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.
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?
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.
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.
Many folks have asked us over the years — particularly international students and parents — what the difference is between a university and a college. We’ve heard parents say, “I want my daughter to attend a university. Not a college. Universities are more prestigious.” When we refer to highly selective college admissions, we’ve had folks from around the globe (incorrectly) correct us with something like, “No. My son already completed college. He wants to attend university.” Sometimes we don’t bother to correct them. Let the know-it-alls think they know it all. Namaste.
“It is, Sir, as I have said, a small College. And yet there are those who love it,” said Daniel Webster, an alumnus of Dartmouth College.
The fact is that the words “university” and “college” are somewhat — although not completely — interchangeable. There is no hard and fast rule that deems one institution a university while another university a college. Take Dartmouth College as an example. As the American statesman Daniel Webster once argued in one of the most influential Supreme Court cases in our nation’s history, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!” Dartmouth is not Dartmouth University. It is Dartmouth College — and proudly so as Daniel Webster asserted. So while a piece by Mitchell Wellman on universities and colleges for “USA Today” points out that, as a general rule of thumb, universities connote institutions with graduate programs and separate undergraduate colleges (e.g., arts & sciences, engineering) while colleges connote institutions with mostly just undergraduate, all-in-one study, Wellman is also quick to — correctly — point out that it’s a rule that simply doesn’t hold true across the spectrum of American universities.
Dartmouth College has a medical school, an engineering school, a business school. It is a university in every sense of the word. But the College on the Hill proudly coins itself Dartmouth College. As Wellman writes, “Basically, not all schools of higher education that could call themselves a university choose to do so, even though ‘university’ tends to have more positive connotations. For some of these schools, they stick with the ‘college’ designation simply because of tradition, according to Grammarist.com. ‘In practical American usage, university has connotations of prestige that college doesn’t have, although there are some highly respected universities that call themselves colleges out of tradition (e.g., Dartmouth College),’ Grammarist says. ‘Still, no one talks about going to university in the U.S. After high school, you go to college, even if the college you’re attending calls itself a university.” Well said indeed, Sir, though not as well said as one Daniel Webster!
Let’s talk about college endowment size, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. As our loyal readers know well, need-blind admissions is a lie — one perpetuated by colleges across America. In fact, need-blind admissions policies are touted in so many college brochures, at so many college information sessions, by so many high school counselors and, yes, by so many private college counselors, that to call it what it is — a myth — flies in the face of what so many high school students and parents believe to be true. But so much of what we do at Ivy Coach flies in the face of what many high school students and parents believe to be true. So we’re good with that.
We’re not going to devote this post to debunking need-blind admissions. We are quite confident we’ve fully debunked it over the years but in four sentences or less, we’ll debunk it for our readers again before we move on to the point of this particular post: (1) If colleges were truly need-blind, then why on the vast majority of supplements for highly selective colleges does it ask if students need financial aid? Shouldn’t admissions officers be ‘blind’ to this data point? (3) If colleges admitted a class in which everyone needed financial aid — which is a risk if colleges were truly need-blind, they’d have to dip into their endowments and eventually go broke. Colleges rely on tuition dollars to survive.
But onward to the point of this particular post — are certain need-aware colleges (colleges are not need-blind as we’ve painstakingly pointed out but rather need-aware) less focused on an applicant’s ability to pay than are others? Yes. As a general rule of thumb (and there are exceptions), think of it as the richer the school, the more dollars they can devote to students who need financial aid. And how can one gauge a school’s wealth? That’s easy. The size of the endowments. At the end of fiscal year 2015, Harvard University’s endowment was about $37,615,545,000. That’s 37 billion with a ‘b.’ Harvard, of course, has the largest endowment of any university in America. And which university has the second largest endowment in America? At around $25,542,983,000 at the end of the same fiscal year, Yale University is a distant second. Princeton University ($22,291,270,000), Stanford University ($22,222,957,000), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($13,474,743,000) round out the top five.
Have a question about college endowment size and financial aid? Let us know your question by posting it below. We’ll be sure to write back.
Regular readers of our college admissions blog may remember when we wrote about one of Malcolm Gladwell’s more controversial podcasts in which he touted Vassar College’s commitment to educating as many students as possible on full financial aid and Pell Grants. The podcast wasn’t controversial because of Vassar’s commitment to educating low-income students — that’d be outrageous. It was controversial because he made the case (and some would argue that it’s a case built strictly on anecdotal evidence) that Bowdoin College invests its resources on fancy dining hall foods at the expense of educating low-income students, whereas Vassar serves subpar food to reserve its valuable resources for educating low-income students.
