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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Choosing Metrics for a National College Rankings System
It has been about a year since the Obama administration announced its intent to implement an official college ratings system. The system is just one component of the administration's mission to overhaul education on a national scale. President Obama has stated that, in addition to being accessible and affordable, higher education should also have a predictable value.

This does not sit well with many universities.

The administration aims to answer a very simple question-are graduates getting jobs? If so, do those salaries justify the price tag of a college education?

Arguably, the existing ratings systems serve universities better. US News and World Report is one of the most well-known. It bases its rankings on metrics such as mean SAT scores, graduation rates, and, notably-acceptance rates. Such metrics can be problematic for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is this: they measure a university's exclusivity, which isn't necessarily the same as its overall value to the average consumer.

The government is hoping to value things such as employment rate following graduation. Colleges may not like this. Public universities balk that many of their graduates may ultimately work in the public or non-profit sector, earning relatively low salaries. They argue that salary shouldn't be the measure of the quality of a degree.

That may be true, but students deserve to be able to make a cost-benefit analysis before dropping huge amounts of tuition on an education they may not be able to afford.

This week, the Obama administration reached out to colleges, asking them to offer suggestions regarding acceptable metrics to use in the ratings system. This places colleges in an awkward position-they must at least appear to embrace the transparency of this new process despite the fact that it makes college sound like a commodity, rather than a pedigree.

Prestige alone, however, won't pay the mortgage. Watch this space to see how the government system eventually shakes out.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Tracing the Roots of College Rejection
I remember when I first discovered the concept of the pass/fail class. I thought it was pretty genius. It meant I could either skate by or excel, and no transcript reader would be any wiser. Over time, I realized this was a double edged sword. I'd never know whether I aced a class or just barely passed. Did I want to know? Would it do me any good?

Anyone who's ever been rejected in the college admissions has asked themselves that question a hundred times. What did I do wrong? Why didn't they want me? Why did I get in there but not there?

It turns out, students may now be able to get answers.

Under the terms of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), students' academic records belong to them. This means that any evaluative notes taken during the admissions process should not technically be shrouded in secrecy. Fountain Hopper, an anonymous website created by students at Stanford University, recently offered a five-step guide for students seeking such records. Apparently it's both legal and successful.

Such information could be ground-breaking for the college admissions game. Someone will find a way to tally and measure the metrics in order to offer prospective students a "better gauge" of what universities are really looking for. Cue also, the lawsuits from unsuccessful candidates. It could be a mess.

But for now, my question is this: Do you really want to know?

Nobody's developed a five-step process to answer that one just yet.

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Monday, January 12, 2015
Legacy Admissions: Affirmative Action in a Different Form
When it comes to the injustices in life, we rarely care as much as when we perceive one has committed against us. We just don't like other people getting the stuff "for free" that we had to work hard for. It isn't fair, which is what life should be, no matter how many times our parents told us otherwise.

This sense of equity is what precipitates the discussion surrounding affirmative action in college admissions. On the one hand, affirmative action, aims to level the playing field. On the other, it assaults the purely merit-based model upon which college admissions is purportedly based. In that sense, letting one person in based on an extrinsic quality (race), isn't fair, no matter what (fair) end purpose could conceivably be met.

Apparently, however, when that extrinsic quality is nepotism, no one really seems to care. Do some people have a problem with legacy admissions? Sure. Have there been a slew of ballot initiatives, legislative bills and high-profile court cases over the past two decades surrounding legacy admissions? Well. No.

NPR recently noted that supporters of legacy admissions claim it isn't unfair, per se, it just gives legacy candidates a "thumb on the scale" when it comes to picking a candidate. I love this term. Because there is nothing fair about putting a thumb on the scale.

Without a doubt, legacy admissions are good for a university's pocketbook. We can dress it up in lots of other ways, as many university administrators do. It supports university tradition, encourages fundraising, and the trickle-down-economics answer: it will ultimately help fund programs for potential 'underserved' students.

But from a purely theoretical viewpoint, it is affirmative action-the beneficiaries just happen to (typically) be white and privileged. Which makes it less likely to ever be challenged.

Is that fair? No, but, as my dad used to say, " 'fare' is what you pay to cross a bridge."

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Monday, January 12, 2015
What Free SAT Testing Means for College Admissions
Last week, the state of Michigan announced that it would be offering the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for free to all public high school juniors. On its face, this is great news for Michigan students. In the greater context of college admissions, however, it raises some interesting questions.

For decades, the SAT has been widely regarded as the benchmark test used in college admissions. It was designed to add equanimity into the process. Most colleges primarily consider grades, test scores and admissions essays in the vetting of potential applications. Because academic standards vary so widely across the country, the SAT was once seen as a great equalizer-a test that would help illustrate student aptitude with greater clarity.

Over the past decade, the SAT has waned in popularity, overtaken in many areas (including Michigan) by the ACT another college readiness test administered by a different organization. The SAT has also taken a hit for serving more as an indicator of privilege than intelligence. Typically, wealthier students have access to better test preparation services, and scores tend to follow the socioeconomic curve of the test taker.

In that regard, the fact that the test is now offered for free in Michigan is a victory for lower income students-assuming they have the resources to afford test prep materials.

But the ACT is widely regarded as a more balanced test, and one that offers a more nuanced picture of how a student is likely to perform in college. The fact that the College Board-the body which administers the SAT-won a contract-bidding war to secure the contract in Michigan is also telling. It means that low-income students may simply be stuck with the test they can best afford, rather than the one that might best suit their strengths.

Such a shift would continue to stratify the college admissions process. In the short-term, however, this is good news for public school students in Michigan. The SAT has also recently overhauled the test itself to render it more "user-friendly", possibly leaving the glass half-full, for now.

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