50 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ratings.

Consistent with other studies, though in much greater detail, Espenshade and Radford show the substantial admissions boost, particularly at the private colleges in their study, which Hispanic students get over whites, and the enormous advantage over whites given to blacks. They also show how Asians must do substantially better than whites in order to reap the same probabilities of acceptance to these same highly competitive private colleges. On an "other things equal basis," where adjustments are made for a variety of background factors, being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white (for those who applied in 1997) equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310 SAT point advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points.

The box students checked off on the racial question on their application was thus shown to have an extraordinary effect on a student's chances of gaining admission to the highly competitive private schools in the NSCE database. To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550. Here the Espenshade/Radford results are consistent with other studies, including those of William Bowen and Derek Bok in their book The Shape of the River, though they go beyond this influential study in showing both the substantial Hispanic admissions advantage and the huge admissions penalty suffered by Asian applicants. Although all highly competitive colleges and universities will deny that they have racial quotas -- either minimum quotas or ceiling quotas -- the huge boosts they give to the lower-achieving black and Hispanic applicants, and the admissions penalties they extract from their higher-achieving Asian applicants, clearly suggest otherwise.

Espenshade and Radford also take up very thoroughly the question of "class based preferences" and what they find clearly shows a general disregard for improving the admission chances of poor and otherwise disadvantaged whites. Other studies, including a 2005 analysis of nineteen highly selective public and private universities by William Bowen, Martin Kurzweil, and Eugene Tobin, in their 2003 book, Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, found very little if any advantage in the admissions process accorded to whites from economically or educationally disadvantaged families compared to whites from wealthier or better educated homes. Espenshade and Radford cite this study and summarize it as follows: "These researchers find that, for non-minority [i.e., white] applicants with the same SAT scores, there is no perceptible difference in admission chances between applicants from families in the bottom income quartile, applicants who would be the first in their families to attend college, and all other (non-minority) applicants from families at higher levels of socioeconomic status. When controls are added for other student and institutional characteristics, these authors find that “on an other-things-equal basis, [white] applicants from low-SES backgrounds, whether defined by family income or parental education, get essentially no break in the admissions process; they fare neither better nor worse than other [white] applicants."

Distressing as many might consider this to be -- since the same institutions that give no special consideration to poor white applicants boast about their commitment to "diversity" and give enormous admissions breaks to blacks, even to those from relatively affluent homes -- Espenshade and Radford in their survey found the actual situation to be much more troubling. At the private institutions in their study whites from lower-class backgrounds incurred a huge admissions disadvantage not only in comparison to lower-class minority students, but compared to whites from middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds as well. The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers. When equally matched for background factors (including SAT scores and high school GPAs), the better-off whites were more than three times as likely to be accepted as the poorest whites (.28 vs. .08 admissions probability). Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it. The opposite class trend was seen among non-whites, where the poorer the applicant the greater the probability of acceptance when all other factors are taken into account. Class-based affirmative action does exist within the three non-white ethno-racial groupings, but among the whites the groups advanced are those with money.

When lower-class whites are matched with lower-class blacks and other non-whites the degree of the non-white advantage becomes astronomical: lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely. These are enormous differences and reflect the fact that lower-class whites were rarely accepted to the private institutions Espenshade and Radford surveyed. Their diversity-enhancement value was obviously rated very low.

Poor Non-White Students: "Counting Twice"

The enormous disadvantage incurred by lower-class whites in comparison to non-whites and wealthier whites is partially explained by Espenshade and Radford as a result of the fact that, except for the very wealthiest institutions like Harvard and Princeton, private colleges and universities are reluctant to admit students who cannot afford their high tuitions. And since they have a limited amount of money to give out for scholarship aid, they reserve this money to lure those who can be counted in their enrollment statistics as diversity-enhancing "racial minorities." Poor whites are apparently given little weight as enhancers of campus diversity, while poor non-whites count twice in the diversity tally, once as racial minorities and a second time as socio-economically deprived. Private institutions, Espenshade and Radford suggest, "intentionally save their scarce financial aid dollars for students who will help them look good on their numbers of minority students." Quoting a study by NYU researcher Mitchell Stevens, they write: "ultimate evaluative preference for members of disadvantaged groups was reserved for applicants who could be counted in the college's multicultural statistics. This caused some admissions officers no small amount of ethical dismay."

There are problems, however, with this explanation. While it explains why scarce financial aid dollars might be reserved for minority "twofers," it cannot explain why well-qualified lower-class whites are not at least offered admission without financial aid. The mere offer of admission is costless, and at least a few among the poor whites accepted would probably be able to come up with outside scholarship aid. But even if they couldn't, knowing they did well enough in their high school studies to get accepted to a competitive private college would surely sit well with most of them even if they couldn't afford the high tuition. Espenshade and Radford do not address this conundrum but the answer is easy to discern. The ugly truth is that most colleges, especially the more competitive private ones, are fiercely concerned with their ratings by rating organizations like U.S. News & World Report. And an important part of those ratings consist of a numerical acceptance rate (the ratio of applicants received to those accepted) and a yield score (the ratio of those accepted to those who enroll). The lower the acceptance rate and the higher the yield score the more favorably colleges are looked upon. In extending admissions to well-qualified but financially strapped whites who are unlikely to enroll, a college would be driving both its acceptance rate and its yield score in the wrong direction. Academic bureaucrats rarely act against either their own or their organization's best interests (as they perceive them), and while their treatment of lower-class whites may for some be a source of "no small amount of ethical dismay," that's just how it goes. Some of the private colleges Espenshade and Radford describe would do well to come clean with their act and admit the truth: "Poor Whites Need Not Apply!"

Besides the bias against lower-class whites, the private colleges in the Espenshade/Radford study seem to display what might be called an urban/Blue State bias against rural and Red State occupations and values. This is most clearly shown in a little remarked statistic in the study's treatment of the admissions advantage of participation in various high school extra-curricular activities. In the competitive private schools surveyed participation in many types of extra-curricular activities -- including community service activities, performing arts activities, and "cultural diversity" activities -- conferred a substantial improvement in an applicant's chances of admission. The admissions advantage was usually greatest for those who held leadership positions or who received awards or honors associated with their activities. No surprise here -- every student applying to competitive colleges knows about the importance of extracurriculars.

But what Espenshade and Radford found in regard to what they call "career-oriented activities" was truly shocking even to this hardened veteran of the campus ideological and cultural wars. Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. "Being an officer or winning awards" for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, "has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions." Excelling in these activities "is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission."

Espenshade and Radford don't have much of an explanation for this find, which seems to place the private colleges even more at variance with their stated commitment to broadly based campus diversity. In his Bakke ruling Lewis Powell was impressed by the argument Harvard College offered defending the educational value of a demographically diverse student body: "A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer." The Espenshade/Radford study suggests that those farm boys from Idaho would do well to stay out of their local 4-H clubs or FFA organizations -- or if they do join, they had better not list their membership on their college application forms. This is especially true if they were officers in any of these organizations. Future farmers of America don't seem to count in the diversity-enhancement game played out at some of our more competitive private colleges, and are not only not recruited, but seem to be actually shunned. It is hard to explain this development other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias.

This same kind of bias seems to lurk behind the negative association found between acceptance odds and holding leadership positions in high school ROTC. This is most troubling because a divorce between the campus culture of its universities and its military is poisonous for any society, and doesn't do the military or the civilian society any good. The lack of comfort with many military commanders that our current president is said to have seems to be due not only to his own lack of military experience but to the fact of having spent so many of his formative years on university campuses like Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, where people with military experience are largely absent and the campus culture is often hostile to military values and military personnel.