Interestingly, Catherine Bond Hill, a former president of Vassar College, that very school Gladwell touted for its commitment to educating low-income students, wrote an editorial recently in “The Washington Post” in which she espoused many of the same points we at Ivy Coach have been making for years that — many in the peanut gallery would argue — fly in the face of educating as many low-income students as possible. The peanut gallery, in this case, just isn’t right. Heavy-handed? Yes. Correct? No. As but one example, the peanut gallery believes Early Decision and Early Action policies make incoming classes at highly selective American universities less diverse and less inclusive. And our counterargument? Highly selective American universities need high-income students who pay full tuition in order to subsidize the tuition costs of low-income students. That’s one key reason why these colleges are competing for these high-income students — in an effort to educate low-income students.
Ivy Coach salutes Catherine Bond Hill, president emerita of Vassar College, for telling it like it is.
As another example, the peanut gallery believes legacy admission is unfair, outrageous, even antithetical to the spirit of our country. But, our dear peanut gallery, who is building the libraries in which low-income students study? Who is endowing the position of chair of the economics department? Who is building that world-class cancer research lab? So often it’s folks with deep connections to the university, folks who themselves attended the university. And so to admit the children, the legacies, of major donors in the hope of cultivating future donations seems only practical. Indeed the admission of legacies — while one could argue it’s a violation of tax law since one is not supposed to receive anything in return for making tax-deductible donations — contributes to the socio-economic diversity of the institution.
But let’s give the last word to Catherine Bond Hill, the president emerita of Vassar. As she writes in her piece entitled “There’s an easy way to change college admissions so the top schools don’t have as many wealthy students,” “Legacy admissions and early decision options are two key tools that schools use to attract these higher-income, talented students. One assumption is that if colleges eliminated these policies, they would recruit a more socioeconomically diverse student body. This would only be the case, however, if the effect of these policies on the economic diversity of the student body is an unintended consequence instead of being part of the justification for these policies. If colleges are forced to eliminate legacy admissions or early decision policies, it is not clear that more lower-income students would be admitted. Yet if schools want to admit greater numbers of lower-income students, they can do so now, even with legacy admissions preferences and early decision. Such moves require greater commitment of resources to financial aid, resources which then can’t be spent on competing for the appealing higher-income students.” Amen.
Considering transferring to Duke University? Well, you’re in luck because Duke, under the leadership of its longtime Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag, is placing a special emphasis on increasing its transfer enrollment numbers. And why? Guttetag and his admissions team at Duke believe — as do many admissions officers across highly selective American universities — that transfer students bring an added diversity to a student body. Maybe they’re transferring from a technical school. Maybe they’re veterans of the U.S. military. Maybe they’re the first in their families to attend college. These profiles of students are quite often in transfer pools at highly selective colleges.
As reports Shagun Vashisth for “The Duke Chronicle” in a piece entitled “Why does Duke admissions want to increase transfer student enrollment,” “Catering primarily to a four-year undergraduate experience, Duke has traditionally accepted a limited number of transfer students. With a set amount of on-campus housing available, the University has avoided increasing its undergraduate student enrollment.t. However, recently, the number of transfer applicants and students accepted has risen—although there were 754 transfer applicants and 40 admitted transfer students during the 2013-2014 academic year, there were more than 1,200 applicants and 73 admitted students this past year. ‘We want to increase the number of transfer students gradually because there’s an acknowledgement that transfer students bring a particularly valuable, useful and interesting set of perspectives and experiences to the Duke community,’ said Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions. Transfer students coming from technical institutions and Ivy League universities add another element of diversity to Duke’s student body, Guttentag added.”
And a helpful tip for transfer students, while some students wish to transfer simply because they’re not happy at their current university, it’s always best to emphasize the positives (of Duke) rather than the negatives of their current university. As Christop Guttentag is quoted in the piece in “The Duke Chronicle,” “‘Overall, we see two major reasons: some students apply simply to leave the school they are currently enrolled in, while others have a specific aspiration to attend Duke,” he said.” Our transfer students at Ivy Coach will always present as members of category two. After all, everyone knows that it’s uncouth to talk about your ex on a first date. Approach transfer admission no differently.
Thinking of transferring to Duke and hoping to optimize your case for admission to this elite university? Fill out our free consult form and we’ll be in touch.