There is no college athletic coach in America who has had a more direct — and enduring — impact on a university’s selectiveness in admissions as Duke University’s Coach K. While many Duke alums will shake their heads when we suggest that Mike Krzyzewski’s stewardship of the men’s basketball team in Durham, North Carolina has helped accelerate the school’s growth into one of our nation’s leading research institutions and one of America’s finest undergraduate colleges, we beg to differ. And we’d point to the data. Overwhelmingly, the further the Blue Devils advance in March Madness, the more applications for admission the school receives the subsequent admissions cycle.
Duke may not love being thought of as a basketball school before it’s thought of as one of America’s most elite institutions but that’s nonsense since we’d argue their elite play in basketball over the decades has only served to make the university more attractive to the great minds of tomorrow. And speaking of those great minds of tomorrow, Coach K recently rang the opening bell of the Nasdaq stock exchange in honor of the Emily K Center. This is a center, named in memory of Coach K’s mom, is a nonprofit educational center that helps low-income young people prepare for college. Program participants have been admitted to schools like Duke and USC. And this year — for the first time — a participants earned admission to an Ivy League school, UPenn.
We salute Coach K for all of his work not only on the hardwood but around the Durham, North Carolina community over the years, for working to help low-income young people achieve college educations from some of the finest schools in America. And we salute Coach K for cementing Duke as one of America’s most elite institutions of higher learning.
A few weeks ago, we were quoted in a “Business Insider” piece that focused on mistakes students who’ve been admitted to college make that can jeopardize their admission. The piece was published in the wake of the scandal at Harvard University in which over ten students admitted to the Harvard Class of 2021 had their offers of admission rescinded because of racist, homophobic, and/or anti-Semitic posts on a Facebook page. We applauded Harvard’s decision. After all, it took courage for the university to stand on its principles and — at the risk of bringing to light the Facebook page to the public — fire a warning shot that such comments are inexcusable and not representative of the Harvard community.
But not everybody is applauding the move. Well respected attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz was quoted in a “Fox News” piece by Molly Line on the topic of the Harvard rescinded offers of admission as deeming the move by Harvard to be “draconian” and “over-punishment.” As Line writes, “‘Harvard is a private university, technically not bound by the First Amendment, but since I got to Harvard 53 years ago, Harvard has committed itself to following the First Amendment and I think this violates the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment,’ said Dershowitz. Harvard officials declined Fox News’ request for an interview, stating: ‘We do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants.’ However, the school reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission for many reasons, including student behavior that ‘brings into question their honesty, maturity, or moral character.'” They sure do reserve that right!
We wholeheartedly disagree with Professor Dershowitz. As he states, Harvard is a.) not bound to adhering the first amendment since the school is a private institution, b.) these students were not even members of the Harvard community yet — merely admitted students who had not yet matriculated, c.) the exercise of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic language is undeserving of protection. Dershowitz correctly points out that there is no legal basis to challenge the decision of Harvard to rescind these offers of admission. In fact, the school explicitly stated as much when these students received their offers of admission. And beyond the university’s strong legal footing on the matter, they simply did the right thing.
Typewriters. Flip phones. Blockbuster video stores. Class rank. Three of the aforementioned four things are anachronisms, callbacks to our past. And the fourth thing, class rank, will soon be an anachronism. Indeed, it’s well on its way. For years, we at Ivy Coach have been calling on high schools to end class rank (see: Decline of Class Rank), to end distinguishing students as valedictorians and salutatorians. After all, ranking students — pitting one student against another student — only hurts these students when they apply to highly selective colleges. It creates an unnecessary level of competition.
And while many high schools across America and around the world are still ranking students and still dubbing certain students valedictorians and salutatorians, there has been a noticeable trend in recent years away from this practice. As Carolyn Thompson reports for “US News & World Report” in a piece aptly entitled “The End of the Valedictorian? Schools Rethink Class Rankings,” “At many American high schools, the graduation-day tradition of crowning a valedictorian is becoming a thing of the past. The ranking of students from No. 1 on down, based on grade-point averages, has been fading steadily for about the past decade. In its place are honors that recognize everyone who scores at a certain threshold — using Latin honors, for example…About half of schools no longer report class rank, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Administrators worry about the college prospects of students separated by large differences in class rank despite small differences in their GPAs, and view rankings as obsolete in an era of high expectations for every student, association spokesman Bob Farrace said.”
We salute these high school for saying no to the salutatorian. Ok, that was corny. But seriously — these schools that are dropping class rank, these schools that are dropping valedictorian and salutatorian labels are doing right by their students. The highly selective college admissions process is stressful enough. There’s no need to pit one student at a high school against another. Let’s end class rank once and for all.