In an attempt to find out what kind of diversity exists -- or doesn't exist -- on the Princeton University campus, I once asked students in a ten-member discussion group to raise their hands if they knew one or more Princeton undergraduates who had served a year or more on active military duty (in the late 1940s or early 1950s, of course, undergraduates at Princeton would have encountered legions of such people coming back from WWII and the Korean War). I made it plain that I wasn't asking if the students had a close friend or roommate who was a veteran, just a single person with military experience that they had at sometime encountered during their Princeton undergraduate careers. Only one student -- a female -- raised her hand: this student once met someone who had served in the Israeli military. On a second occasion I asked this question to a larger group and again only one hand went up -- this student once met a Princeton undergraduate who had served in the Turkish military.

Many universities, including Princeton, are interested in enrolling foreign students, along with students from disparate regions of the U.S. But the more competitive private universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to people who have served in the American military or people who intend to make a career out of military service. Even if they don't shun such people, or hold their military service or aspirations against them, they clearly don't seek them out or court them the way they do "underrepresented" racial minorities. And while many universities host college-level ROTC programs (often for financial reasons), the military/civilian relationship on campus is usually far from amicable.

Military veterans and aspiring military officers, like poor whites and future American farmers, are clearly not what most competitive private colleges have in mind when they speak of the need for "diversity". If nothing else the new Espenshade/Radford study helps to document what knowledgeable observers have long known: "diversity" at competitive colleges today involves a politically engineered stew of different groups. drawn from the ingredients selected by reigning campus ideology. Since that ideology is mainly dictated by the Left, it is no surprise that the diversity achieved is what the larger American landscape looks like when it is viewed through a leftist lens. I suggest a different approach: elite colleges should get out of the diversity business altogether and focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn. These students should make up the bulk of their entering classes. Call it the Cal Tech Model since the California Institute of Technology seems to be the only elite institution that comes close to realizing such an ideal. Or call it the U.S. Olympic Team Model, or the Major League All-Stars Model, since it is based on the same strict merit-selection principle governing our Olympic sports teams and our major league baseball all-star teams. Let the diversity chips fall where they may and focus on recruiting the most intelligent, most creative, and most energetiic of the rising generation of young people. In my naive way this is what I always thought elite universities were supposed to be about.


Russell K. Nieli received his Ph.D. in political philosophy from Princeton University and currently works for Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He has been a lecturer in Princeton's Politics Department and for ten years was an academic adviser to Princeton freshmen.

Yes, Elite Colleges Are Biased Against Poor Whites

Posted by John Leo
Minding the

If damaging evidence against affirmative action turns up in a pro-affirmative action book, the author often explains it away as misunderstood or exaggerated. This has happened once again, this time to a book that made no splash when it was published last October, but drew attention here at Minding the Campus in criticism that spread to Ross Douthat's column in The New York Times, Pat Buchanan's syndicated column and now Time magazine.

The book is No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, a careful study of admission practices at eight unnamed elite colleges by Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade and a research associate, Alexandria Walton Radford. Writing here on July 12th in an article headlined, "How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others," Russell K. Nieli of Princeton wrote that the book reported an immense admissions disadvantage to Asians (because admissions officers think there are already too many in the best colleges) and poor whites, who are penalized by favoritism, not only for blacks and Hispanics, but also for whites with middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. None of the criticism that greeted Nieli's article has focused on the anti-Asian bias. All of it has dealt with the slim chances of poor whites at the most selective colleges.

Time magazine this week interviewed Espenshade about Douthat's charges that elite education seems inclined to exclude the poor of red-state America. (The book does not mention red-state America at all.) Espenshade said this:

What I think he did was take a relatively minor finding and push an interpretation that goes beyond the bounds of available evidence. We have this finding that if students held leadership positions or won awards in career-oriented extracurricular activities when they were in high school, there was a slightly negative impact on their chances of being admitted to one of these top private schools. Now, what are these career-oriented activities? Douthat mentions as possibilities, and I don't deny it, that it could be participating in a 4-H club or Future Farmers of America, but those aren't the only types of activities that might fall into that broader category. It could include Junior ROTC. It could include co-op work programs. It could include a host of things. And these aren't necessarily rural types of activities. My interpretation is that [having leadership positions or winning awards in career-oriented activities] suggests to admission deans that these folks are somewhat ambivalent about their academic future.

Espenshade is right that his critics missed the book's clear point that membership in 4-H clubs, the Future Farmers of America and high school ROTC was not enough to harm the chances of applicants to the elite colleges---the problem is holding high office in these groups (as Senator Sam Brownback did by the way in FFA) or winning group awards, because admissions officers think that such achievements might indicate a lack of seriousness about higher education. But Espenshade goes too far in saying that "there was a slightly negative impact on their chances." His book says on page 126 that "Excelling in career-oriented activities is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission," which seem more like crippling damage rather than a "slightly negative impact." As Nieli wrote: "The lower-class whites proved to be all-around losers... Having money in the family greatly improved a white applicant's admissions chances, lack of money greatly reduced it." If you read the whole book, the prejudice of the elite schools against poor whites seems clear. As a political issue, this is a sure bet to gain ground.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unexpected Turns Mark Athletes’ Journey

The New York Times

Four years ago, Jen Ward’s was at the end of the hall, and she was at the end of her rope as a softball coach. She had spent a year trying to recruit a catcher. At the last minute, she got one, but the catcher transferred after one season.

Ward’s only notable recruit that year was an outfielder/pitcher from Green Brook, N.J., Cassandra Searls.

“I didn’t think of Cassandra as a pitcher,” Ward said recently, looking back to 2006. “And while I knew she was a good player, I didn’t really know how good.” Searls became Ward’s pitching ace and the team’s career home run leader during four winning seasons.

A few doors from Ward’s office, Coach Dave Beccaria had a similarly perplexing baseball recruiting season. He also wanted a catcher and never got one. “Plenty of arms, but I’m not sure who will catch them,” he said.

In the next four years, pitching depth proved to be a backbone of his teams that twice advanced to the Centennial Conference championship game while compiling a record of 90-60-2.

In the middle of the coaching row, Amy Bergin seemingly had one of the least productive volleyball recruiting seasons four years ago. She had contacted more than 1,000 players and landed two, twins from La Canada, Calif. Rachel and Rebecca Salvo, the “volleyball twins” as they are now known on campus, became all-Americans and led Haverford to four conference championships and four N.C.A.A. tournament appearances, including one run to the Round of 16.

As recruit after recruit went elsewhere in 2006, Bergin was asked how she absorbed the disappointment.

“You go home and cry, maybe pound a few beers,” she said.

Bergin laughed recently when she was reminded of that remark.

“I guess it turned out pretty good after all, huh?” she said. “It’s crazy when your job is based on the decisions of 17-year-olds. But I’m getting better at it. And I’ve got two little kids now, so I can’t pound beers anymore.”

The New York Times examined the increasingly competitive athletic recruiting environment at small colleges in a 2005-6 series. For a year, Haverford, a highly selective college outside Philadelphia, granted access to its athletic recruiting and admissions process.

The college admitted about 65 recruited athletes, or about 15 percent of the 2006 incoming class. Most of them graduated from Haverford last weekend.

Team success is one way to evaluate the value of the recruiting process, and almost universally, Haverford athletics prospered with nine sports winning 23 conference championships in the past four years. It is perhaps just as revealing, and pertinent, to note that about 25 percent of the recruited athletes had limited playing time, or had careers cut short by injuries or chose to pursue other interests.

The Haverford recruiting class of 2006 included a talented women’s soccer player, Monica Stegman, who spent last fall — what would have been her senior season — at a marine biology laboratory on Cape Cod.

“Academics and other things eventually took precedence,” said Stegman, who also stopped playing because she feared recurring concussions.

Another senior, Nick Farina, was a track and field recruit who stopped running because of an ailment that caused him extreme chest pain. Last year, Farina started a blog and a business geared toward advising students on financial matters. He researched the enterprise during a year abroad at Oxford.

