Mar 31, 2012

Survey Finds Increased Stress and Continuing Concern about Money among College Applicants

The Princeton Review confirms what local families are saying—it’s all about the money. And money concerns produce stress.

According to The Princeton Review’s 2012 “College Hopes & Worries Survey”—an annual poll of college applicants and parents of applicants—stress levels are up while cost remains a driving factor in college selection.

And reflecting the feelings of many local students, one survey respondent from Fairfax volunteered, “Whoever said that senior year is the easiest is a liar.”

Since 2003, The Princeton Review has polled college-bound students and their parents on issues related to the application process and what they hope—or afraid—will happen as the process draws to a close. Versions of the 2012 survey appeared in The Best 376 Colleges and ran on The Princeton Review website where the form could be completed online. Survey results reflected the views of 10,650 respondents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Among those responding to the survey, 86 percent said financial aid would be “very necessary,” and within that group, 61 percent marked financial aid as “extremely” necessary. Seventy-five percent reported that the state of the economy affected their college choices.

And not surprisingly, 71 percent gauged their stress levels as “High” or “Very High”—up 15 percent from 2003.

Here are some of the other findings from the 2012 Princeton Review College Hopes & Worries Survey:

  • Harvard and Stanford remain the top two dream colleges among parents and students—absent questions of admission and cost

  • The biggest worry about applying to/attending college is getting in but not having sufficient funds or financial aid to attend (34%)—the biggest worry every year since 2007 (in 2006, the biggest concern was not getting into the first-choice college)

  • Parents typically estimate college will cost more than what students think

  • Most students (49 percent) applied to between 5 and 8 colleges, but 21 percent applied to 9 or more schools with 4 percent applying to 13 or more schools

  • 58 percent saw the main benefit of a college degree as a potentially better job, higher income, and career training while 42 percent saw education and learning as key benefits

  • Most students (35 percent) thought taking admission and placement tests was the toughest part of their application experience while most parents (30 percent) chose the answer, “completing applications for admission and financial aid”

  • Parents want their children to attend college closer to home with 51 percent indicating they would like their children to be less than 250 miles away. Among students, 54 percent want to be 500 or more miles from home.

  • While most respondents (45 percent) said they/their child would likely attend the college that will be the “best overall fit,” only 1 of 9—or 11 percent—indicated they’d choose the college with the best reputation

On that last note, sighs of satisfaction may be heard from college counselors all over the land.

Mar 30, 2012

The Wait List Lottery

Hope springs eternal. That’s why there are lotteries and wait lists.

And colleges are unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further their objectives, which largely center on filling freshman classes with the best and brightest high school students.

But let’s be honest. In the hands of the average admissions office, the wait list is little more than a tool used to shape a freshman class profile that is balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated in-state requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

That said, schools advertising “needs blind” admissions sometimes quietly convert to “needs aware” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the wait list.

In other words, there’s usually no ranking, no money, and really not much hope.

And sometimes, the list is hardly more than a PR scam to keep upset parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length.

Waitlisted is an uncomfortable place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, at least your status is clear. But waitlisted is fuzzy. And if you really care about the specific college or university, the offer of a position on a college wait list amounts to a very insecure lifeline.

Here are the facts. Most students never get off the list—very few waitlisted students are eventually invited to the dance. In some cases, especially at more selective colleges, no students get off the list.

Check out the Common Data Set (CDS) statistics published by some local colleges and universities for 2011-12:

University of Virginia
Waitlisted: 4,326 (2726 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 191 (301 the previous year)

Christopher Newport University
(2010-11 data)
Waitlisted: 899 (272 accepted wait list) LinkAdmission offers: 88 (0 the previous year)

College of William & Mary
Waitlisted: 3248 (1496 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 18 (242 the previous year)

George Mason University
Waitlisted: 1894 (817 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 54 (109 the previous year)

University of Mary Washington
Waitlisted: 378 (143 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 120 (165 the previous year)

Virginia Commonwealth University
Waitlisted: 687
Admission offers: 0 (77 the previous year)

University of Richmond
Waitlisted: 3577 (1192 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 83 (74 the previous year)

Washington & Lee University

Waitlisted: 1980 (727 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 50 (111 the previous year)

American University

Waitlisted: 2184 (287 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 0

George Washington University
Waitlisted: 2477 (564 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 112 (20 the previous year)

