By Neil Chyten
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: Despite the pandemic, there are extremely few “test-blind” colleges outside of California.
While almost all ranked colleges have adopted a test-optional policy, almost none outside of California have yet adopted a test-blind policy. For savvy students, the difference is almost as pronounced as night and day. While “test-blind” effectively means don’t bother taking tests, “test-optional” means take tests and submit the scores if you do well. Obviously, extremely high SAT, ACT, AP, and SAT Subject Test scores are going to help you with admission. Any college would be foolish not to pay attention. On the other hand, there are ways to get around not submitting test scores while not hurting a student’s chances of being accepted. The truth is, while it certainly can be done, it is harder to navigate the “no-test-score route” than the “high-test-score route.” Without test scores, colleges are going look at other factors to help them identify students who are worthy of admission. If your activities and elements of personal character are strong, you stand a good chance of admission even without test scores. However, with no test scores and a shallow record of activities, achievements, and accomplishments, your chances of admission are significantly decreased.
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 a student’s 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 students receive. 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 that 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. Further, we expect that this number will rise dramatically in 2021.
Of course, these numbers vary greatly from college to college. However, the fact remains that early decision does give students an advantage at 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 binding 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: For international students who are able to surmount the significant travel and visa restrictions brought about by COVID-19, 2021 maybe a year of unprecedented opportunity for admission at highly ranked colleges across America.
The difficulty of others means that those who are able to run the gauntlet of restrictions and emerge on the other side will be at a significant advantage. Also, international students will be highly coveted by colleges whose bottom lines have been devastated by the pandemic. International students are quite literally more “valuable” because they are not as likely to qualify for tuition discounts. This increases the profit margin earned by colleges for each international student versus each US student. While this may have little impact on the heavily endowed Ivy League institutions, it is likely to impact many, if not most, of the other colleges considered to be top 50. The amount of time that this opportunity will exist is entirely dependent on our response to the pandemic and, specifically, to our ability to develop a highly effective vaccine or cure.
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 admission. 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 entire 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 college counseling practice, I am asked questions about the admission process, and many times the answers vary greatly from what parents have learned by 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 college admissions decisions. 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 from a professional counselor, rather than relying on one person’s opinion, or the friendly advice of friends. In no aspect of admission is this more true than in the formation of a smart college list.
Founder and CEO
NC Global Education, Inc.
Member of NACAC