Stefan Pappius-Lefebvre was a recruited pitcher who lost interest in baseball and quit during his freshman year. He returned to play the next two seasons and developed into one of the conference’s best pitchers. An arm injury as a senior ended his collegiate career.

“I played baseball for a long time,” said Pappius-Lefebvre, who will enter law school this fall, “and I know the whole college recruiting thing can be a long and crazy process. It worked out for me; I have known other people who would say otherwise. And that’s the biggest message. You better pick a college where you will be happy even if you never play a single game. Because you might not.”

A vast majority of recruited athletes competed for four years at Haverford. A not insignificant portion of them would probably not have been accepted without their athletic credentials.

To that end, their graduation represents the culmination of a process that began when many of them were in middle school and started playing on travel teams. That commitment usually led to specialized year-round tutoring, then a grueling regimen of recruiting events and a dizzying schedule of summer camps meant to showcase their talents to college coaches.

Most of the Haverford athletes were veterans of this demanding and sometimes dehumanizing recruiting routine.

Four years later, was it all worth it?

“It was for me, and I would do it all again tomorrow,” said Searls, who went to pitching instruction twice a week as a teenager and often missed Thursdays and Fridays in high school to attend softball showcases.

Searls, who earned a degree in chemistry, said: “All that work helped me get into a great academic college where I learned and grew. The youth sports recruiting process is unpredictable and fickle, but without it, I’m not the same person.”

Brian Fleishhacker, one of Haverford’s top lacrosse recruits in 2006, did not disappoint, helping the program reach the N.C.A.A. Division III quarterfinals for the first time last weekend. In high school, Fleishhacker was busy on the recruiting circuit.

“It was a lot of work week after week, and maybe you’re at some summer camp while other kids are at the beach,” he said. “But where you go to college is a huge decision. And every little thing adds up to giving you more exposure and the chance to make the best decision.”

Fleishhacker, who graduated with a degree in economics, was among 10 lacrosse recruits admitted in 2006, all of them on a list Mike Murphy, then the coach, presented to the admissions department. Murphy hoped their athletic credentials would buttress their academic qualifications, which in most cases were within Haverford’s admission standards, or fairly close.

“Was it all worth it to take those 10 kids?” Murphy, now coaching at the University of Pennsylvania, said recently. “What does opportunity cost? Did they take 10 spots from 10 other kids who weren’t athletes? Maybe, maybe not. But I know Haverford is a better place for having those kids around for four years, and not just for all the games they won.”

Three of Murphy’s top 2006 recruits who submitted early-decision applications provide snapshots of the possible outcomes in the ever-evolving recruiting dance.

Alex Guy, a midfielder from Easton, Md., had his application deferred to the regular decision process.

“It was an awful feeling,” said Guy, who was finally accepted in the spring.

But Kevin Friedenberg, a standout lacrosse goalie from Needham, Mass., was rejected outright.

“I was devastated,” he said.

John-Paul Cashiola of Houston recalled the joy of opening his acceptance letter, which he knew he received in part because he had been the top goalie on Murphy’s list.

Guy was not the significant contributor he expected to be on the field, but he played all four years and graduated last weekend.

“I made friends on the team that will last for life,” said Guy, who will soon apply to graduate schools and hopes to become a college history professor.

On Sunday, Friedenberg will graduate with a degree in history and English from Swarthmore College — 10 miles from Haverford, its chief rival. He was a two-time all-conference lacrosse player.

“They say everything happens for a reason, and maybe it does,” Friedenberg said. “Does Haverford wish I ended up there? Probably. Do I wish that? Not at all.”

Cashiola never realized his promise as a goalie. He played some as a freshman, lost the starter’s job, then sustained a serious back injury that ended his athletic career. Cashiola has taken a year off from his studies but says he expects to graduate from Haverford next year.

“I didn’t work hard enough as a goalie, and there’s no cutting corners at that level,” said Cashiola, who is working for an international development company in California. “I wish I had done more. But you could say I used lacrosse as a tool to get a great education, and that is going to serve me well. I’m excited about my future.”

In the end, Friedenberg, who had a rough ride on the recruiting carousel four years ago, was the most philosophical.

“The recruiting process can have some unfortunate outcomes,” he said. “But if you look around, one way or another, most of us are doing pretty well. It’s a long, wild ride, but we are happy survivors.”

Despite rampant growth, Advanced Placement classes still impress college admissions officers

By Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writer
Posted: May 22, 2010 05:45 PM

Nearly 30,000 high school students in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties bent over Advanced Placement tests this month, striving to earn college credit before they ever set foot on campus.

AP courses, once reserved for a school's best and brightest, have gained broader popularity among schools and students not always known for their academic rigor. In Florida, the numbers of students taking the college-caliber classes almost doubled from 68,000 in 2004 to 131,818 in 2009.

And while some educators worry that AP's diminishing exclusivity could undermine the program's value, college admissions counselors throughout Florida say, for them, AP hasn't lost its shine.

"Quite the opposite," said J. Robert Spatig, director of graduate admissions for the University of South Florida. "We want students to have that experience, the exposure to rigorous material that is standardized nationally."

A handful of universities elsewhere appear to be rethinking that.

James M. Glaser, dean of undergraduate education at Tufts University, said a four-year, 33 percent surge of AP score submissions forced faculty and administration to reconsider the wisdom of granting unlimited credit to incoming freshmen who stacked their transcripts with AP classes.

"In the view of the faculty," Glaser said, "it just feels a little out of control."

The school wanted to do a better job encouraging students to be well-rounded, he said. So, starting with the 2009-10 incoming freshmen, credits for AP scores were capped at five.

At University of Florida, by comparison, where 98 percent of 2009's incoming freshmen completed an AP, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge University's Advanced International Certification of Education, freshmen could claim as many as 45 college credits if the qualified.

Glaser said the Tufts faculty recognizes that a student who takes AP coursework shows a level of motivation that is attractive, but ultimately professors felt that the AP classes didn't always align with what would have been taught at Tufts.

Still, no one seems to doubt that AP does a good job of preparing students for more rigorous coursework.

The College Board, creator of the AP exam, boasts that students who complete an AP course are more likely to graduate from college within four years than those who don't.

"It's exciting to see more and more high-quality students take freshman classes every year," said Ed Gillis, executive director of admissions for the University of Miami, where overall applications are up 18 percent over last year. "It keeps the faculty very happy."

Figures show that just as high schools are administering more AP courses and tests than ever, colleges are raking in more and more freshmen with course credit earned through the tests.

The University of Tampa in 2005 admitted 283 students with AP credit. By last year, that number climbed 68 percent to 477. The story is similar at USF, where in 2005, 29 percent of the freshmen admitted brought AP credit with them. By last year, that was up to a whopping 46 percent — almost half of the freshman class.

"We still view it as a positive," said Dennis Nostrand, vice president for enrollment management at UT. "It's a sign that the students are stretching themselves to try to take more challenging courses."

The Ivy League also appears to remain impressed with the curriculum and the caliber AP students.

"It is a curriculum we all know and understand and have respect for," said Jim Miller, dean of admissions for Brown University.

Florida admissions counselors who spoke to the St. Petersburg Times said that ultimately they are less interested in the exam scores than in the fact that students attempted the higher level courses, in part because senior scores aren't available until months after students have been admitted.

A national report released in February showed that Florida ranked No. 5 among states in the percentage of graduating seniors who scored a passing 3 or above on at least one AP exam. But as more students took the tests, the state's overall passage rate was dropping.

Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard University, said that at his university, AP scores provide a more important indicator of a students' academic caliber. And the school only rewards the highest scores.

At University of Florida, a score of 3 out of 5 in Art History could earn a student three college credits, while a score of 4 or 5 could bring six college credits.

But an incoming Harvard student must earn a score of 5 out of 5 to get any college credit at all. Even that only awards the student a half to one full credit, depending on the subject.

