What Colleges Say and What Students Hear

College Admissions Disconnect, What College Say, What College Applicants Hear

Many college applicants have selective hearing.

There is certainly a disconnect between what college admissions officers say to students and their parents and what students and parents hear. A piece by Valerie Strauss an in interview with Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark for “The Washington Post” entitled “The disconnect between what colleges say and what students hear” astutely points out some of these points of contention. We don’t happen to agree with every point made in the piece but we do agree with some and we would also add that there is an additional disconnect between what college admissions say and what is actually the case. So there’s that. But let’s dive into a couple of the points of disconnect in college admissions articulated in the piece up on “The Washington Post.”

Admission Rates Can Be Deceiving

As the piece states, “Colleges say: ‘Our college has a 10 percent admit rate.’ Students hear: ‘I have a 1 in 10 chance of being accepted.'” But of course, as Mark Twain taught the world, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” It is always a good idea for a student to peruse the admission statistics for the colleges to which he or she will be applying. There is no more comprehensive a source of admission statistics for the eight Ivy League colleges over the course of this century than on Ivy Coach’s website. But alas statistics only tell part of the story.

As the authors of the piece for “The Washington Post” correctly point out, “One in ten seems like good odds, no? If only it were so. Admit rates can be deceptive. Yes the admit rate might be 10 percent, but all applicants are not created equally…Examine the data more fully. Are there variances by geography or major? Admit rates can vary widely between Early Decision and Regular Decision.” We left out their point about ‘unhooked’ applicants — that ‘unhooked’ applicants have lower odds of admission. We certainly don’t disagree with that point but we do disagree with the notion they imply that ‘hooked’ applicants are only legacies, athletes, and institutional priorities (which sure sounds like development cases if you ask us!). Our students at Ivy Coach always have a hook and they’re certainly not all legacies, athletes, and ‘institutional priorities.’ To imply that an applicant needs to be one of these three things to present as singularly talented and interesting to highly selective colleges is misleading. But we do agree with the larger point of the authors — that admission rates don’t always tell the full story.

Test Scores Matter in Admissions

The authors give voice to another disconnect when they write, “Colleges say: ‘Our college reviews applications holistically. Test scores are only one small part of the equation.’ Students hear: ‘Even though the college’s average SAT score is 1400 and I earned 1100, I still have a chance of being admitted.'” Amen to that! It never ceases to amaze us how many students (and especially their parents!) have completely unrealistic expectations in the college admissions process. We regularly hear from students with 1100 SAT scores who wish to go to Harvard. We kindly wish them all the best and hope they get the hint. At Ivy Coach, we help students earn admission to reach schools — but we tell them when it’s an impossible reach. We don’t make impossible dreams come through, although every now and then we do and it usually happens at Stanford. Why Stanford? Because unlike the Ivy League schools, there is no Academic Index at Stanford so they’ll sometimes admit a student whose grades and scores would never pass the sniff test at the Ivies — because they can.

As the authors write, “Unless a college is ‘test optional’ or you have some significant hook (talent, background, etc.), a standardized test score below a school’s average for accepted students can be a huge hurdle. Admission presentations, information sessions and marketing materials may suggest that testing does not rule the day, but for the majority of applicants low scores will present a challenge.” We’d go one step further — even test optional colleges love to receive applications from students with great test scores. And even with a significant hook and a compelling background, test scores matter big time. Do we help students who are below the mean for a given institution earn admission? You bet. Every year. But we’re not going to help a student with an 1100 SAT earn admission to Harvard. That student — or more likely his or her parents — are dreaming.

What are some other points of disconnect that you can think of between what college admissions officers say and what college applicants and their parents hear? We’re curious to hear from our readers so let us know what you’re thinking by posting a Comment below.

 
 

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