The Psychology of College Tours

Psychology College Admissions, College Tours, Campus Tours

Highly selective college admissions is all about psychology (photo credit: Daderot).

Regular readers of our college admissions blog know that the science of psychology quite frequently works itself into our posts. After all, highly selective college admissions is — in our view — a psychological science. It’s about persuading admissions officers to want to root for you. It’s about doing all you can do in your applications to not play into stereotype. It’s about convincing colleges you love them above all other colleges. It’s about showcasing how you’re going to change the world. Highly selective college admissions is not physics. It’s not algebra. It’s psychology.

So we read with great interest a piece today in “The New York Times” by Erica Reischer entitled “Skipping the College Tour” — a piece that highlights some of the psychology behind how and why students choose to matriculate to certain schools over others. The central argument is that going on college tours can cause more harm than good. And why? Because people don’t know what they want. Nobody does. They may think they know what they want. In fact, they do think they know what they want. But what they want in the present is not all that predictive of what they’ll want in the future. And to hear about meal plans and college traditions, well, it doesn’t help students predict what they’ll want in a college next week…or next year. Or thirty years from now.

We think this is hogwash. Absolute hogwash. One of the central arguments against college tours is that you don’t get to interact with students. As we’ve long championed on the pages of this blog — wander a bit away from that tour sometimes (or you can just do it in front of your tour guide). Talk to students. Do the smile test. Smile at students. See if they smile back. It’s a good indicator if students are happy at the school. Students at Dartmouth tend to smile back. At Carnegie Mellon? Maybe not as many. If you’re a parent, pretend you don’t know your child and ask anyone and everyone questions — not just your tour guide. And the argument that what we want now isn’t necessarily predictive of what we will want in the future…duh! As Reischer writes, “As Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia have argued, our present selves believe we are good at making decisions for our future selves, but in fact we all do a relatively poor job of predicting what our future selves will actually value and enjoy.”

We are all about the influences of psychological science in college admissions. But the premise of this piece criticizing college tours in “The New York Times” — one based on psychological science — is, in a word, silly.

But how is that fixable? How on earth does not attending a college tour fix this age-old problem? Obviously not everyone knows exactly what they want in life. Of course opinions and perspectives change. Such is life. But, as they say, the best predictor of future success is past success. What better way do we have at our disposal to predict what we want in the future than to make a gut instinct based on what we want in the here and now?

Oh, and what the piece in “The New York Times” fails to mention is that if you don’t attend a college tour prior to your decision being rendered — you’re hurting your case for admission! Colleges want students who love them. They want students who visit. Is the college tour perfect? No. Is it one student’s opinions about a school infused with propaganda from the admissions office? You bet. But the more exposure you have to a college (be it a tour, information session, talking to students, talking to professors, visiting classes, eating in dining halls, using the bathroom facilities — we kid!), the more a student will be able to make an informed decision. And, at the end of the day, that’s all anyone can do.

Leadership and College Admissions

Leadership in Admissions, Ivy League and Leaders, Leaders in Admissions

There was a piece recently in “Forbes” on the topic of leadership in highly selective college admissions.

It’s all about leadership in college admissions. Right? Well, it depends how you define ‘leadership.’ There was a piece recently published on “Forbes” by Willard Dix entitled “‘Nobodies’ Can Be ‘Somebodies’ In College Admission” that we just had to share with our readers. In the piece, Dix makes the argument that America’s most highly selective colleges only seek leaders. As Dix puts it, “In the world of college admission, an obsession with leadership has students trying to be president of any number of clubs and organizations as if they were collecting pelts. It’s not enough to be a member of the swim team, student council, yearbook and orchestra, even for four years; you need to be captain, president, editor and concert master.”