Georgetown University (CDS data provided by Princeton Review's 2012 Best 376 Colleges)
Waitlisted: 1,362 accepted wait list
Admission offers: 12%

Johns Hopkins University
(2010-11 data)
Waitlisted: 3256 accepted wait list
Admission offers: 36 (1 the previous year)

Goucher College
Waitlisted: 170 (96 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 16 (21 the previous year)

Loyola University of Maryland
Waitlisted: 1854 (625 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 143 (199 last year)

St. Mary’s College of Maryland
Waitlisted: 254 (153 accepted wait list)
Admission offers: 40 (36 last year)

Waitlisted: 530 accepted wait list
Admission offers: 487 (334 the previous year)

Towson University
Waitlisted: 1843
Admission offers: 158 (183 the previous year)

As you can see, the numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For a college with openings after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is something like a candy jar from which colleges can pick and choose depending on needs and wants.

Being waitlisted can be more frustrating than simply being rejected.

“There's no way around it,” commented Jeannine Lalonde, UVa senior assistant dean of admission. “This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school.”

A candidate who is denied admission to his or her first choice school is free to accept other offers. S/he can move on with his or her life. But a waitlisted candidate who really wants to attend a particular school is stuck in limbo.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list—write a letter, get another recommendation, meet with an admissions rep—but there is an emotional cost which must be weighed against the slim possibility of winning the waitlist lottery.

Is it worth it?

Maybe, but not usually.

Mar 28, 2012

ACT and SAT Tighten Rules

Starting next fall, both the ACT and SAT will impose new rules on standardized test-takers. These changes come in the wake of SAT cheating scandals uncovered last year by officials in the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, which involved as many as 50 Long Island high school students.

In a rare show of cooperation, the College Board and the ACT said students will now be required to submit photos with their applications to take the exams. The photos will be uploaded and printed on admissions tickets and on rosters used at testing sites.

During registration, students will also be required to list the high school they attend, which will also receive a copy of the photo submitted by the student. And these photos will also go to all colleges receiving scores.

Testing companies will provide additional training to proctors to help them identify cheaters and may conduct “spot checks” with enhanced security at randomly-selected locations or where cheating may be suspected.

Even parents are being factored in, as a mechanism will be provided during registration for parents to receive test-related communications.

While local reaction to the new security measures is generally positive, some school counselors question the need for colleges to have copies of the photos included with score reports.

“I don’t see the point of providing the picture to the colleges,” said one local private school counselor. “They won’t know what the applicant looks like in most cases, so it doesn’t do anything for security.”

Nearly all colleges have done away with the practice of requesting photographs of students as part of the admissions process out of a concern that bias could creep into consideration of an applicant’s candidacy.

“Everything that I have read and heard indicates that students shouldn’t send in their pictures with college applications, and I think this is sound and should continue,” added the counselor. “Admissions readers could well be swayed unintentionally by a photograph and I don’t think it should be added to the mix.”

The announcement of the new security measures was made yesterday by Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney who brought cases against 20 alleged cheaters. Since uncovering the scandal, Rice has worked with the College Board and ACT to reform test security.

In addition to requiring photos for registration, both the ACT and SAT have agreed that standby test registration in its current form will be eliminated. Students not appearing on the test roster or who have an insufficient ID or admission ticket will not be allowed to sit for an exam.

While still working out logistics including mechanisms for protecting student privacy and accounting for students who are home schooled, in the military or GED recipients, both the ACT and SAT claim that all security enhancements will “impose no new cost to students.”

Mar 27, 2012

UVa Admit Rate Drops Significantly

Surprising many, the University of Virginia admissions office released decisions promptly at 5:00 p.m., on Friday afternoon. Almost immediately, reactions began pouring into student discussion boards including College Confidential.

“I feel giddy right now,” crowed one happy admit from central Virginia.

But the news wasn’t universally good. “I’m a bit disappointed,” remarked another from Virginia. “I'm not sure what the deal was but I wish the best of luck to everyone who was accepted.”

And for those who thought there is “no rhyme or reason” to the decisions, Jeannine Lalonde, senior assistant dean of admission (Dean J) was quick to point out, “We dedicate months to this process and arrive at decisions after collaboration and discussion.”