We’ve written extensively over the last 14 months about Georgetown’s acknowledgement of the university’s past ties to slavery. Some months ago, it was announced that the university would consider the descendants of the men, women, and children who were slaves at Georgetown as legacies — meaning that these young people would have a distinct and rightful advantage in the highly selective college admissions process to the university akin to the sons and daughters of alumni of the school. Well, Georgetown is keeping its word. A pair of siblings who are the descendants of slaves sold to Georgetown have earned admission to the university.
As reports Jeff Cirillo and Ian Scoville for “The Hoya” in a piece about the two Georgetown admits, “Two descendants of slaves whose sale in 1838 benefited Georgetown now plan to attend the university in the fall as the first students to be enrolled under the university’s commitment to provide legacy admission status to descendants. The admission of siblings Shepard and Elizabeth Thomas, first reported by The New York Times, is a landmark moment in the university’s effort to reconcile and apologize for its historical involvement in the institution of slavery. The sale of 272 slaves by Maryland Jesuits in 1838 protected the financially troubled university from collapse. Shepard Thomas plans to study engineering in the College, and Elizabeth Thomas will study journalism in the School of Continuing Studies. The development comes after a year of efforts by the university to address its slaveholding past.”
And while this is a wonderful gesture by the Jesuit institution, our question is: why is this being made public? When the children of alumni of Georgetown earn admission to the university, there aren’t articles in “The Hoya” or press releases that these young people got in. Can you imagine a headline that reads, “Two Children of Multimillion Dollar Donors Earn Admission to Georgetown”? Likely not. So why is the story of these siblings being made public? We of course suspect the answer (it’s great PR!) but couldn’t Georgetown have just admitted these two students without announcing it to the press? What do our readers think? Is this truly a step toward atonement…or not?
As we wrote yesterday about the presidents of the eight Ivy League universities — and how four of these presidents happen to be female — we figured we’d report on the announced resignation of Harvard’s first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust. Faust recently announced that she intends to step down from the top spot at Harvard at the end of next year, at the culmination of her eleventh year leading the elite institution. For those who may have forgotten, Faust succeeded Larry Summers as Harvard’s president, a man who despicably — and erroneously — suggested that women may lack an intrinsic aptitude for math and science. And while Summers would issue an apology to the Harvard community in the wake of his incendiary comments, it was only fitting that a woman would succeed him. The first in Harvard’s storied history.
As reports Stephanie Saul for “The New York Times” in a piece about the Harvard president’s intended resignation, “Dr. Faust, a well-liked historian known for her scholarship on the American South, was appointed in 2007 after a turbulent period in which her predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers, an economist and former Treasury secretary, alienated significant portions of the faculty. The gracious Dr. Faust, in some ways an unlikely choice to lead the university because she did not attend Harvard, was viewed as the antidote to Dr. Summers’s pugnacious style. Moreover, the selection of a woman — after Dr. Summers’s controversial suggestion that women might lack an aptitude for science and math — appeared to usher in a new era.
The piece goes on, “Indeed, Dr. Faust is credited with increasing the university’s ethnic and economic diversity, partly by expanding its financial aid program. Harvard, founded in 1636 and once considered an institution only for the elite, remains tilted toward the wealthy, including many children of alumni. But one in five undergraduates today comes from a family with income below $65,000 a year, and those students attend free, according to the university. The percentage of students who identify as African-American grew modestly during Dr. Faust’s tenure, to 10 percent from 8 percent, according to Harvard data. The percentage of Latino students also increased.”
It will be interesting to see who Harvard selects as its next leader. Here’s hoping this leader continues in shaping the grand vision of Dr. Faust — a Harvard University that is more open and more inclusive to people of all backgrounds no matter their ability to pay.
There was a terrific piece recently in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” written by Audrey Williams June. The piece, entitled “Gender Balance at the Top of Ivy League Colleges Remains an Outlier in Academe” focuses on how four — as in half — of the Ivy League colleges were led by female presidents in 2007, a stark contrast from even just several years before. Presently, that figure remains the same — female presidents lead four of the eight Ivy League institutions.
In 2007, Shirley M. Tilghman served as president of Princeton University (Christopher L. Eisgruber is the current president of Princeton). At Dartmouth College, James Wright was wrapping up his tenure. He would be succeeded by Jim Yong Kim, the current president of the World Bank. Kim was the first Asian American president of an Ivy League institution (the current president of Dartmouth is Philip J. Hanlon). At Cornell University, David Skorkon served as president in 2007, but he was succeeded by the late Elizabeth Garrett (the current president of Cornell is Martha E. Pollack).