But while we applaud the spirit of Dix’s argument, his argument is unsound. America’s most highly selective colleges do not just seek leaders — at least in terms of leadership as he defines it. Yes, you read that correctly, parents. We know. It’s so deeply ingrained in your brains that your children need to showcase their leadership skills in order to earn admission to the most elite schools in our nation. But while it may be deeply ingrained, it is also a very common — one of the most common — misconceptions. Let’s say it again. You do not need to be a leader to get into one of our nation’s most selective schools if leadership means captaining teams and serving as the president of after-school clubs. What you do need to do is showcase how you’re going to change the world in a particular area….now that kind of leadership is leadership every highly selective college seeks. And how do you showcase this to admissions officers? Through your many admissions essays, through your letters of recommendation, through your activities, and more.

Each and every one of our students at Ivy Coach who work with us through the college admissions process showcase how they intend to change the world.

Our nation’s most selective colleges do indeed want people who are going to change the world. But that doesn’t mean you need to be a leader of some club that half the school is a member of nor does that mean you need to be a captain of an athletic team. Indeed, unless you’re getting recruited for the sport you captain, your captainship doesn’t exactly mean all that much to a college. How many swim team captains who aren’t fast enough to swim for a college’s swim team do you think apply to an Ivy League school each year? A lot. And it inspires a yawn in highly selective admissions offices far and wide.

So while we disagree with the notion of calling the “non-leaders” ‘nobodies,’ Dix should be happy that colleges don’t just seek students who captain teams and lead lame after-school clubs. His argument is flawed but the spirit of his argument — is, perhaps to his surprise, a reality.

Did you think otherwise? What are your thoughts on leadership in college admissions? Post your thoughts below and we’ll be sure to jump in on the conversation.

Georgetown Class of 2021

Georgetown 2021, 2021 at Georgetown, Georgetown University 2021

It was a banner year for Georgetown’s admissions office this year (photo credit: Patrickneil).

The data is in for the Georgetown Class of 2021 and we’ve got it for our readers — although we did report early word on these numbers before Regular Decision notifications went out. In all, between Early Action and Regular Decision, 21,465 students submitted applications to the alma mater of Patrick Ewing — who incidentally is the newly installed men’s basketball coach for the Hoyas. Of those students, 3,313 were offered admission. That marks a record-low admission rate for Georgetown of 15.4%. In fact, over the last five years, the overall admission rate has stood between 16.4% and 16.6%. So this is a statistically significant change indeed. Georgetown also boasted the largest applicant pool in the university’s history this year.

As reports Aly Pachter for “The Hoya,” “Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon (CAS ’64, GRD ’69) attributed the increased applicant pool to the school’s focus on the individual student and a national spotlight on Washington, D.C., during the 2016 presidential election. ‘We did not do anything different to increase the pool. In fact, we actively try not to increase it, because we really would like it to be representing people who really are interested and are willing to go through the extra effort,’ Deacon said. ‘Even though we make it harder for people, the pool goes up, which is good. That partly is because the combination of Georgetown’s identity and the location together.'” Oh sure. Sorry Dean Deacon but every dean of admissions at every highly selective college in America wants to increase their applicant pool to invariably lower their admission rate and any statements to the contrary simply don’t ring as true. You love that your applicant pool was big this year. You love that your admission rate was low. And you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Applications were up at Georgetown College, the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the School of Foreign Service, though applications dipped at the McDonough School of Business this year (3,304 students applied to McDonough last year compared to 3,283 this year). Congratulations to our students at Ivy Coach who earned admission to Georgetown! We’ll be rooting on the turnaround of Georgetown basketball under the leadership of our favorite player of all-time.

Asian American Discrimination in Admissions

Asian Discrimination in Admissions, Admissions and Asian Americans, Asians in College Admissions

Asian American organizations trying to challenge the discrimination that Asian Americans face in highly selective college admissions would be wise to employ a new strategy.

Bev Taylor, Founder of Ivy Coach, published a piece yesterday up on “The Huffington Post” that focuses on how the strategy that Asian American organizations are employing to go about trying to end the discrimination that Asian American applicants face in highly selective college admissions is not the correct strategy. The piece, entitled “Why the Strategy to End Discrimination Against Asian Americans in Admissions is All Wrong,” highlights how various Asian American organizations, including the Asian American Coalition for Education, have filed suits against some of America’s most highly selective colleges in the hope of putting to an end Asian American discrimination in admissions decisions. But suits are not the way to end this discrimination.