"The AP continues to be a very good predictor of how well students achieve at Harvard," Fitzsimmons said, adding that the growing ranks of students taking AP classes doesn't alarm him. "Florida is known at Harvard as a place that does offer lots of IB and AP students, so we know those students are going to be well-prepared."

Steve Orlando, spokesman for University of Florida, cautioned that while a student's penchant for taking more challenging classes can't hurt, it still doesn't guarantee admission. AP hasn't lost its luster, but neither has class diversity — economic, athletic, ethnic and more.

"We're looking at the whole student, and what that student can bring to a campus," he said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (727) 893-8707 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For Students, a Waiting List Is Scant Hope

DURHAM, N.C. — Ashley Koski, ranked third in the senior class at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Va., has wanted to attend Duke University since she was 12.

Late last month, she learned that Duke had neither accepted nor rejected her. It had offered her a spot on the waiting list — along with 3,382 other applicants. That is almost twice the size of the incoming freshman class.

“I kind of just went quiet the rest of the day,” Ms. Koski said. “I’d rather have a yes or no. I can’t make plans and be excited like the rest of my friends.”

Duke, which had a record 27,000 freshman applicants, has placed 856 more on its waiting list than a year ago. The reasons include the uncertain economy, which makes it hard for Duke to estimate how many of the 4,000 it has accepted will say yes.

If Duke’s best guess holds, no more than 60 will be admitted through the narrow gate of what is essentially a giant holding pen.

Other schools are also hedging their bets this spring. Most Ivy League colleges had sharp jumps in applications, as did similarly selective colleges like the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Many students hedged bets of their own, and submitted more applications — in some instances 15 or more.

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.

M.I.T., which had a 6 percent increase in applicants, increased its waiting list by more than half, to 722. Last year, it accepted fewer than 80 from that list. Yale, which had a slight dip in applications this year yet still admitted fewer than 8 percent of applicants, placed nearly 1,000 others on its waiting list, an increase of more than 150. Dartmouth increased its list by about 80, to 1,740.

No selective college, though — at least none that makes its figures public — has placed as many applicants in a holding pattern this spring as Duke, which has seen applications surge by 30 percent over the last two years. And those applications were filed long before its men’s basketball team won this year’s national collegiate championship, a victory that could prompt more students to say yes to Duke’s offer of admission, and thus leave fewer slots for those in waiting.

In an interview on a recent morning on Duke’s Gothic-style campus, which was mostly built in the 1930’s but looks centuries older, Christoph Guttentag, the dean of undergraduate admissions, likened his task to that of a sculptor finishing a work of art — and the waiting list to his last palette of materials.

“I have no idea what I’m going to need to finish sculpting the class,” he said, his voice echoing off walls of native knotty pine. “From an institutional perspective, it’s important that I have some flexibility.”

Like its competitors, Duke does not rank students on its waiting list. Instead, decisions about who will rise to the top are often a function of what the admissions office perceives as deficiencies in the next freshman class. There might be, for example, a surplus of aspiring engineers and not enough potential English majors, or too few students from Florida. Or there might be an unexpected shortage of oboe players.

While Mr. Guttentag encourages students on the waiting list to send him a one-page letter — or a video of 60 seconds or less — letting him know how strongly they wish to attend, and why, they can do little to improve their chances.

“The student can’t know, ‘Gee, did all the violinists decide to turn us down?’ ” he said. “They can’t affect this very much at this point.”

Since waiting list offers went out in late March, Mr. Guttentag and his colleagues have been deliberating whether to end the suspense for at least several hundred who are on it — those who probably have little hope of coming off.

Another reason the list is so long this year, he said, is that he and his colleagues were so overwhelmed by the volume of applicants that they ran out of time.

“What we could have done, had we had another week,” he said, “was to look at everybody on the waiting list and say, ‘Do they all need to be on?’ ”

“Of all the priorities,” he added, “that was not in the top two or three.”

If there is a risk for Duke, it is that the university may decide later that it wishes to admit an applicant who in the interim has set sail for other shores.

Ms. Koski, the only daughter of a single mother, said she was still eager to attend Duke if selected; if not, she said, she would probably say yes to an offer of acceptance from the University of Virginia.

Daniel Wong, a senior at San Francisco University High School, said he had been offered a spot on the waiting list this spring at Duke, as well as at Pomona, Cornell, Northwestern and Washington University in St. Louis. He has decided, instead, to eliminate any further suspense and go to the University of California, Los Angeles, which has offered him a $1,500 scholarship to supplement the $10,000 he will receive from the state, under the so-called Cal Grant program.

“It was frustrating to know I was still on the fence, and couldn’t really get on either side” he said.

If the past is any indication, Mr. Wong will be one of perhaps 1,000 students who take themselves off the Duke waiting list before May 1. Final decisions on who will be accepted from waiting lists are not typically not made until at least mid-May.

Some who wait for Duke will lose registration deposits at other colleges.

While playing hard-to-get with those students, Mr. Guttentag has been simultaneously wooing others. This month, he hosted several “Blue Devil Days,” in which admitted applicants and their families were invited to walk among the blooming magnolia and redbud trees on the sprawling 9000-acre campus.

Among those who attended was Rafi Pelles, a senior at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. Though he was accepted into Duke’s engineering program, he said he was weighing a competing acceptance from Cornell, and still hoping for good news from the University of Pennsylvania, which placed him on its waiting list.

“If he gets in to Penn, I think he’ll go,” said his mother, Kathy Pelles, a superintendent in the New York City public schools.

Her son was more diplomatic.

“It’s not so black and white to me,” he said. “First I have to wait for another yes or no.”

Computer Science at Harvard Sees Large Gender Imbalance


When Jean Yang ’08 arrived at Harvard in the fall of 2004, she was in many ways a typical, undecided freshman, contemplating concentrations ranging from economics to biology.

But after enrolling in CS50, Harvard’s introductory computer science class, she instantly developed a passion for the subject.

Yet in Yang’s early semesters of studying computer science, she faced challenges that she never expected. Having graduated from an all-girls high school, she was surprised to find herself in classes with fewer than 10 women, and she struggled with the persistent sense that she was unwelcome or unqualified.

“When you’re an undergraduate woman, and you don’t have a ton of self-confidence, you’re going to have to really assert yourself in a field where you’re being treated by others as if you don’t know anything,” Yang said.

Despite these difficulties, Yang decided to concentrate in computer science, and after graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2008, she is now pursuing her computer science Ph.D. at MIT.

But as some women interested in CS face similar challenges, few remain in the field long enough to experience the same success.

In fact, computer science is the most gender-skewed concentration offered at Harvard, with women comprising only 13 percent of undergraduate CS majors.

The proportion of female CS majors is similar at some of Harvard’s peer institutions—including Princeton, where it stands at 19 percent, and Stanford, where it is 14 percent.

But interviews with over a dozen women involved with computer science revealed no clear consensus on the issue. While some believe this disparity is due to the difficulties faced by female CS concentrators at Harvard, others say that they have found a welcoming environment in Harvard CS and ascribe the variance to experiences that women face prior to college.


According to statistics provided by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the gender imbalance within CS classes seems to grow with each subsequent course on the CS track.

While 34 percent of students in CS50 were female when the class was offered last fall, female enrollment in CS51 and CS61—the two classes that typically follow CS50—are 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

By the time students reach CS124, a class that usually comes later in the track, female enrollment drops to 18 percent.

Women are also more likely to concentrate in another coding-heavy field or to minor in CS than they are to actually concentrate in the subject.

According to data collected from the Registrar’s Office, 43 percent of students concentrating in Applied Math: Computer Science are female, 36 percent of students concentrating in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science track of the Engineering Sciences degree are female, and 25 percent of students pursuing a CS minor are female.