To give the decisions some context, Dean J posted preliminary numbers for this year and recommended that admissions junkies with a real “need to know” could research numbers as far back as 1977 on the webpage maintained by the UVa Office of Institutional Assessment.

But the simple comparison with 2011 is interesting enough. Last year at this time, UVa received 24,005 applications (this number later decreased) and made initial offers to 7,750 students. Including those pulled from the wait list, the total number of offers for the Class of 2015 was 7,844.

For this year’s class, the total number of applications dramatically went up to 28,272, with the number of in-state applicants increasing from 7,955 in 2011 to 8,788.

But the bulk of the increase in applications came from out-of-state students who submitted a grand total of 19,484 applications.

To make up for an unexpectedly high yield last year, which resulted in 90 extra students, the admissions office kept the offers at 7758—almost exactly the same as last year. Of these offers, 3,403 went to Virginians (3,562 last year), and 4,355 went to out-of-state students (4,183 last year). Overall, the initial admission rate went down significantly from 32 percent in 2011 to 27 percent in 2012.

There was no discussion on Dean J’s blog of the size of this year’s wait list. Last year, the wait list increased to 4326 applicants, 2726 of whom accepted spots. According to numbers provided for the Common Data Set, 191 were ultimately admitted from the wait list.

In any event, here are all the "unofficial" numbers released today by the UVa admissions office:

Total number of applications: 28,272 (up from 23,971 last year)
Total number of VA applications: 8,788 (up from 7,955 last year)
Total number of out-of-state applications: 19,484 (up from 16,045)

Overall offers: 7,758 (7,750 this time last year—7,844 including wait list offers)
Total VA offers: 3,403 or 39.4 of resident applications (3,562/45% last year)
Total out-of-state offers: 4,355 or 23.4% of nonresident applications (4,183/26% last year)

The offers for non residents are higher because historic yield—or percent of students accepting offers—for nonresidents is generally lower.

Dean J reports that the mean SAT for Critical Reading and Math for admitted students was 1395. And 95.7 percent of the students receiving offers of admission were in the top 10 percent of their class.

“Every school is building a class that meets many different institutional needs,” concludes Dean J. “You can’t always predict decisions at one school based on those that are released by another.”

Mar 26, 2012

Community College as an Attractive Option

It’s no secret that community college is becoming an increasingly attractive option for middle income families.

A recent national survey by Sallie Mae found that 22 percent of students from households earning $100,000 or more attended community colleges in the 2010-11 academic year—up from 12 percent in the previous year.

What accounts for this trend? Low tuition, a career focus, smoother transfers, and growing public respect for all that community college has to offer.

And local students, put off by $50K price tags, are taking a closer look at nearby options including Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and Montgomery College in Maryland.

“Middle-class families in our suburbs are beginning to realize the value of NOVA,” said George Gabriel, vice president of NOVA's Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment, in an interview with the Washington POST.

In fact, financial aid officers at both NOVA and Montgomery College have noticed a trend in applicants from families earning $60,000 or more, according to the POST. And with facilities designed to compete with more traditional 4-year programs, opportunities for fast-track honors programs, and options for guaranteed admission to the most prestigious colleges in the country—it’s no wonder!

Responding to the increased demand among local high school students seeking alternatives to more expensive postsecondary options, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) continues to grow and add programs relevant to today’s workforce.

Here are a few facts that may surprise you about NOVA:

  • NOVA is the largest college in Virginia with 75,000 students in credit classes.
  • 25 percent of local public high school graduates attend NOVA.
  • Of all the northern Virginia residents attending a college or university, 40 percent chose NOVA.
  • NOVA offers more than 120 areas of study—many in high-demand fields.
  • With 53 percent minority enrollment, NOVA is one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse institutions of higher education.
  • NOVA is the region’s largest producer of nurses, healthcare workers, and first responders.
  • More than 60 clubs and organizations offer plenty of ways to get involved and be connected to campus.
  • More than 20,000 students annually participate in NOVA’s continuing education and workforce development programs.
  • NOVA has guaranteed admissions agreements with more than 40 colleges and universities—many in the DC metro area.
  • Over 8,000 students annually enroll in NOVA’s distance learning programs making it one of the largest in the country.
  • NOVA now has six campuses and three “centers.”
  • Low tuition and generous financial aid ($100 million last year) make NOVA a highly affordable option.