And if these organizations are going to file suits, they’d be wise to file stronger suits. Choosing the son of the president of the Asian American Coalition for Education as the plaintiff in a lawsuit and arguing that he faced discrimination as retribution for his father’s position — that hardly is the cleanest way to attack the argument that Asian Americans face discrimination in the highly selective college admissions process (which they do!). It clouds their argument. Significantly.

But, as we’ve long suggested, lawsuits aren’t the right approach anyway to end this discrimination. As Bev writes in her “Huffington Post” piece, “Worse than choosing the wrong plaintiff, these groups hoping to end the discrimination Asian American applicants face in highly selective college admissions are choosing the wrong way of seeking change. You see, change is a protagonist in our nation’s story ever since we ragtag colonialists chose to rebel against the King of England. And just like in colonial times and as we are reminded throughout the arc of our history, change starts with the populace. Selma. Seneca Falls. Stonewall. These were the respective birthplaces of the civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements in America. These movements began with the populace. Not in the courtroom.”

Check out the piece and do let us know your thoughts on Asian American discrimination in admissions and the strategies employed in the hope of ending this discrimination by posting a Comment below. We’re curious to hear from you!

Secret Sauce of College Waiting Lists

College Waiting Lists, College Waitlists, College Waiting List

Who is likely to get waitlisted, you ask? We’ve got answers (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

But, Ivy Coach, we’re tired of reading about what to do if you’re waitlisted. We know, we know. We’re tired of writing about it too. But so many folks keep reaching out to us hoping to get off college waitlists, so we feel obliged to write just a little bit more about dreaded waitlist limbo. This post isn’t so much about what to do if you’re waitlisted (contact us and if you sign up for our service, we’ll help you craft a powerful and compelling Letter of Enthusiasm that will give you the best shot possible of admission off a waitlist). Rather, this post is about who tends to get waitlisted in the first place.

So who gets waitlisted, Ivy Coach?

Students with high grades but low test scores are prime candidates for the waitlist. So are students with high grades and high scores with no admissions angle, with no hook. Maybe they’re well-rounded, a college admissions no-no. There’s the legacy or development candidate…why outright reject a student whose parents donate in big ways to a university? At least let those parents think the school’s still considering their kids! What’s it to them? Colleges want those alumni parents to keep those donations coming. They can always use a new library. And, no, to that parent with no affiliation to a particular school who annoyingly calls and asks if their donation of such and such dollars will help their daughter’s case for admission, you’re not even near the ballpark of the figure that will help. In our experience, people significantly underestimate the size of a donation that actually matters to colleges (oh — and how you donate matters too…donating after a student has been waitlisted makes your motives way too transparent and will likely lead to your daughter never, ever getting off that waitlist). You think you can buy your way in? They’ll be happy to show you otherwise. That’s what’s going through their heads.

So who else gets waitlisted, you ask? Underrepresented minorities are prime waitlist candidates. Maybe their scores or grades fell a bit short. There’s the kid with great grades and great scores from a high school in which someone with lower grades and lower scores was offered admission (maybe the student with lower scores was an athletic recruit – hint hint). Colleges need to show that high school they didn’t simply admit that other student because of his athletic abilities. And while nobody buys that for a second, it’s the reason that student with higher grades and higher scores was likely placed on the waitlist.

You’ll never know for certain why you were placed in waitlist limbo. But this can give you a good idea so you don’t focus so much on why you were waitlisted in the coming days and instead focus on what you can do to effectively get off those dreaded waitlists.

Curious to read more about waitlist limbo? Read our Founder’s piece on “The Huffington Post” entitled “The Secret Sauce of the College Waitlist.”

The Waitlisted Student

Waitlisted Students, College Waitlists, College Waiting List

We hope you enjoy our waitlist anecdotes.

For all those students stuck in waitlist limbo, you know what we recommend you do. Submit a powerful and compelling Letter of Enthusiasm, a term we at Ivy Coach coined many years ago. We help students every year earn admission off waitlists after submitting powerful Letters of Enthusiasm. But enough about Letters of Enthusiasm. We have nothing more to write on the topic that we haven’t already said. And so we’ll share two anecdotes that we hope might offer insight into the college waitlist process.

