College admission may not be rocket science, but it is science, nonetheless. As with any science, facts are undisputable. Also like science, many facts are surprising, if not astounding. Take quantum physics, for example. How is it possible that a single particle can exist in two places simultaneously, that particles are inextricably linked to other particles that may even be at opposite ends of the universe, or that particles can pop in and out of existence at any given moment? Similarly, certain elements of college admission are both undeniable and unexpected. Here is a list of five surprising facts about college admission.
Fact #1: There are no “test-prohibited” colleges in the U.S.
For all the talk of test-optional colleges, there is not a single college in the country that will not accept your SAT scores or ACT scores if you submit them. Logic dictates that a solid SAT score or ACT score can therefore help your college admission profile. According to US News and World Report: “Schools with test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies still use these SAT and ACT scores in their admissions process, if prospective students provide them.” Nonetheless, there are so many misleading articles out there that confuse “test-optional” with “test-irrelevant.” These articles indicate that colleges do not use your SAT scores or ACT scores in admission—yet, they accept them. Does this make sense? Of course not. Colleges to which you send your SAT scores will see them, and therefore will, in one way or another, use them in their admission decision. If a college is considering two students who are exactly the same, but where one of which has submitted a solid SAT score, make no mistake—that college is more likely to accept the student with the SAT score because he or she is more of a known commodity. Colleges don’t like to make mistakes, therefore the use all possible criteria in their admission decisions.
Fact #2: A college’s ranking says little or nothing about the quality of education its students receive.
There are many college-ranking services out there, the most notable being U.S. News & World Report. Each of these services uses different characteristics to rate colleges. Some of these characteristics have absolutely no importance to you, or to most other students, for that matter. For example, out of the 16 factors used by U.S. News & World Report to rank colleges, some are based on students success before they enter college. For example, SAT scores for entering freshman are a factor in the U.S. News & World Report ranking. This is a self-perpetuating measure, which has nothing to do with the quality of education students receive. So, the more selective a college is, the higher its rank. Yet, higher ranked colleges attract students who score better on the SAT or ACT, simply because of their rank. Therefore, this factor tells you nothing about the quality of the school. Similarly, the high school ranking of entering freshmen is another statistic that is self-perpetuating, and therefore not a valid measure of the education the student receives. Other relatively meaningless college factors include alumni generosity and availability of financial aid. While these factors are important to many, they provide no information about the quality of education students receive— yet they are factored into a college’s U.S. News & World Report ranking.
Fact #3: On average, early decision gives students a 12% advantage over students applying in the regular decision round.
Of course, these numbers vary greatly from college to college. However, the fact remains that early decision does give students an advantage in virtually every college in America. Perhaps not surprisingly, the yield rate (the percentage of students who accept admission) is far greater for early decision than for regular decision. On average, 88% of students accepted through early decision actually attend the college that accepts them. These same colleges have only a 25% overall yield rate. The reason that the yield rate for early decision is not 100% is that students can opt out if they receive a better financial package from another college or colleges, or if they decide against going to college for at least one year.
Fact #4: Despite all the talk about getting rid of standardized tests (this discussion has been around for at least 50 years), the importance of standardized test scores to colleges is virtually unchanged in the past 10 years.
In 2008, 54% of all colleges considered admission test scores to be of “considerable importance.” In 2017 (the last year for which data exists) that number was 52%, which, statistically, is more or less unchanged. And don’t be misled by the relatively low percentage. This data was from a survey of colleges across the entire spectrum, not just from the elite few colleges at the top of everyone’s ranking list. Among those schools, this number is far higher. In other words, test scores still hold major significance in colleges all across America, and even more significance among America’s most elite colleges.
Fact #5: Across America, the average caseload of college counselors is between 213 and 466.
Even at some of the nation’s most elite private schools, counselors’ student caseloads are huge! In fact, they are far too large for most counselors to handle . Furthermore, only a portion of a counselor’s time is spent on college admissions. Counselors have many other responsibilities including test administration, choice and scheduling of school classes, students’ personal needs, occupational counseling and job placement, student tracking, and other non-college-related activities. Statistically speaking, the average counselor spends only 45 minutes with a student throughout all his or her years of high school. To be transparent, the number of minutes spent with students at small, elite private high schools is far greater, but still not nearly as much time as students need to master the college admissions process.
These five facts merely highlight that college admission offers many surprising elements that can affect a student’s chance of admission. With so many sources of information out there for parents to consider, it is often difficult to know where rumors end and facts begin. Every day in my personal practice, I am asked questions about the admission process, and many times the answers vary greatly from what parents have learned doing their own research. There is a saying that applies here: “A little knowledge is dangerous.” Don’t try to learn everything on your own, because what you learn may simply be one person’s perspective or opinion on a particular matter. I always recommend that parents consult with an expert prior to making important decisions with regard to college admissions. I also recommend that parents be proactive in establishing communication with their school’s counselor or college counselor. More often than not, they will provide correct information and guidance with the college process. Nonetheless, it is always best to get a second or even a third opinion.
Founder and CEO
NC Global Education, Inc.
Member of NACAC