The Ivy Coach Daily

May 8, 2021

The College Lists High Schools Publish

A piece in The New York Times focuses on college lists that high schools publish.

Does your child’s high school publish a list of where students earned admission the prior year? If so, know that this list, while not entirely meaningless (especially not to potential home buyers in a school district), can surely be misleading, as a New York Times piece by Ron Lieber entitled “High Schools Are Posting Their College Lists. Don’t Be Misled.” correctly points out. Year after year, public and private schools alike so often publish college lists. Some high schools publish lists of where students got in last year. Others publish lists of where students will be matriculating next fall. The latter of these two lists is more valuable, though it too is flawed. And why isn’t the list of colleges kids got into so insightful? Well, imagine if one student got into all eight Ivy League schools. In such a case, one can’t then gauge the high school’s relationship with each university. At least when the list includes only matriculations, each data point is a singular student. But even the list of matriculations isn’t so valuable in that the list, in itself, doesn’t convey whether students are, say, recruited athletes, legacies, first-generation college students, and more.

Ron Lieber writes in the piece in The New York Times, “With each passing year, these lists become ever more misleading, owing to their fundamental financial ambiguity. When college can cost over $300,000 and discounts are legion, we can’t know why any given teenager attended one over another. Publishing these lists without any context about who is paying what (and why and how) is to pretend that we can.” And what Mr. Lieber writes is spot on, though we’d also point out this is one of many — often more significant — flaws of these lists.

More meaningful than these lists is data from programs such as Naviance, SCOIR, and Maya Learning. These programs typically include scattergrams in which each point on the scattergram is a student, with a corresponding GPA and SAT or ACT test score. If, let’s say, a student’s SAT score is so far below the mean SAT score of a university yet he earned admission, it’s safe to assume he falls in a coveted group (e.g., recruited athletes, legacies, first-generation college students, etc.). The data also typically includes not only the number of applicants from the high school in each of the past three years but also the number of students who earned admission to each school as well as the number of matriculants. So if 10 students applied to the University of Pennsylvania last year and 6 got in, that means the high school seems to enjoy a great relationship with UPenn. But if 0 of those 6 admitted students chose to matriculate, well, don’t apply Early to UPenn next year as UPenn might well seek revenge on the high school for hurting its all-important yield.

So these colleges lists — whether they display acceptances or matriculations — are not totally worthless. If the lists, dating back years, never include the University of Chicago, it’s safe to assume the high school doesn’t enjoy a great relationship with UChicago. Maybe a graduate of the high school back in 1996 went to UChicago and was expelled for committing a crime. Who knows and there is absolutely no point whatsoever in guessing. All that matters is the high school doesn’t have a strong relationship with UChicago and this fact should be taken into account when deciding a student’s Early Decision / Early Action strategy.

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