We’ll call this anecdote: “Henry was named a National Merit Finalist.” Congratulations, Henry! That means you did really well on your PSAT. But now Henry’s mom really wants to update the colleges that placed him in waitlist limbo on his achievement. In fact, she wants him to form a Letter of Enthusiasm that includes a mention of this accomplishment. Oy vey is right. Can you imagine this scenario ever playing out in an admissions office? Picture an admissions officer running around an admissions office saying this: “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Henry just got named a National Merit Finalist. We must now take him off the waitlist. He did so well on his PSAT! Now that’s cause for admission. This was the missing piece to the puzzle. Our university needs Henry! We need another National Merit Finalist.” No, that won’t ever happen. Ever. More likely? An admissions officer sits at her desk and thinks, “And this kid thought he’d impress me with his National Merit recognition? I’ll show him.” Get the idea?

We’ll call this next anecdote: “Sally got into Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and Dartmouth.” Congratulations Sally! But now Sally’s mom wants to update Harvard that her daughter got into multiple other Ivy League colleges along with Stanford. Surely they should admit her because she got into these schools. Surely they’ll feel the pressure. Surely they’ll feel they made a terrible mistake. Surely this will be great leverage to get off that Harvard waitlist. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Can you ever imagine an admissions officer saying, “Well Sally got into all of these Ivy League colleges. And Stanford. She bragged to us as much. So of course we need to admit her. It was our error.” No. That will never happen. Never ever ever tell colleges about the other schools that offered you admission. To that school, they should be the only school you have eyes for — like the song goes. Your attempt at leveraging your other offers of admission is totally ill-conceived and is highly likely to result in never ever getting off that waitlist.

We hope you enjoyed our anecdotes because it is waitlist season but if we had to write about the importance of submitting incredible Letters of Enthusiasm one more time, we think we’d faint. Have a question or comment about college waitlists? Post it below.

Geographic Diversity in College Admissions

Geography in Admissions, Geography in College Admissions, Geography in Ivy League Admissions

You bet being from North Dakota can help a student’s case for admission (photo credit: Aaronyoung777).

We hear it every year. “A friend of ours — her son wrote about this in his Personal Statement and so that’s certainly something we wish to emulate. It’s a big reason why he got in.” Maybe it’s not the subject of the Personal Statement. Maybe it’s emulating participation in a certain activity. Who knows. The point is that so often students — and even more frequently their parents — cite anecdotal evidence to assert why they’re approaching the admissions process they way they are. And what a mistake that is.

For starters, this parent has no idea if the student who wrote about a certain subject in his Personal Statement got in because he wrote about this topic…or if he got in in spite of writing on this topic. Perhaps it was a weakness of the application. Yes indeed, students can get into top colleges in spite of demonstrating flaws on their applications. It happens. And so when we come across articles like esteemed education reporter Abby Jackson’s “This student got into all 8 Ivy League schools plus Stanford, MIT, and Caltech,” which features the Personal Statement of a college applicant, we cringe just a little bit. (Side note: At Ivy Coach, we have a long-running streak of having students who get into each of the eight Ivy League colleges along with Stanford.)

So why do we cringe? Just because this student featured in the “Business Insider” piece got into these wonderful schools doesn’t mean it was because of his Personal Statement. In fact, we find his Personal Statement to be quite poor. It’s about as common of a topic for a Personal Statement — what’s going through a person’s mind as they run or swim or compete in their sport — as any. In a word, it’s cliche. And yet there are going to be folks who believe this student got in because of his Personal Statement, which would be incorrect. The young man has great ACT scores (he got a 35). He’s from a low-income family. We bet he has great grades. But, most importantly, he is from the great state of…North Dakota! That’s right. The Roughrider State.

