Monday, May 21, 2012

Competition grows for elite admissions

Dear Mr. Bradshaw — How do top colleges decide who gets admitted?

I plan to apply to Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford next year. I’m worried about the role of demographics. — Concerned student

Dear student — There is no question it is getting more difficult for all students to get admitted to an elite college or university. The admissions rate at all top colleges is tightening, approaching single digits.

First, let’s look at how things used to be. Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush made it into Harvard and Yale, respectively, mainly because their fathers were famous alumni. Although one might not call them the “best and the brightest” of their generations — to borrow a term — they were born into rich, famous families and were white males. It should be noted there were no diversity regulations in those days.

Many students are turned away from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, while less-qualified legacies are admitted. The number of admitted legacies is falling, and lawsuits are expected to put an end to this historic practice. Almost every student must now meet the same academic standards.

Other changes have made white males less dominant at top schools. Males must compete against female applicants, and most schools are at parity with male and female admissions.

Elite colleges steadfastly have refused to expand the freshman class to accommodate the growing number of qualified applicants. The faculty opposed Harvard’s past president, Larry Summers, when he wanted to increase freshman enrollment. Harvard’s new president has been mum on this issue.

Admission preference is given to under-represented demographic groups. Students typically admitted under this policy generally have lower academic qualifications than students admitted under regular standards. According to Harvard and other top schools, about 25 percent of the student body is in this category — about the same number that legacies used to be.

There are increasing numbers of well-qualified applicants in every admissions category. High schools do a good job of preparing students for top colleges. The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes and scoring in the top 5 percent on admission tests has increased two-fold over the 1980s, according to a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report.

No matter which demographic category you fall into, the competition is getting tougher.

So what is the defining factor? Top grades and test scores still count the most. Your extracurricular involvement is also important.

In my 15 years interviewing candidates for Harvard, I always found there was “something about” the students who got in that stood out, no matter what category in which they fell.

When the interviews were over and I wrote my evaluations, the one defining quality that set some students apart was, the high scorers seemed to have a grasp of the big picture and concrete career goals.

The top students wanted to succeed in the world, not just in a small community. This is what sets you apart and puts you at the head of the admissions list.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Performance more critical than ‘name’ school

Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I have been accepted by the University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Notre Dame, California-Berkeley and Northwestern.

I have a big decision to make, and I had no idea it was going to be this difficult.

How do I choose the college that is best for me? Should I choose the most elite college based on rank? — Confused

Dear Confused

— Congratulations on being accepted by so many elite colleges.

It is important to choose a school that is right for you, but in offering my advice, I want to downplay the notion that selecting a college amounts to a defining moment in your life.

It does not.

Would you be better off at Penn than at Berkeley, or at Columbia rather than Chicago? College ranking or name recognition is not a predictor of the personal fulfillment you will gain at a school. It is the area of study you choose and your accomplishments (social and academic) at the college of your choice that matter.

Is there a measurable tool that can help you make a decision?

In my opinion there is not.

Each year, I have parents who use a spreadsheet to plot the value of attending a potential college to within a thousandth of a percentage point. Categories include a school’s place in the national rankings, the quality of the faculty, department name recognition, powerful alumni — the list is almost endless. I even have had clients rank the number of parking spaces set aside for students!

For geographical location, diversity and the number of Nobel Laureates, Chicago ranks third, while Cal-Berkeley is sixth. Does that mean Chicago is better than Berkeley? Not necessarily.

Adding to the pressure of students choosing colleges are parents who are obsessed with getting their children into specific schools.

Harvard ranks at the top of every list for the Ivy League. The aura surrounding Harvard and the perceived benefits afforded students are greatly exaggerated and, in particular, are unsubstantiated if comparing income differentials with other college graduates.

Notre Dame ranks near the top for sheer alumni loyalty in the Midwest, but is that a reason to go there?

Ultimately, no matter where you choose to go to college, a degree from an elite school will not put you ahead in life if you are lazy and unimaginative.

An outstanding performance at a lesser-known college will trump a lackluster effort from a top college, and this levels the playing field.

Keep this in mind as you weigh your options.

Your college choice will not define you; it only will make it possible for you to discover yourself and prepare for a fulfilling career.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Applicants on waiting list can improve odds

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bradshaw College Consulting
(219) 663-3041

Question: -- “I received word that I am on the waiting list for one of my preferred universities. What are my chances of getting admitted, and is there anything I can do to move myself up on the list?”

Applicants on waiting list can improve odds

Answer: -- Most students who apply to top colleges and universities generally apply to 10 or more schools.

Chances are, you were admitted to some schools, rejected by a few and put in limbo by being placed on a waiting list at others.

If you are on the waiting list, you might be accepted at a later date, depending on the number of openings the school has left after admitted students confirm their decisions to attend.

Although most colleges notify wait-listed students of their decisions by early May, it could take until the end of summer before you receive a decision.

Most colleges do not place students on a waiting list if there is not a realistic chance of getting admitted after a second round of evaluations. This means students who want to remain on the waiting list have work to do.

I suggest you send the university a letter renewing your interest in the school and sharing any new milestones in your life since applying last fall. This information is often the deciding factor in wait-list decisions.

Many applicants look stronger in the last semester of their senior years after receiving an academic award or finishing first in a national competition. Colleges need to be notified about these honors.

It is important to emphasize the fact that the college where you are wait-listed is your first choice. You need to convince officials that if you are admitted, you will attend.

If possible, I highly recommend that you schedule an in-person interview with the admissions office at your preferred school to convince officials of your sincerity. This especially helps students who have strong interview skills.

Wait-listing is a legitimate way to tell students they will be reconsidered if space in the class becomes available.

If you really want to attend the college or university of your choice, it is best to do everything you can to stay on the waiting list.

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