From this data, it seems that women are moderately likely to enroll in introductory CS courses. But subsequently, some women opt for CS-related concentrations or the CS minor, which require less intensive exposure to the subject, while most women abandon the field entirely.


Several undergraduate women involved in CS said that factors leading to the gender imbalance at Harvard include social pressures and men’s broader exposure to the topic in the time leading up to college.

“In high school, I think girls are more sensitive to peer pressure and don’t want to be perceived as ‘nerds,’” said Prajakta D. Jaju ’10, who has completed a secondary field in computer science.

Cansu A. Aydede ’11, who works as the head TF for CS50, said that the male “gamer” stereotype may also indirectly contribute to the gender skew.

“The people who come in with a strong CS background may be the types more interested in computer games...and so [they] may more often be boys than girls,” she said.

The high school disparity is evident among those who take the Advanced Placement Computer Science A and AB exams. According to data from the CollegeBoard, 84 percent of test-takers were male when the test was given in 2006.

According to many women interviewed for this article, the fact that females often come to Harvard with a weaker CS background leads fewer of them to try out the subject at all.

“There’s no real encouragement for women who are considering CS but aren’t sure,” said Nivedita Sarnath ’12, a current computer science concentrator who is switching to Applied Math for reasons unrelated to the gender skew.

And even for those women who do enroll in CS courses, some fear that they are somehow unprepared for the challenges of the concentration.

“I think there is always a sense that you are playing catch-up,” said CS concentrator Lee E. Evangelakos ’11.


Multiple women also pointed to gender differences in college work habits that may also deter undergraduate women from concentrating in CS.

One widely reported issue was the difficulty in finding partners for problem sets in early CS classes.

“Freshman year, I found it really difficult to find people to work with,” Yang said, adding that she believed many males “wound up [living] with other guys who did math or physics or CS, and they all worked together,” but she lacked this option because her roommates were all studying humanities.

Sarnath agreed with Yang: “It is still true that guys tend to work with guys, and that makes it a little more difficult if you don’t know any other girls in your class, to find someone to work with.”

Some women also noted that collaborating on problem sets in larger groups often brought out gender-related differences in work habits and communication styles.

Evangelakos said that her interactions with male CS concentrators had sometimes led her to doubt her own qualifications.

“Even the guys who you take all your classes with will sometimes try to explain things to you that you already know,” Evangelakos said.

Jaju agreed, adding that group work could also lead to social discomfort.

“A lot of times, I felt like I didn’t fit in when people would have conversations about technology or gadgets [or] video games,” Jaju said. “Classes were fine and the work was fine, but talking in problem set groups made it hard to relate.”


Several female CS concentrators said that they were able to cope with these issues and enjoy their coursework simply by having a high degree of confidence in their own abilities as students.

Batool Z. Ali ’10, a CS concentrator who will be working at Google after graduation, said she has “never felt disadvantaged” due to her gender but added that she is an “in-your-face kind of person.”

And Neena Kamath ’11, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in CS, said that there are “many advantages to being in the field as a woman,” but that she, too, has a “strong personality.”

Both women acknowledged that the gender imbalance could be more intimidating for women who entered Harvard with less faith in their abilities.

“Walking in, you need to be able to deal with the fact that you are going to be in the minority,” Kamath said.

And even among women who reported few problems with feeling like “the only girl in the room,” some still expressed a desire to see more women in their classes.

“All the people I’ve worked with have been pretty much male. It doesn’t really bother me,” said Tiffany J. Au ’12, an engineering concentrator who is considering a switch to CS. “But it would definitely be nice to have more females.”


Despite the difficulties that some of them have faced, nearly every undergraduate woman interviewed for this article stressed that she had found the faculty in the CS department to be welcoming and supportive.

Several CS professors indicated that encouraging more women to study the subject was among their top priorities for the future.

“It’s something that we talk about a lot,” said Associate Dean for Computer Science and Engineering J. Gregory Morrisett. “We are coordinating with a bunch of departments around the world and are trying a lot of different things in the hopes that we will uncover some of the issues and correct for them.”

Morrisett said he hoped to increase the number of female CS faculty members, which currently stands at four out of 18, in order to provide role models for female students considering CS.

He also praised the efforts of CS50 Lecturer David J. Malan ’99, who has worked to make the introductory coding class more accessible to those without a CS background. Under Malan’s tenure, CS50 has attracted record levels of female enrollment, though this has not yet translated to higher numbers of female concentrators.

CS Professor Radhika Nagpal said that while she has grown “more and more puzzled” over the gender disparity, she believes that Harvard can look to some of its peer institutions to improve female participation in CS.

In particular, she highlighted MIT—where 31 percent of CS concentrators are now female—as a school where a concerted effort to improve gender ratios in CS had been extremely successful.

“It isn’t as if there is one factor [causing the imbalance], but that isn’t a reason to give up,” Nagpal said. “I think at Harvard, we have to find a solution. We have to find one that works.”

—Staff writer Evan T.R. Rosenman can be reached at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moms quit jobs for their child's college dreams

Kajal Kumar knows the value of a good education. She's a career woman who poured years of her life into studying to become a certified public accountant with an MBA.

But after nearly two decades climbing the corporate ladder in New York, the 46-year-old stopped managing employees and began micromanaging her two daughters.

Instead of overseeing company accounts, Kumar organizes piano lessons, SAT preparation courses and Advanced Placement class homework assignments. She wants to give her daughters a shot at a top-notch college education.

"I had a very good, promising career," Kumar said. "But it wasn't as important as making sure my kids did well and just setting them up for the future."

Stay-at-home parenting is nothing new. About 5.1 million mothers stay at home full time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But Kumar's decision to quit her job came at an unconventional time -- when her children were grown teenagers and had entered high school. Unlike maternity leave, think of Kumar's time off as a college-prep leave, say college admissions counselors.

She represents a group of highly educated mothers who are sacrificing careers to usher their children through the increasingly competitive college admissions process.

There are no statistics counting how many mothers compromise their careers to help their teens with college admissions, but college counselors say they've witnessed more cases of mothers pausing their jobs or completely quitting their jobs. Over the past five years, Jeannie Borin, president of College Connections, says she saw a 10 percent uptick in mothers who quit or postponed their career to get their teens into college. Her counseling company offers services in 32 states.

These mothers, who can afford to quit their jobs, may stop working for months, a year or several years leading up to the admission process, say researchers and college admissions counselors. They reduce their full-time hours to part time or request a temporary leave. Because many of them have jobs that require advanced degrees and specific skills, it's usually easier for them to transition back into the work force.

"They know it's going to be an intense year and they take a leave to that effect," Borin said. "The college frenzy has affected the entire family."

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of time college-educated mothers are spending with their older children, according to a March study from the University of California, San Diego. Women spent six hours a week on child care in the mid-1990s, but that number jumped to about 12 hours a week after 2005, the study said.

Economics professors Garey and Valerie Ramey, who headed the UCSD study, theorized the rising amount of time spent on child care by a parent likely is associated with difficulty in the college admission process and juggling college preparatory activities. They found that college-educated parents have more resources and are better equipped to help their children with the process.

"We were shocked to find other mothers who had graduate degrees and had given up their careers and devoted their time to their children," said Valerie Ramey.

The panic of getting her 17-year-old daughter into a highly ranked university hit Rebecca Marder hard.

Marder, 56, of Los Angeles, California, holds two master's degrees in counseling that took her nearly 5½ years to earn. But a year-and-a-half ago, during daughter's junior year in high school, she put her private counseling practice on hold to help her through the college application process. Junior year is a crunch time for high schoolers, as they compile college wish lists and tour campuses.

She became her daughter's college applications manager, scheduling campus tours and researching academic programs. She also became a videographer, recording her 17-year-old at each college visit as she weighed the pros and cons in front of each school.

Marder has three older children, ages 25, 23, and 19, but she said this is the first time she stopped working, because she saw that expectations of high school students had grown since her eldest child entered college.