How can this point be overlooked? We would argue that it is the most salient point about his candidacy. We love North Dakota. We’ve helped many students earn admission from North Dakota into these very institutions. But how many North Dakotans every year apply to highly selective colleges with a 35? Sorry, North Dakota. The answer is not as many as New York. Not as many as New Jersey. Not as many as California. Or Texas. Being from North Dakota sure does boost a student’s chances of admission to America’s most elite institutions. So to focus on this student’s unremarkable Personal Statement as a possible cause for his admission would be misleading. We’d argue he got into these schools — and we congratulate him for doing so — in spite of his Personal Statement.

Curious about the importance of geographic diversity in college admissions? Post your question below and we’ll be sure to jump in on the conversation.

Basketball and Application Numbers

Basketball and Application Figures, Bball and Applications, March Madness and Applications

The further Duke advances in March Madness, the more applications the university is likely to receive the subsequent admissions cycle.

We came across a piece up on “Sports Illustrated” about the alma mater of one of our favorite former NBA stars, John Stockton, that touched on college admissions. And so we just had to share it with our readers. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in both assists and steals, graduated from Gonzaga University years before Gonzaga, a team that advanced to this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Final, would become a basketball powerhouse. And so what does the notoriously tightlipped Stockton have to say about how the basketball team’s rise under Coach Mark Few has impacted the greater university?

States Stockton in the “Sports Illustrated” piece, “I can’t give you exact statistics, but when the Zags do well, it always seems that enrollment goes up the next year. There’s a pretty direct correlation that everybody can see.” John Stockton, a man who knows what it’s like to lose in the finals (twice!), speaks the truth. Overwhelmingly, the data — irrespective of the specific school — paints the same picture. The further a men’s basketball team advances in March Madness, the more applications they have the next year. For more thorough coverage of this phenomenon, read what we wrote a few years back about George Mason University after their most unexpected run to the Final Four.

We’re pleased to quote John Stockton — that’s right, John Stockton — on college admissions.

If you’re a student who intends to apply to Duke next year, be happy the Blue Devils exited early from March Madness. Duke’s application numbers are so often strongest after seasons in which Coach K’s team makes deep March Madness runs.

What To Do If You’re Waitlisted

Waitlisted Students, What To Do If Waitlisted, College Waiting Lists

We’ve got a secret sauce at Ivy Coach when it comes to Letters of Enthusiasm for waitlisted applicants (photo credit: Andrew Bossi).

Wondering what to do if you’re waitlisted? Every year around this time, students and parents — coming to Ivy Coach for the first time — ask us what they should do once they’ve been waitlisted. Our first question to these students and parents is always: what have you done so far? We’re always hoping they’ve done nothing. But that’s rarely the answer. Usually they’ve done something, often quite a bit of something. And in almost every instance, that something is the wrong something.

“Well, we sent in a letter that speaks to all of the things Alex has achieved since he applied in January. He talked about how he’s now first chair violinist and he’s done countless hours of community service at the local hospital. Oh and we asked Senator Cruz, one of our U.S. senators, to send in an additional letter of recommendation. An aide of his said that he would.” Oh boy. We’ll likely tell that parent that they’ve done all they can, that it’s in the hands of the universe now, which is our not so subtle way of saying we can’t help because they’ve already significantly hurt their son’s case for admission off the waitlist.

For students who first come to us after being waitlisted, we help them craft powerful and compelling Letters of Enthusiasm. Do they always work? No! Some colleges may not even turn to their waitlists — it depends on the year and their yield. Do our Letters of Enthusiasm give you the best chance possible of earning admission? You bet they do.

Most students who are waitlisted do nothing. Doing nothing is an unlikely strategy to land a spot off the waitlist and into the incoming class. But doing the wrong thing is also an unlikely strategy to get out of waitlist limbo. Sending in communications that boast of one’s accomplishments — how is that going to get the human being on the other end of that communication to root for you, to want to go to bat for you, to put you at the top of the pile? What have you really achieved in the few months since you first applied? If you’ve been named a finalist in a major science competition, like Regeneron, now that’s something. Starting a club at your school, volunteering for 42 hours at a hospital (great for humanity but not for college admissions!), winning a pie eating contest (not great for your tummy or for college admissions!) — sending in updates like this is about as noteworthy as updating admissions that you brushed your teeth this morning. Did you manage to floss too?

