By Jonathan Lash
President, Hampshire College
Sept 24, 2015
You won't find our college in the U.S. News & World Report "Best Colleges" rankings released this month. Last year Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That's OK with us.
We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the "test-optional" policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation. We weighed other factors in our decision:
Standardized test scores do not predict a student's success at our college
In our admissions, we review an applicant's whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant's ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection. We look at grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time, distinct from a one-test-on-one-day SAT/ACT score. A student's consistent "A" grades may be coupled with evidence of curiosity and learning across disciplines, as well as leadership in civic or social causes. Another student may have overcome obstacles through determination, demonstrating promise of success in a demanding program. Strong high school graduates demonstrate purpose, a passion for authenticity, and commitment to positive change.
We're seeing remarkable admissions results since disregarding standardized test scores:
This move away from test scores and disqualification from the U.S. News rankings has allowed us to innovate in ways we could not before. In other words, we are free to innovate rather than compromise our mission to satisfy rankings criteria:
How can U.S. News rankings reliably measure college quality when their data-points focus primarily on the high school performance of the incoming class in such terms as GPA, SAT/ACT, class rank, and selectivity? These measures have nothing to do with the college's results, except perhaps in the college's aptitude for marketing and recruiting. Tests and rankings incentivize schools to conform to test performance and rankings criteria, at the expense of mission and innovation.
Our shift to a mission-driven approach to admissions is right for Hampshire College and the right thing to do. We fail students if we reduce them to a standardized test number tied more to their financial status than achievement. We fail students by perpetuating the myth that high standardized test scores signal "better" students. We are in the top one percent of colleges nationwide in the percentage of our undergraduate alumni who go on earn advanced degrees--this on the strength of an education where we assess their capabilities narratively, and where we never, not once, subject them to a numerical or letter grade on a test or course.
At Hampshire College, we face the same financial challenges as many colleges. But these challenges provide an opportunity to think about who we are and what matters to us. We can not lose sight of our mission while seeking revenues or chasing rankings. We are committed to remaining disqualified from the U.S. News rankings. We're done with standardized testing, the SAT, and ACT.
Jonathan Lash is the President of Hampshire College. Read his article as it originally appeared on huffingtonpost.com right here.
By Chris Teare
September 16, 2015
Excerpted from forbes.com
At a Mock Admissions Committee meeting last night at Seven Hills School, a fine independent institution in suburban Cincinnati, I saw an example of two qualities a successful college application must demonstrate: Coherence and Congruence. The applicant who won the most acceptances from students and parents led by college and university admissions officers demonstrated both qualities, and I will explain how she did it. First, however, definitions of these two C words: For something to cohere it has to “hang together.” For something to have congruence, as with geometric shapes, it has to “fit.” I have seen college applications fail the tests of either coherence, congruence, or both, and thereby fall short of earning an offer of admission. Last night, only one student of four earned offers from all 17 mock admissions committees. Here is how these qualities work when it comes to evaluating applications:
First, the transcript of courses and grades, the standardized testing (if required), the class rank (if reported), and the school profile (critical context) provide the quantitative elements available for analysis. The higher the numbers, the better. But they alone are not enough. Complementing these data are the qualitative elements available in the resume of activities, the personal statement or essay, and the counselor and teacher recommendations. The coherence test is whether or not these different elements—the ones you can add up numerically, as well as the others that you can quantify but are actually value judgments about human characteristics—all make sense together.
Last night one candidate lost support last when, with a Hispanic surname and claiming the ability to read, write, and speak Spanish, he had earned a D in the subject. Something is wrong with that picture, and it does not read to the student’s credit. Moreover, his counselor recommendation mentioned a career-ending injury for this avid soccer player, yet nowhere does the student acknowledge something the counselor found so significant. The student may have obscurely alluded to the injury in his essay with the hackneyed phrase—“Make lemons out of lemonade”—but providing little detail and demonstrating a lack of original thinking and expression by using a cliché cost him in my book. His application just didn’t hang together.
The way to demonstrate coherence is to be a qualified student who has human elements to offer the campus that add up. Such applicants have resumes of extracurricular commitment, write intelligently about items at or near the top of their list of activities, and ideally, have those endeavors and character traits corroborated in the letters written by counselors and teachers. Applicants need to make sure that their counselor knows what they do outside the classroom and can bear witness. The best applications I have read are ones where the activities, essay and recommendations all add up to that same “I know who this kid is” reaction. That is demonstrating coherence. One extremely bright applicant in last night’s exercise—the one with the toughest classes, highest grades, and strongest test scores usually fell short because he had nothing to offer outside the classroom, came across in a recommendation as a student who only worked when he was interested, and was hard to see as anyone’s roommate. Bright as he is, our committees generally did not offer him admission.
Where congruence is concerned, you need to research the institutions you are considering and assess, as best as you can, whether or not the college or university you have in mind will value what you have to offer.
Chris Teare is Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Drew University in Madison, NJ. He covers education and the college application process. Read Teare's full report as it was originally published on forbes.com right here.
By Ryan Hickey
September 9 2015
With application rates skyrocketing, it’s easy to lose
sight of the big picture by slipping into a mindset of trying to stand out. In reality, setting yourself apart
from the crowd is actually more about what you don’t do than what you do.
Although following the instructions and submitting everything on time can seem mediocre, these simple things can give you a major edge this application season. A solid application demonstrates maturity and confidence—qualities that every school is seeking in their applicants.
Here’s what you can do to stand out in the CommonApp.