Marder said it is a dilemma. "We can be seen by others and, more importantly, by ourselves, as 'irresponsible' for not taking an active role in our child's application process, or as driven and overprotective if we do get involved."

She was relieved to learn this month that her daughter had been accepted by her top choice, New York University. She immediately reopened her practice, which was crucial, she said, because she had gone into debt during her time off.

Managing a child's college application process can be similar to a corporate job, says Hilary Levey, a fellow at Harvard University who specializes in family studies. Levey conducted dozens of interviews with mothers who stopped working and stayed at home for their children. She says she talked to mothers who used their Blackberry devices to organize schedules and help their teens craft resumes.

"Raising the child sometimes becomes a career in itself," Levey said. "Instead of getting a promotion and measuring progress in professional sense, a way to measure how well you are doing is how well your child is doing."

But guiding a teen is a very different experience than raising a newborn or young child, say some mothers who have given up their advanced degrees to become full-time moms. Several moms say their decision to stay at home with their teens as allowed them to strengthen those relationships.

Cherie Rodgers, 57, of Santa Monica, California, found herself sharing special moments with her daughter when the stress of writing essays became too daunting. Together, they would take a break and enjoy an episode of a reality TV show together.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing," said Rodgers, who put her career in family law on hold for four months last fall.

She said she considers her decision a success: Her daughter is juggling admissions offers from four selective colleges. Even so, she said, her daughter probably could have gotten through the process without her.

For Kajal Kumar in New York, her relationship with her college-bound high school senior also deepened. Kumar does miss getting dressed up for work and commuting into bustling Manhattan, but her decision has eased the stress on her family. Her husband continues to work.

"We wanted to make sure we could give her all the tools she needed to succeed," Kumar said.

Her eldest daughter is headed to Vanderbilt University this fall. But the family's college admissions process will start all over again when the youngest daughter, who is in high school, begins eyeing colleges. And Kumar will be staying at home.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New generation of college hopefuls apply to many schools

The Washington Post

By Daniel de Vise
Thursday, April 22, 2010; B01

Scott Yu had the strongest possible credentials: a perfect SAT score, a perfect high school transcript and conservatory-quality piano skills. But his first foray into college admissions, an "early-action" application to Stanford, landed in limbo with a deferral.

His faith shaken, Yu responded the way any straight-A student would, with a flurry of work. He applied to every college in the Ivy League, along with Duke, MIT, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Maryland and the New England Conservatory in Boston. For his efforts, the Rockville teen reaped 12 offers of admission. He now faces a not-very-painful choice among Harvard, Yale and MIT.

Yu, a senior in the Science, Mathematics and Computer Science Magnet Program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, represents a new generation of college applicant. Spooked by single-digit admission rates at the top private schools, students sweeten the odds by applying to more of them. And, thus, the applicant pool runneth over.

Harvard, the nation's oldest college, crossed a symbolic threshold this year when it received more than 30,000 applications for about 1,600 seats in its freshman class. With 1.5 million students expected to enter four-year colleges this fall, that means that about one in 50 applied to Harvard. Brown University passed the same milestone this year, Stanford last year.

One-fifth of college applicants nationwide apply to seven or more schools, twice the rate of a decade ago, according to data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Yu, 18, knew he was a strong candidate. But he didn't know how strong. The early rebuff from Stanford -- a school not in the Ivy League but just as selective -- unnerved him. He sat at his computer with two Harvard teddy bears for luck as he checked for news April 1, the deadline for most admissions departments to let students know whether they got in.

"I didn't mean to apply to this many schools," he said. "You can't really gauge your qualifications as a candidate until you get in somewhere."

Students apply to more schools partly because they can: Today's online applications are more easily replicated than the paper forms of previous decades. But that's not the only factor. The biggest surge has come at the most selective schools, where fewer than half of applicants gain admission. Students apply to twice as many schools as their parents did on the theory that they are half as likely to get in.

Admission rates fell this year to 6.9 percent at Harvard, 7.2 percent at Stanford, 7.5 percent at Yale, 8.2 percent at Princeton, 9.2 percent at Columbia and 9.3 percent at Brown. As recently as 2003, when fewer students competed for the same number of seats, all of those schools admitted more than 10 percent of applicants.

Worldwide interest

Ivy League schools are getting more applications from every part of the globe. Diana Barthauer, who lives in Switzerland, started with a slate of 50 schools and narrowed it to 20. She netted 15 offers, including Columbia, Stanford and Dartmouth, and rejections from MIT, Princeton and the University of Cambridge in England. Two colleges in China haven't replied.

"The reason I did so many applications was that the admission rates are so low," she said. "But then, I pushed them down by doing it, so it's kind of ironic."

Is there any harm in applying to colleges en masse? Counselors and deans are divided.

The fundamentals of admission advice have not changed. Most students are counseled to apply to at least three schools: one that is deemed a "match," a less selective "safety" school and a more selective "reach." Two of each would not be deemed excessive. "I say four to six. I used to say three to five. They end up applying to six to eight," said Robin Groelle, director of college counseling at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, a college-prep school in Bradenton, Fla.

Some students apply scattershot to top schools, without regard for "fit" or "match." They raise their chances of getting in somewhere. They might also be wasting their time.

"It's more work for us, and it's more work for the colleges," said Timothy Gallen, director of college counseling at the private Solebury School in New Hope, Pa. "It's playing the game, more than anything."

The process also can be expensive. Applications to selective colleges cost about $50 each, although fee waivers are available for low-income students.

The expanding applicant pool is not simply a matter of more applications per student. There has also been a growing population of college-bound seniors, although it is thought to have peaked last year and is expected to decline. And a larger share of applications is going to the most selective schools, which together receive 31 percent of applications but enroll 18 percent of freshmen. Deans say their applicant pools are larger, more diverse and better qualified than in previous generations in terms of grade-point averages and SAT scores.

"The long and short of it is, there has been a remarkable democratization of higher education in the past 50 years in the United States," said William Fitzsimmons, admissions dean at Harvard. He said his department's goal is to get a Harvard application "on the kitchen table of every student in America who has a chance of getting in."

'Come out of nowhere'

For the broader population of public and private colleges, the explosion in applications means more selectivity, but also more headaches.

The average four-year college, public and private, received 24 percent more applications in 2006 than 2002, according to an analysis of the latest available data by the admissions counseling group. The average admission rate narrowed from 71 percent in 2001 to 67 percent in 2007. The share of students who were admitted and chose to enroll also declined in that span, from 49 percent to 45 percent.

The rise of mass applications has complicated the task of predicting who will enroll. Increasing numbers of applicants "come out of nowhere" and have no connection to the college, said David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the admissions counseling group. "And [colleges] just don't have much intelligence on what these students' intentions are."

Colleges have courted mass applicants -- and higher application numbers -- by adopting the Common Application and putting forms online. But they also pay closer attention to an applicant's "demonstrated interest," Hawkins said, weighing such factors as correspondence or a visit to campus.

Admissions departments rely more heavily on early-decision and early-action programs, which deliver decisions to applicants sooner, in trade for a hope -- or an expectation -- that they will attend.

The University of Pennsylvania locked in half its freshman class this year through early decision. The effect on regular applicants was somewhat like scouting tickets for a rock concert that had been heavily pre-sold. With 26,938 applicants for 2,420 slots, the school's overall admission rate was 14 percent. For regular-decision applicants: 10 percent.

"How many offers of admission can we go out with on April 1, knowing that we already have 49 percent of our class spoken for?" said Eric Furda, dean of admissions.

Despite the long odds, some in the industry envision an emerging buyer's market in college admissions. The ease of applying to any college, anywhere, gives motivated students a fighting chance in shopping among schools with single-digit admission rates.

"I think they know that they can be consumers in this process, whereas maybe 10 years ago, it was the college that was picking the student," said Kristin White, director of marketing and communication at Westover School, a private girls school in Connecticut. "They're comparison shoppers now."

