College Admissions Black Box


Admissions Black Box, College Black Box, University Admissions Black Box

There’s a piece up on “CNBC” on a so-called college admissions black box.

A college admissions black box? Say again? There’s a “CNBC” article out today by Akiko Fujita entitled “Students use data analytics, algorithms to crack top colleges’ admissions codes” that we figured we’d share with our readers. The piece discusses using data-driven analytics to crack admissions codes at America’s top colleges, a “black box” if you will. Cute term. But we believe such a “black box” is hogwash and we have good reason to believe such.

Data-driven analytics has transformed many industries from Wall Street to Hollywood, even baseball. Indeed Brian of our firm has been a trailblazer in Hollywood, making the case to use data-driven analytics to transform the business of developing TV shows since the current process is based purely on gut instinct. So for us to suggest that such a “black box” in highly selective college admissions is hogwash, you know we mean it.

We firmly believe in the transformative power of data-driven analytics. But in highly selective college admissions, so much data on an individual student isn’t available to a predictive tool. And that’s why our famous crystal ball, one cited on the pages of America’s oldest college newspaper, will better predict a student’s chances of admission to a given college than any so-called “black box.”

The highly selective college admissions process is a holistic process. It’s not just about a student’s grades and test scores. It’s about what teachers write in letters of recommendation. It’s about how a student conveys her story in her Personal Statement and supplemental essays to a university. It’s about if the student has a singular, impressive talent that can contribute to a university’s campus. And, yes, it can also be about legacy status, if the family has donated tons of money, the student’s race, and so much more.

There is no “black box” — no Moneyball system — that can calculate how a couple of sentences like this in a school counselor’s letter of recommendation impact that student’s candidacy: “Jessica cares very much about her grades. They are of paramount importance to her.” Because such sentences can surely doom a college applicant. Highly selective colleges, after all, don’t want students who care so much about their grades. They want students who love learning for learning’s sake. These lines in the school counselor’s letter articulate just the opposite. But students aren’t privy to their school counselor’s letter of recommendation so it’s not like anyone could even code the language of this letter, as Brian coded the language of TV pitches.

And anyone who knows highly selective college admissions knows that even students with perfect scores and perfect grades so often don’t get into their dream schools. And why? Because when a human being in the admissions office reads a line like this in a school counselor’s letter, their application more often than not is done. So how exactly does the “black box” take this into account when the “black box” doesn’t incorporate such important data?

We have a feeling you’re calling hogwash too now. Or are you not? Let us know your thoughts by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.


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