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Colleges select undergrads, peers and graduation speakers. In this tough year, how did they choose?

It wasn't my everyday Zoom meeting. A student who was denied by his top choices, yet admitted to some incredible colleges, was feeling less-than-fulfilled after accepted students' days. He asked if he should just try again during a gap year. I responded with a reality check followed by reassurance: the student would have an amazing experience at any institution. That's the message I've given students for many years - even after the tough squeeze that was 2021-22. It really always works out, though the student alone can maximize the opportunity. More seniors are taking gap years - but do they make sense? Fittingly, the Wall Street Journal just published Seeking College-Admissions Edge, More Students Take Gap Year. Experts interviewed for the article echoed my advice on that Zoom: Short of something earth-shattering, it's unlikely for a college that has just made a decision on a student to move from denial to acceptance. A gap-year counselor (they were around and thriving well before test-optional admissions) told the Journal, "They [college applicants] have gotten caught up in this elite-school syndrome. The whole composition of who’s choosing to take a gap year is changing.” Institutional Looking Back: More Stats Come In I'm often asked about whether Early Decision II is statistically advantageous for an applicant. That option, which I often recommend when students have been declined or deferred from their ED I option, can be very effective. This year, the Vanderbilt Hustler did have data on ED II, reporting that 10 percent of ED II applicants got in compared with 24 percent in the ED I round and just 5 percent for the Regular Decision pool. (Vandy admitted half its incoming class in the two Early rounds.)

Test-Optional Admissions: On the Agenda

In the last post, I mentioned that MIT is reinstating testing for 2022-23. Since that time, discussions about how colleges use test scores continue to dominate admissions discussions. In the Vanderbilt article, admissions director Doug Christiansen states: “If you turn in a test, we’re going to use it; if you don’t turn in a test, you won’t be penalized." By the way, 61 percent students admitted this year to Vandy submitted scores.

Recently, this college counselor listened in on a Compass Prep webinar featuring admissions officers from Emory, Tulane and Hopkins. Students were advised to submit test results if they are in the high midrange of reported scores. And if a student does include lower scores? According to Emory's Associate Dean of Admissions Farish Jerman:"If you were sending something lower, that wouldn’t be a red flag [with an otherwise strong application]. It’s not going to be a deal-breaker.”

Calvin Wise, Director of Recruitment at Hopkins, echoed the sentiment: "We were never making decisions off testing when testing was required.” I recently checked out an interview with Sal Khan in THE Journal, an educational technology publication. The Khan Academy founder didn't hide his pro-testing attitude: "When I talk to admissions officers, behind closed doors, they will tell you that making tests optional did not remove the need for them to get a signal of college readiness from applicants . . . I think you're going to see the pendulum swing back to requiring SAT or ACT scores when people realize how inequitable it is by making it optional." [Editor's Note: Khan has a thriving source of users as a result of his alliance with College Board, owner of the SAT.] Institutional Priorities So what matters most during a candidate's review? Admissions pros agree that students must show mastery of a rigorous curriculum. Here's what Emory's German said:

"At no point in committee did we decide not to admit [without test scores]. “We did decide to not admit within context of rigor within their curriculum." German added that Emory looks to letters of recommendation to see a student's "genuine love of learning.” According to JHU's Wise, "We aim to enroll an incoming class that the institution is looking to bring in as a learning community . . . We’re trying to predict future potential and what it looks like on our college campus . . . We are trying to dig into student’s intellectual curiosity and their academic character.”

Hopkins: 6% clearly showed intellectual curiosity

Spin the Wheel (and Find Your Match)! The Chronicle of Higher Ed has looked at data on 1,500 colleges and universities that shared which colleges they consider peers. Apparently, by identifying those peers each year, institutions "receive a customized report that compares their performance to that of their selected peers on various measures, like enrollment, graduation rates, and average staff salaries." We all know our institutions are the centers of their respective universes. Get this: "Harvard University selected only three peer institutions: Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. But 22 institutions, including Bowdoin, named Harvard as a peer.”

Brown's Peers (According to Brown(

It's About the ROI At Baylor, Tesla parks a vehicle by the university's library on interview day. A firm's founders fly into a recruiting event at Miami Ohio. A company sends students gift cards for food when interviewing virtually at Bentley. Yes, to many paying parents' delight, on-campus recruiting is back. According to the WSJ, "Young professionals coming out of college this spring are in high demand." In fact, hiring is expected to be up by 30 percent, with some six-figure starting salaries. Looking Ahead to Graduation As we know, the world is excited about getting back to some degree of normalcy, particularly when it comes to in-person gatherings. Front of mind: college graduations. In many cases, institutions are welcoming back their Classes of 2020 and 2021 while they hold their Class of 2022 event. In a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Carnegie Mellon's Teresa Trombetta, assistant vice president of alumni and constituent engagement, explains that she is delighted “for us to be able to reconnect our graduates from the past couple of years with our current graduates and to bring their families in and to have that moment of celebration with all of us together, it’s a real honor.” No discussion of graduations would be complete without graduation speakers. Fittingly, NYU's speaker and recipient of a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, is Taylor Swift. (See last post on the Tisch course about the Taylor.) However, only the Class of 2022 gets to hear Taylor, with a limit of two tickets per graduate. U Delaware is featuring President Joe Biden and Princeton is hosting Dr. Anthony Fauci. Who's your speaker of choice?

Hopefully, we'll have warmer days ahead. But as we go through May, you're likely to have many questions about college. So book a meeting for your student and get a jumpstart on college-related tasks.

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