Missan DeSouza, a senior at Westover School, applied to 19 colleges. Some, such as Wellesley and Connecticut College, fit the liberal-arts mold of Westover. Others, including John Jay College and West Virginia University, had strong programs in forensic science, an interest she acquired from her mother, a Brooklyn police officer. She added several to the list because they offered strong academics and a lower price, or promised merit aid.

Thirteen colleges offered her admission. Ursinus College included a $30,000 scholarship, and John Jay would effectively cost nothing. But she is leaning toward three others: Wellesley, Middlebury College or George Washington University.

"I'm feeling it was really smart of me to apply to so many," she said, "because now I have enough options."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Harvard Attracts More Potential Engineers

Though aspiring Harvard students may spend this week mired in uncertainty as they wait for admission decisions on April 1, one thing is almost certain: more admitted students than ever before will come to Harvard with the hope of pursuing engineering and applied science.

Cited by Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 as one of three central trends driving an increase in applications to Harvard, the rise in applicants interested in these fields has been all but meteoric since the establishment of an independent School of Engineering and Applied Sciences almost three years ago.

Previously, when SEAS was still the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the number of applicants interested in engineering held steady at about 2,500 each year. But over the course of the next three years, the admissions committee has seen a 68 percent surge in applicants who list their primary interest as engineering sciences, during a period in which the total number of applicants to Harvard has risen by about only 11 percent.

The increase, while significant, is not wholly unexpected. The College admissions staff has maintained a concerted effort to publicize the creation of SEAS, striving to dispel the notion that Harvard is primarily a school for the liberal arts, according to Fitzsimmons. This undertaking—coming at a time when national interest in science and technology is rising—appears to have been successful.

But the increase in applicants—and thus, potential concentrators—will challenge SEAS in new ways. While SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray detailed plans to expand the engineering school during an “All-Hands” Meeting earlier this month, she also noted that the school’s space was already “severely constrained.”

“Any future growth will be done in such a way to ensure we can support the increase in the number of students,” Murray said in an e-mailed statement. ‘We plan to grow without growing apart.”


Harvard has aggressively advertised the new opportunities offered by the creation of SEAS in its on-campus information sessions and in its outreach efforts to high schools in dozens of cities across the country, according to Fitzsimmons.

“Basically any time we saw students, we talked about the new school,” Fitzsimmons says. He adds that the recent creation of majors in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology and Biomedical Engineering gave admissions officers additional talking points to entice students interested in applied science.

“There are lots of people who have this outdated stereotype of Harvard as pretty much humanities and social science,” Fitzsimmons says. “It obviously attracts everybody to have strong engineering. It’s a huge asset.”

Prior to the creation of SEAS, engineering concentrators studied within the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 describes as “halfway between a department and a school.”

As Lewis explains, the 2008 chartering of SEAS broadly increased awareness of engineering at Harvard. And because Harvard does not consider engineering applicants separately—unlike other colleges including Cornell and Columbia—the creation of SEAS allowed Harvard to offer the unique opportunity to study engineering within an independent school without having to make a decisive career choice as a high school senior.

“Harvard has the advantage that to be an engineer here, you simply apply to be a student at Harvard College, with all of the other resources that Harvard College students have,” Lewis says.

At the same that the admissions office has been advertising SEAS, individuals within the school itself have worked to increase the visibility of Harvard engineering and the various research projects undertaken in the field.

According to former Dean of SEAS Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, the establishment of the school allowed for greater outreach efforts to potential students through the SEAS Communications Office. These efforts included redesigning the official Web site, hosting Web chats, and calling high school seniors.

SEAS also makes additional recruiting efforts once students are admitted to Harvard. According to Lewis, the school attempts to have a faculty member call or e-mail every admitted student who has listed engineering as his or her primary interest.


Some part of the success of Harvard’s outreach efforts may be attributed to the increased national interest in engineering and applied science in recent years.

According to annual surveys of students entering four-year colleges conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, interest in engineering began rising again in 2008 following a multi-year decline. Overall interest in science, engineering, and technology also remains significantly elevated from levels in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“I suspect shifting socioeconomic trends (the economy, the exposure of today’s student to technology) and the greater interest in students who really want to make a difference in the world solving societal problems is attracting more concentrators in engineering,” Murray wrote.

MIT Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill echoes this sentiment, noting a rising awareness of the value of an engineering education.

“I think that there is broad recognition in the country, particularly, among high school students, about the importance of having a strong background in science and technology to do anything in the future,” Schmill says.

But the dynamic growth in engineering at Harvard may be exceptional even compared to other institutions. According to Schmill, the proportion of MIT applicants who express an interest in engineering has remained relatively constant over the past few years, while Harvard admissions statistics reveal that the proportion of Harvard applicants interested in the field has soared.


Yet with potential continued growth among concentrators within SEAS, the school faces the possibility that facilities might run short.

But both Venky and Murray dismiss notions that the increase in the size of the student body would be allowed to strain the resources of the faculty.

Venky says that it is important to have space for teaching labs, and that he sees the availability of physical space as the biggest limitation.

“We will have to add more faculty and more space, or stop the growth,” Venky says.

Murray wrote that as of yet, SEAS has “been able to handle the increase in concentrators without a dramatic drop in the faculty to student ratio.”

As she signaled in her “All-Hands” meeting on Mar. 1, SEAS plans to add an additional 50 full-time equivalent faculty members over the next 10 years to support continued expansion.

And as President of the Harvard College Engineering Society Evelyn J. Park ’11 says, the growth in engineering interest may improve the overall experience of undergraduate engineering concentrators beyond expanding their academic opportunities.

“Right now, we’re one of the smaller concentrations on campus, and you get a lot of questions like, “Why are you doing engineering at Harvard when MIT is just down the street?’” Park says. “The Engineering Society has been trying to build up more spirit and a sense of community among the engineers, and I think having more people will definitely help with that.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at

—Staff writer Evan T. R. Rosenman can be reached at

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Z-Listed Students Take a Year-Off

Undergrads take mandatory gap year before coming to Harvard

Jason S. Wien ’13 was visiting Northwestern University, the school he had committed to attending, when he got the call.

Katie N. Rice ’14 had already attended her freshman orientation program at the University of Arizona, and Emily M. Orlins ’11 had learned the name of her roommate at Cornell University.

These students’ college plans were set—until they got a call from Harvard.

We don’t have room for you in the freshman class entering this fall, Harvard told them. But if you’re willing to wait a year, you’re invited to attend.


Each year, Harvard offers admission to a select group of students—known among admissions officers as the “Z-list”—on the condition that they take a mandatory year off before enrolling in the College.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 says that of the 60 to 100 students in each class who take a gap year before coming to Harvard, roughly half do so voluntarily. The other half were Z-listed.

Fitzsimmons says that although the practice of Z-listing dates back to the early 1970s, the number of Z-listed students has increased over the years. In 2002, Director of Admissions Marlyn E. McGrath ’70-’73 told The Crimson that there were 20 Z-listed students in each class. Today, that number has reached 30 to 50.

The term Z-list was coined by the office’s computer technicians due to the fact that these students are the final group to be admitted each year. After regular decisions and waitlist admissions have been made, Fitzsimmons says there are always more students the admissions office would like to accept. These students are offered a spot on the Z-list.

“We are 100 percent sure that we want them here next year, not 99 percent,” Fitzsimmons says of the Z-listed students. “We never quite know what next year’s applicant pool is going to bring.”

Samuel B. Novey ’11 says that when he got a call telling him he’d been Z-listed, “[the admissions officer] made it sound like I was trying to book a hotel. She literally said, ‘Next year we may have a bed available.’”

But Fitzsimmions admits that many find this system illogical, since the 30 to 50 beds that would be needed to house Z-listers in the entering class are the same beds being filled by last year’s Z-listers.

