Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mixed Message -- Buyer Beware

As we move into the “decision letter” season, colleges begin to publish statements on how competitive the admission was or will be this year at their institutions. Students and parents need to keep aware that those statistics can be deceiving.

First, colleges are delighted to publish how many students applied for a specific number of freshman spaces. While the numbers are correct, the colleges fail to be transparent about the fact that they usually have to admit three to four times that number in order to get enough students to “yield” that number of enrolled freshmen. This obfuscation makes a college appear more competitive for admission that it really is and thus heightens the anxiety among students and parents about admission. See the following Furman press release,, that gives the impression that the University’s admission rate is <20% when in reality it is about 50%, as an example.

Another statistic that colleges produce about admission is the “average” or "mean" SAT/ACT score for students. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has a policy that colleges should report test scores in ranges covering the middle 50% of the admitted class. A score range is much more realistic for students considering where they might fall in an admission pool because a mean score automatically puts at least half of the qualified students in a “below average” position. Again, reporting only an average or mean makes a college seem more competitive than it is in reality.

Because parents (and students) frequently mistake competitiveness for admission with quality, these practices mentioned above tend to discourage students from feeling “qualified” to attend college. Whether the college is Harvard, Furman, or North Greenville University, it is important that students be aware of what the upcoming announcements truly indicate about the admission climate at that institution.

Monday, February 9, 2009

ACT and SAT -- What to Do

It's now the time when many juniors have just taken or are planning to take the SAT and/or ACT. I find there is still confusion on the part of students and parents about these tests -- when to take them, which ones to take, how many times, and now, what to do about "score choice" from College Board.

Some basic advice I give to all students:
  • Take one of each test -- they are different enough that you might a) score better on one than the other, or b) you just plain like one format more than the other -- and then focus on that one test.
  • Prepare! Do not go into any of these tests now as a junior without some serious preparation!
  • Practice, using some of the books from bookstores and the released materials directly from College Board and ACT.
  • Take both tests soon enough in your junior year so that you have time to take it again before the junior year is over -- you don't want to be caught wringing your hands hoping for a big score increase in your senior year.
  • Take the writing section if you are taking the ACT -- the writing will be counting more in the future.
  • Always take the test once more in the senior year.
All of this can be tailored to each individual student because some have different preferences and handle standardized tests better than others.