If you’ve been placed in waitlist limbo, you want to send in one powerful and compelling Letter of Enthusiasm, a term we at Ivy Coach coined many years ago, to the college(s) that placed you in limbo. This letter should demonstrate — by showing rather than telling — what you hope to contribute to the university and why the university would be better off for having you on their campus. The letter should be filled with exactly the right kind of specifics about the school, specifics that simply don’t apply to any other university in America but this one. It should show you’ve done your homework on this school, that this school really is your absolute first choice.

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s help with a Letter of Enthusiasm, fill out our free consult form and indicate “Letter of Enthusiasm” at the bottom. We help students every year earn admission off college waitlists and it has a whole lot to do with the secret sauce of our Letters of Enthusiasm, with our unique approach.

Congratulations to Our Ivy Coach Students

Congrats Ivy Coach Kids, Congrats 2017 Ivy Coach Students, Congratulations to Our Students

Mazel tov! Félicitations. 恭喜. Glückwünsche! Felicidades! Congratulations to our Ivy Coach students around the world on their offers of admission to some of America’s very best universities!

Updated to Reflect Our Stanford Regular Decision Admits: Congratulations to our Ivy Coach students who earned admission to our nation’s best universities this year in both the Early Decision / Early Action round as well as the Regular Decision round.

We typically list all of the schools our students earn admission to each year. But a list doesn’t convey the story we wish to tell — a story we can’t tell because we value the confidentiality of our clients. For instance, we’ve had students admitted to every single Ivy League school many times over the years. So that one student alone would warrant listing every Ivy League school on our list. But of course we have multiple students who earn admission to every Ivy League school every year, without exception.

And are there certain Ivy League and other highly selective colleges that year after year enroll more of our students than others? You bet. While some things change from year to year, there are certain schools that annually admit — and enroll — many of our students. But of course even these schools don’t know because we wouldn’t be very good at our work if colleges knew our students had help. What admissions officer on this planet roots for a kid whose parents paid a consultant to help them earn admission to the college of their dreams? None. A good private college consultant works exclusively behind the scenes.

But we’ll give our readers a list anyway on this day after Ivy League Decision Day. There are some years we worry more than others on the day(s) the Ivy League schools roll out Regular Decision notifications. But we never worry too much because we know our students have given themselves the best chance possible of admission. And this year, we weren’t worried very much at all because our students had either already earned admission to top choice schools in the Early round or days/weeks earlier in the Regular Decision round or they received Likely Letters from Ivies (which are equivalent to offers of admission). With one exception. We were worried about one student this year on this day. This student didn’t know we were worried because we didn’t want the student to have any unnecessary worry. But after this student earned admission yesterday to multiple Ivy League colleges, our worries vanished. We even told the student how worried we were and the student laughed. Clearly we were more worried than the student.

Our very favorite acceptances are always the ones in which admissions officers include handwritten notes. Sometimes our students just tell us they got in without sending us the letters only to flippantly say, “Oh and there was a note.” We love those notes! Show us those notes!

So without further ado, among the universities our students at Ivy Coach earned admission to in 2017 (and late 2016 when Early Decision / Early Action notifications rolled out) are as follows. Keep in mind, there are other schools too but this covers a good portion: Stanford University, Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, Duke University, Barnard College, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Amherst College, Williams College, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, Georgetown University, Northwestern University, Carnegie Mellon University, Tufts University, Vassar College, Swarthmore College, Bates College, Pomona College, Wellesley College, Middlebury College, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, Notre Dame University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California – Berkeley, University of California – Los Angeles, Emory University, Vanderbilt University, New York University, and more. Because we definitely forgot some creating this list strictly from memory.

And some folks ask us each and every year a version of: “If you had to pick one school that became more difficult to get into this year, which would it be?” For 2016-2017, the answer is — without a doubt — Northwestern University. And with the Wildcats’ first trip to March Madness this year, we anticipate Northwestern will become even more difficult next year. Because, yes, how far a team advances in March Madness impacts applications the subsequent admissions cycle.


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