“We all know that this is a zero-sum game,” Fitzsimmons says.


Given a year to spend in nearly any way they choose—apart from enrolling at another academic institution for credit—this group of students comes to Harvard with a wide variety of experiences under their belts.

Some worked—in a company that makes video games, in a rock climbing gym, on a UPS delivery truck, in a neuroscience lab full of monkeys, and on Capitol Hill, to name a few jobs. Some volunteered for charities aiding refugees, cancer patients, and citizens of impoverished nations. Many of them traveled. Collectively, the students interviewed for this article visited 35 countries, spanning every continent but Antarctica.

“I’ve ridden a camel in Timbuktu. I feel like life is complete now,” says Elizabeth M. Letvin ’13.

William N. Forster ’13 says that the sauteed grub intestines that he ate in a remote Ecuadorean village during his gap year tasted “better than the armadillo.”

Nearly all of the students say that their gap years were extremely rewarding and that they would recommend the experience to other incoming college students.

Johnny F. Bowman ’11 says he was “pissed off” when he first learned he had been Z-listed.

But he says that that feeling changed once he saw the possibilities afforded by an extra year between high school and college.

“Once I realized I can do whatever I want to do, it was the most mind-opening realization and subsequent experience of my life,” Bowman says.

Many students say that taking a gap year gave them a chance to unwind after working assiduously throughout high school, and that spending a year away from academics changed their perspective on college.

“Every day I say ‘Yes! I’m at college! More college today!’” says Novey, who worked on a congressional campaign during his gap year and then became a congressional staffer when his candidate won the election. “You could go weeks without seeing a girl your age in D.C. It teaches you to appreciate that you have a built-in social scene.”

Others say their year off allowed them to discover academic interests that they didn’t know they had.

For example, Quentin Z. Auerbach ’11 says that the culinary interest which he developed by taking cooking classes during his gap year led him to choose food policy as the topic of his social studies thesis.

Asher M. Lipson ’12 had never studied French before traveling to France during his year off. Now, he’s concentrating in Romance Languages and Literatures, a decision he says he doubts he would have made otherwise.


While Z-listed students bring a wide range of interests and experiences to Harvard, many people charge that they are similar in two ways—the Z-list has long had a reputation for consisting predominantly of affluent students and Harvard legacies.

Of the 28 students interviewed by The Crimson for this story, 18 have parents who attended Harvard. All but four receive no financial aid from the College, while about 70 percent of the student body receives aid from Harvard.

John W. Anderson, co-director of college counseling at the elite boarding school Phillips Academy in Andover, said that of the Andover students who are Z-listed, “a very, very, very high percent” are legacies.

“I think Harvard does have a strong institutional priority in admitting Harvard sons and daughters,” Anderson says. “[Z-listing] is a good way of accomplishing part of that institutional priority.”

According to Fitzsimmons, Harvard does not aim to use the Z-list to admit legacy students. Instead, he says, the Z-list contains a greater proportion of legacies than the class in general since legacy students might be more willing to accept a spot on the Z-list.

However, Fitzsimmons says the yield for the Z-list is about 67 to 70 percent—not much lower than the 76 percent overall yield that the College reported for the Class of 2013.

Fitzsimmons says that Z-list admissions, like all admissions decisions, are need-blind. However, he says that the cost of funding a year off from school has deterred some students from accepting a Z-list spot.

“Harvard should take into account the students who they’re asking to take a year off and make sure that their families are able to do it,” says a student who wished to remain anonymous, since she says that the Z-list “gives off an impression that is radically different from who I am.”

She receives a full scholarship from Harvard, and she says that it was difficult for her mother to have her living at home a year longer than expected.

Maturity is also frequently cited as a potential rationale behind Z-listing. But according to Fitzsimmons, the College simply views Z-listed students as “good candidates” that it would like to enroll.

“Very rarely do we say to ourselves, maturity is an issue,” Fitzsimmons says.

While some schools such as Middlebury College and the University of Southern California admit students on the condition that they enroll in the spring semester, when beds have been vacated by those who study abroad in the spring or graduate a semester early, Harvard’s practice of requiring students to defer for a year may be unique.

“Harvard can sit back and say, ‘We can do this because we’re Harvard.’” says Stuart Clutterbuck, a guidance counselor at Bergen County Academies, a top magnet high school in New Jersey. He speculates that high school students would be unlikely to accept a one-year deferral at a less prestigious institution.

Despite the secrecy and stigma that some students say accompany being Z-listed, most say they are glad for the opportunity to take a year off before coming to Harvard.

“I’m grateful that I was on the Z-list,” says Madeline S. Peskoe ’14, who has spent this year in Senegal and Argentina and will enter Harvard in the fall. “There’s no way that I would have done this on my own. It was the extra kick that I needed to get off the track. Thanks, Harvard.”

—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at

White House Court Brief Backs Race-Based Admissions

The Wall Street Journal

MARCH 30, 2010, 11:06 P.M. ET

The Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to uphold a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Texas at Austin, aiming to stymie a lawsuit that conservatives hope will spur the Supreme Court to limit affirmative action at public colleges.

The Texas case tests a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Michigan Law School. That ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger said the law school had "a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body." By a 5-4 vote, the court prohibited "outright racial balancing," but said race could be a "plus" factor to build a "critical mass" of minority students.

But the Grutter opinion's author, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, retired in 2006, and her successor, Justice Samuel Alito, has helped solidify a five-justice conservative majority that has been highly skeptical when government classifies people by race, even for assertedly benign purposes.

In a 2007 case, Justice Alito joined Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas in an opinion that barred local school boards from considering race when making pupil assignments to integrate elementary and secondary schools. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," the chief justice wrote.

The shift in the court has encouraged critics of the Grutter opinion that the court might consider limiting consideration of race to professional schools—whose applicant pools are small and which offer exclusive networking and employment opportunities—or possibly overturning it altogether.

The University of Texas case was brought in 2008 by two white students who were rejected for admission to the state's flagship campus. Three-fourths of freshmen gain admission on academic grounds if they rank among the top 10% of their high school's graduating class. But others are admitted through a "holistic" evaluation in which admission officers, alerted to each applicant's race by a label on his or her file, may take into account racial or ethnic identity, among other factors.

The white students alleged that the admissions formula violated federal civil-rights law. In August, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks rejected their claim, finding that Texas's admissions plan was legal because it was based on the Michigan system upheld by the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs then appealed to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans; whoever loses there likely will ask the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The case "might cause the Supreme Court to think again" whether diversity remains important enough to justify classifying students by race, said Bert Rein, a Washington attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs at the Austin campus, said many private and public universities take some account of race in admissions. Because blacks and Hispanics on average score lower on entrance exams than white and Asian-American applicants, universities have adopted affirmative-action programs to compensate.

"We think it is critical to being able to achieve the diverse institution that we think is important," she said.

The Obama administration agrees. "[The] university's effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective," says the brief filed by the Education and Justice departments. The administration disputed claims that Texas was simply engaging in raw racial preferences.

"The question is not whether an individual belongs to a racial group, but rather how an individual's membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person's record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school," the brief says.

Texas once enforced official segregation, and it took a 1950 Supreme Court ruling before the University of Texas would admit blacks to its law and graduate schools. In more-recent decades, the state relied on affirmative action to boost minority enrollment, only to have that struck down by the Fifth Circuit in a 1996 decision, Hopwood v. Texas.

In response, Texas adopted a formula offering admission to the top 10% of each high school's graduating class. After the Grutter ruling, Texas resumed considering race. Black enrollment doubled to 6% from 3% and Hispanic enrollment rose to 20% from 13%, according to Judge Sparks's opinion in the case at hand.

The Fifth Circuit hasn't yet scheduled arguments in the case, Fisher v. University of Texas.

Write to Jess Bravin at