Half of the Ivy League colleges are currently led by women. But these schools are largely an outlier across the landscape of American universities.
At Yale University, Richard Levin served as president in 2007, and he was succeeded by Peter Salovey. A female has only held the top post at Yale on a pro tempore basis — Hanna Holborn Gray. At the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Gutmann has served as president since 2004 (and she had succeeded Judih Rodin who served in the role for a decade). At Harvard University, Drew Gilpin Faust has served as president since 2007, though she’ll be stepping down from her post at the end of next year. At Columbia University, Lee Bollinger has been in charge since 2002. And at Brown University, Christina Paxson serves as president. Paxson succeeded Ruth Simmons, the barrier-breaking first African American president of an Ivy League institution.
But the piece in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” isn’t just about how half of the Ivy League colleges are led by female presidents. It’s about how other colleges across America haven’t really followed this trend — how the Ivy League is, in many ways, an outlier in this respect. Do check out the piece to gain an understanding of the gender imbalance at the top of American universities. It sure does make you appreciate how a school like the University of Pennsylvania has been led for so many years by women. Way to go, UPenn!
Louisiana has become the first state in our union to “ban the box” in college admissions. If you’re not familiar with the “ban the box” expression, it’s about colleges inquiring on their applications if students have committed crimes in their past — either misdemeanors or felonies. In fact, we wrote just a couple of days ago about a group of students at Columbia University who have started a petition to ban the box. And while House Bill 688 in Louisiana only applies to public post-secondary institutions in Louisiana, the bill is demonstrative of a turning tide in college admissions.
As reports Shelley Brown on the topic of banning the box for “WVUE,” “Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 688 into law on Friday, making Louisiana the first state in the nation to ban the box on college admissions applications. Starting this fall, the new law prohibits public post secondary education institutions in the state from inquiring about a potential student’s criminal history during admissions with some exceptions. ‘It makes me very happy because I don’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through,’ said Syrita Steib of New Orleans. Steib was at the state capitol in Baton Rouge with her young son, Ethan, showing support for the so-called ban the box law. She spent almost a decade in prison after stealing cars from a Texas dealership, then torching the place. ‘Even though my crime didn’t involve people, I was still considered a violent offender,’ Steib said. As an inmate, she took college classes, but struggled to get into a university once she got out. She believes the box on her application was her barrier.”
We’re not sure where we stand on the issue of banning the box. We believe most — though not all — folks should have a chance for redemption. But when highly selective colleges are only offering admission to such small percentages of young people, shouldn’t people who have never committed crimes have an advantage over people who’ve broken the law? This is why we’re not so sure where we stand on the issue. We’re torn. Are you torn? Or do you have a strong opinion one way or the other? Let us know your thoughts on the issue of banning the box by writing a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.
What are your summer plans for college admission success?
No more pencils, no more books. School’s out for summer at most high schools across America. And if it’s not, it will be soon. But what will you, a rising high school sophomore, junior, or senior, be doing to stand out in the highly selective college admissions process over the course of these next two months? And how will your summer plans contribute to showcasing your unique hook on your college applications? A student’s choice of summer activities plays an important role in how that student’s application is perceived and evaluated by admissions officers at our nation’s top colleges.
When many students come to us at this time of year, they already have summer plans in mind. In some cases, they’ve already started these activities. But after coming to us, we send them in a completely new direction. As but one example, parents often enroll their high school-aged children in fancy summer enrichment programs at highly selective colleges like Stanford University, Duke University, etc. And they think that’ll really help them stand out from their peers come the time they apply to colleges. After all, they spent their summers taking courses at one of our nation’s most elite institutions…what can be better than that, right? Wrong.
As we’ve outlined many times over the years on the pages of our blog, in the press, and from the tops of the highest mountaintops (ok, maybe not!), fancy summer enrichment programs are nothing more than summer camps. In short, participation in such activities conveys to admissions officers (1) that students lack initiative — they’re not seeking out activities on their own but instead following the herd and (2) that students are privileged — these programs are often quite expensive. Oh and what happens if a student does her summer enrichment program at Duke and then applies in the Regular Decision round to, say, Georgetown? Georgetown will likely assume the student applied Early Decision to Duke and didn’t earn admission. In the Regular Decision round, a core objective of every applicant should be to convince each and every school that they and they alone are the applicant’s first choice…so this doesn’t exactly contribute toward achieving this goal.
