Stress, admissions, and numbers

This morning I had one of my favorite meetings. Once a semester I meet with guidance directors from around the area, drawing on their collective experience and wisdom. Of course, we spend a good chunk of time discussing the joys, so to speak, of dealing with parents. Most of the stress, of course, is all our fault – and by our, I mean the colleges and universities. We create the stress by failing to answer the simple question parents ask over and over – will we (and parents do say, “we”) get admitted?

Generally most of the parents I meet accept that we won’t know anything for sure until we look at our current applications, and realize that the decision is complex. That being said, and for perfectly understandable reasons, parents still want some indication, usually in the form of SAT scores for students who we admitted last year. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of information colleges don’t want to give.

There’s the obvious reason, that SAT scores are a tiny portion of the admission process and get way overblown in the media and rankings.

Then there’s the OTHER reason. Any number a college gives hurts enrollment potential. Let’s say that instead of an average, I give a range, the middle 50%. Any student with a score below that thinks, “whoa, I’ll probably never get in there,” which stinks for that school since the school depends on students below that range for about a fourth of their students. Worse, everyone above that range thinks, “I’m WAY too good for that school.” Now the school has fewer applications, so the admit rate looks worse AND fewer competitive students apply, so just by answering the question their numbers go down the next year. (On the other hand, shameless plug, Mason’s numbers have been going up so fast that quoting numbers from the year before is pretty misleading, but that’s my “problem” not yours). So colleges dodge the question whenever they can.

This gets magnified with GPA. And, of course, it doesn’t take into account how confusing straight numbers can be. Some high schools have started posting the lowest GPA and SAT scores for their graduates admitted to each college. Of course, this doesn’t take into account why these low scores/grades might have been seen as admissible, such as legacy admits, athletes, or students with learning disabilities. It also doesn’t account for schools that recalculate GPA, or that might have score optional admission (Mason!) or use an ACT score instead of an SAT score – so the lowest number these high school are posting could be TOTALLY irrelevant to what the committee was using to determine admissibility, and as a result totally misleading to future applicants.

So what the heck are we supposed to do about all the stress? Bear in mind that the range is just a range, that averages are just numbers, and that lots of other issues factor in to decisions. Any other ideas? Send them in…I’m sure everyone would love to see them.


3 Responses

  1. So can you give any data on incoming Mason students?

    I know that would kinda contradict what you posted above but I’m curious to know about future Mason students.

  2. Since the May deadline is nearly here, we’re close to knowing for sure about the class but we’re not quite at that point. I can tell you that the application pool was our most competitive so far, so it looks like we’ll have a much larger class, but with slightly higher grade points and scores. The middle of the class will likely be in the A to A minus range, and in the mid 1100s to 1200s…but that’s just an estimate at this point.

  3. Hello Dean Flagel,

    I have posted information on a different subject matter yet it doesn’t seem to be going through. Could you provide a place for me to still convey information to you. Or a way to continue posting without any obstacles. Thanks.


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