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Who’s Bucking the Trends in Testing and Liberal Arts Education?

“Prepare for the Largest Data Load of the Year. Recruit the thousands of the juniors and sophomores who are joining Search this December.”

That’s the sponsored content (i.e., ad) in an Inside Higher Ed release to counselors this week. In dealing with students and parents, I continue to explain that colleges and testing agencies are businesses, and that the results they’ll hear about are not personal decisions, they’re business decisions. As we move along in this application year, I have nothing but respect for the students who keep on plugging despite the uncertainties in their very uncertain world.

December: An Important Month for Applicants The last few days, some very ambitious applicants finished up apps that had to be in for scholarships, including Boston University and the University of Southern California. Among USC applicants, I noticed an uptick in interest in the World Bachelor of Business, a partnership between USC, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Bocconi University (Italy). Here’s a description: “A cohort of 45 students from around the world travels together to each of the universities before ultimately choosing the location for his/her fourth and final year. The end product is a unique experience and a degree from each of the partner universities.” Students spend their freshman year at USC, followed by a year in Hong Kong and another in Italy. In Year 4, they select the home campus. What a win for the prospective international business person, who receives a degree from each of the three universities!

Buongiorno, WBB! (Source: USC Marshall)

Testing Remains for Some Applicants

Fewer Applicants Report Scores . . . In a report released this week, Common App tells us that a mere 5 percent of member institutions now require testing, which is down from last year’s 11 percent. That number was 80 percent just two years ago!

. . . But Not All Universities are Test-Blind or Test Optional We know that two large public research institutions, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida, require tests. Among elite institutions, Georgetown remains an outlier. Prospective Hoyas already go through a good deal of work using Georgetown’s platform to apply and having to set up their own interviews, which are evaluative. Forget self-reporting and superscoring; applicants need all results sent from the testing agencies (i.e., the College Board or ACT).

Georgetown: The Hoya way or the highway

How do we interpret trends in testing? According to the Common App: “This season . . . we saw a slight increase in student test score reporting, even as our membership continued to move toward test-optional or test-flexible policies . . . This at least partly reflects increases in access to testing sites relative to the early months of the pandemic, but could also indicate that applicants are calibrating their application strategies as test-optional policies become more familiar.” As admissions writer Jeff Selingo points out, “Where numbers were released—as I and others reported previously—there seems to be an admissions edge to those who submitted scores. What’s unclear is whether that edge was because of their score or what was in the rest of the application.” Exactly! That’s why every applicant has to continue to diligently tell their story.

Michigan: Popular On and Off the Field

It’s been a big year for Michigan – in many ways. Among unCommon students, the volume of students applying to Big Blue hit a record high this fall. And on the gridiron, Michigan is 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big Ten, leading to a big game against Iowa in Saturday’s Big Ten Conference Championship.  

Ask My Anything! A few weeks ago, I enjoyed my guest position in College Confidential’s Ask Me Anything! Here are some of the questions from readers (parents and students) that I (@lapster) took on:

  1. How much is geographic diversity worth – and should it be highlighted in an essay?

  2. So what can a sophomore or junior do now to shape his candidacy?

  3. Was the interview feedback [from Brown alumni interviews] used in the admissions process? At what point and to what extent was an interviewer’s report used?

  4. Do interviews actually make a difference in admission?

Check here for answers.

Poor English Majors! Some of my best friends are – you guessed it – English majors. They’re now professors, tech officers and journalists. Yet an article in Hechinger Report informs us that the number of humanities majors continues to decline, down for eight consecutive years. In 2020, there were 37,000 English majors, a drop from 55,000 in 2009. Similarly, History majors have declined by 39 percent. In contrast, the number of business majors is up 60 percent in the last 20 years, while engineering majors have doubled. Are liberal arts colleges worried? You bet they are! Recently, this college counselor tuned into a Chronicle of Higher Education webinar: The Future of Liberal Arts Colleges. Featured speakers were Brian Rosenberg, the president emeritus of Macalester, Mary Marcy, president emerita of Dominican University of CA, Nayef Samhat, president of Wofford College, and Mary Hinton, president of Hollins College. Stated Hinton: “The liberal arts prepare you . . . you are going to have multiple different careers. I resist. The liberal arts teach you how to think.” While these leaders were busy contemplating the academic calendar and ways to generate revenue, a development in Austin grabbed a good deal of publicity. Welcome an alternative college: The University of Austin (UATX), not to be confused with the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Led by Pano Kanelos, the former president of Great Books college St. John’s (Annapolis, MD). UATX tells the public: “We’re building a university dedicated to the fearless pursuit of the truth.” Mind you, there’s no campus – just an address in Austin and a controversial founding team. They’re starting with a summer program, then a grad program in entrepreneurship before launching an undergraduate experience, which is slated for 2024.

UT Austin: Not the only game in town?

With so much going on during this ED and holiday season, you really can ask me anything! I’m here to help you and your students make it through the holiday season and beyond.


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