There is still time to shape your summer plans for college admission success. If you’d like Ivy Coach’s help in shaping how you’re spending your summer so you can optimize your case for admission to a highly selective college, fill out our free consultation form and we’ll be in touch.
We’ve written in the past about the controversy surrounding questions pertaining to a student’s criminal record that appear on the Common Application. Many folks believe these questions should be removed, that they unfairly disadvantage college applicants who may have committed a crime in their past but have since sought redemption. Other folks believe that students who have no criminal record should have an advantage over those who have committed crimes. We’re not sure where we stand on this particular issue — likely somewhere in between — but a group of students at Columbia University has made their position clear.
Leyla Martinez, a Columbia University undergraduate majoring in civil rights who served time in prison between 2002-2004, has authored a petition that has since been signed by over 350 members of Columbia’s community calling for the banning of ‘the box.’ As reports Toni Airaksinen for “USA Today College,” “Someday, all schools will stop asking people about their criminal records and discriminating against them because of it, Martinez hopes. ‘Nobody should have their past hold them back,’ she says. Martinez’s efforts to ‘ban the box’ on college applications has its genesis in a more well-known movement: the campaign to remove the box on employment applications.”
We do believe in the power of redemption. It sounds like Leyla Martinez has a powerful story, one that would contribute to the rich diversity of an institution like Columbia. But Leyla Martinez may also be the exception to the rule rather than the rule. People who have in their pasts committed crimes are more likely than are people who have never committed crimes to commit crimes again. Do institutions like Columbia really wish to run this risk by not even asking if students have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the past?
The piece on the criminal box on the Common Application by Airaksinen for “USA Today College” goes on, “Columbia University’s press office confirmed that all three undergraduate schools at Columbia University ask prospective students if they have some form of a criminal record — a misdemeanor or a felony. However, they stressed that if a prospective student does indeed have a criminal record, that wouldn’t be the deciding factor behind whether they are accepted. ‘Columbia University undergraduate admissions offices consider a variety of factors, including a student’s academic record, extracurricular interests, intellectual achievements and personal background when evaluating applicants for admissions,’ a university statement said. ‘A single factor, such as conviction history, would never be the sole determinant in whether or not a student was admitted to Columbia.'”
But do our readers really believe this PR spin? It’s nonsense. Think about it. A single factor — say murdering someone — would never be the sole determinant in whether or not a student gets into Columbia University? So, by this standard, if a student has a 4.0 GPA and a 36 ACT score, murdered someone in their youth, boasts incredible extracurriculars, and will be the first in their families to attend college, Columbia is going to not determine the student’s admission based on the murder? Columbia University is not going to be worried about having someone who has committed a murder on its campus? Uh huh.
Have a question about the Common App criminal question? Let us know your thoughts, your questions, your opinions and insights by posting a Comment below.
The revocation of at least ten offers of admission by Harvard University this year due to despicable comments these students made on a Facebook page should serve as a warning shot to college applicants across America and around the world. Those posts students make on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name the platform — can jeopardize students’ chances of attending their dream colleges. During the course of the college admissions process, do college admissions officers at highly selective schools view all of the profiles of each individual applicant? No. But increasingly they are checking out these platforms as a way of checking and verifying. So those profiles, if they exist, best be precisely how a student wishes to present to an admissions officer.
We always check the social media profiles of our students. Over the years, we’ve seen students in profile pictures on the beach with scant clothing. We’ve seen students kissing their boyfriends and girlfriends. We’ve even seen students holding guns. On Facebook walls, we’ve seen posts that reflect a poor command of the English language. We’ve seen posts that are insensitive, even disparaging to groups of people. And when we alert our students and their parents to these instances, they’re quite often surprised that we can see them because they thought the information was posted privately. It seems students don’t have a full understanding of their privacy settings. But word to the wise — just assume everything you post can be seen by everyone, including college admissions officers. Don’t rely on the privacy settings of platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Rely on your own common sense.
We once read an editorial about how essential it is to have really great social media profiles in order to earn admission to highly selective colleges. It’s not true. Not having any social media presence can be great too! A student doesn’t need a robust, highly cultivated social media presence in order to get into one of America’s most elite universities. That’s ridiculous.
As Luvvie Ajayi recently wrote in a “New York Times” editorial in reaction to the rescinding of at least ten Harvard acceptances, “Digital media literacy is just as important as financial literacy now: Who we appear to be online can significantly impact earning power. This isn’t just a lesson for young adults. Adults are certainly making these same mistakes. But if we can teach high school and college students these lessons now, we can better prevent them from stumbling. And prevention is always better than treatment.” Amen to that.
Have a question about Facebook and admissions? Let us know your question by posting it below.