Avoid gimmicks Whatever gimmicky or “show-offy” thing that you’re thinking about because you’re sure that it’s original and that the admissions officers will be so totally blown away by your unique approach that there’s just no possible way that they could ever forget you, think again. Admissions officers are sophisticated people who have been at this for numerous years. They’ve seen every trick in the book, and they find them ridiculous. Moreover, these gimmicks are disrespectful because they are an insult to the admissions officer’s intelligence. Sincerity and straightforwardness always win the day in the admissions process.
Start early Juggling tough senior courses with the CommonApp, not to mention activities and possibly a work schedule, can make the best year of high school stressful. Work to get as much done as you can as early as you can.
Translation: If you haven’t already started, do it now! In the summer, you can get your activities list together and create the early drafts of your essays. Teachers, volunteer supervisors, and employers don’t have all day to write letters of recommendation, and waiting to ask can mean missing deadlines. Therefore, asking early will help you get better quality recommendations on time.
Consider early decision options For previous generations, applying early decision was rare, but now many schools fill the majority of the slots available through early decision. If you have a top choice school, early decision can greatly improve your chances. Also, understand the school’s early decision policy. Some require that you matriculate if accepted, while others are more lenient. Early decision shouldn’t be the only option that you pursue, and applying to many schools early decision will make you seem disingenuous. However, using this option for your top school can be the right choice.
Show (a lot of) interest Schools want to select people who really want to be there, and showing great interest in the school can help your application stand apart. Arrange for a campus tour, get in contact with current students, and take the time to talk to professors in the major(s) that interest you. If it is not possible to physically visit the campus beforehand, ask the school if there are meet-ups or information sessions in your area. This can be particularly effective if you are not as well-qualified as the average applicant. Your knowledge of and interest in the school might persuade the admissions officers.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, but don’t cast too wide a net. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make is applying to too many or too few schools. Applying to too few schools can result in not having a seat at a college this coming fall. However, the far more common error is applying to too many schools. As human beings, we only have so much stamina and can only genuinely care about a handful of things. This will be especially apparent in your essays. Applying to a high number of schools wastes both your time and that of the admissions officers. Only apply to schools about which you are truly passionate, and you will shine in the CommonApp.
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Petersons & EssayEdge. Read Ryan's full article as it was originally published on college.usatoday.com right here.
By Sarah Grant
September 2, 2015
More than 20 million students are expected to return to college quads this fall, a 24 percent increase from 2000. Still, the enrollment surge doesn't mean that all colleges have gotten more popular. Some expensive private colleges have experienced significant drops in the number of high school seniors applying, according to a recent report. Elite Boston College has suffered the biggest plunge.
Applications to the school in the 2013-2014 academic year (the most recent for which there's data) fell 28 percent from the year before, the biggest drop of any school ranked by education research website SmartClass in a recent report. SmartClass used Department of Education data to rank application levels at the top 200 "Smart Rated" colleges—a measure that combines financial affordability, career readiness, admissions selectivity, and expert opinion and academic excellence at colleges.
Most of the schools with the greatest applications decreases are small, private liberal arts colleges. These elite schools have experienced low applicant pools since 2008, in part because of rising student debt, lower job prospects, and competition from online programs. Spooked by high tuition, many students have been been opting to learn skills seen as more practical than literature or art history, such as coding.
Boston College says its dwindling application numbers don't mean it's less desirable. Instead, they say, they've made it harder for students to apply on a whim. At the school, which is ranked in the top 35 schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, application numbers declined when the admissions committee added an essay to its required application materials, dissuading seniors who aren't serious about the school, says Jack Dunn, a spokesperson for the school.
"After 20 straight years of increased applications to BC, we made a strategic decision to add a supplemental essay requirement ... with the expectation that it would result in a more targeted applicant pool." He added that applicant numbers are less important than who applies. "The issue is fit."
Indeed, as applications fell, the school's yield—the number of admitted students who enroll—rose 3 percent, suggesting that the school is getting better at accepting prospective students who view it as their top choice.
The 10 colleges and universities with the largest drops in applications are below. Find the full list of 21 colleges in the SmartClass report here:
1. Boston College, Mass.
Applications down by: 27.96 percent
2. United States Air Force Academy, Colo.
3. Millsaps College, Miss.
4. Wofford College, S.C.
5. Rhodes College, Tenn.
6. Grinnell College, Iowa
7. University of San Diego, Calif.
8. Messiah College, Pa.
9. Whitman College, Wash.
10. Brigham Young University, Utah
Read Sarah Grant's article as it was originally published on bloomberg.com right here.
By Robert Morse & Eric Brooks
Excerpted from usnews.com
Prospective students and parents looking for the school that best fits their needs can check out the 2016 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings starting Wednesday, Sept. 9. New rankings for National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges will be available on usnews.com.
In addition to the main rankings, U.S. News for the first time will publish rankings of the Most Innovative Schools in terms of technology, facilities, academics and curriculum.
Along with the rankings, the U.S. News site offers extensive statistical profiles for each school, a comprehensive college search and detailed explanations of the ranking methodologies. Users looking for additional data, enhanced search abilities and other exclusive interactive tools can sign up for the U.S. News College Compass.
U.S. News' exclusive rankings will also be published in our "Best Colleges 2016" guidebook, which will start shipping in mid-September and go on sale on newsstands on Sept. 29.
Robert Morse and Eric Brooks organize and analyze data research for US News & World Report. Read their full article as it was originally published on usnews.com right here.