Conventional wisdom says Asian-American applicants face higher hurdle than others at elite colleges. Federal probe raises question of whether differential standards can be proven and -- if so -- would violate the law.
The Assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling voted Saturday to amend its ethics code to state that colleges should "not ask candidates, their schools, their counselors or others to list or rank their college or university preferences on applications or other documents." The move comes amid criticism of the practice, which some colleges have used to make admissions or financial aid choices, rewarding those who seem most likely to enroll. Critics have said that the practice is particularly troublesome given that many applicants don't know how colleges will use the information. The Education Department in August said it would stop sharing this information with colleges.
W. Kent Barnds, executive vice president and vice president for enrollment, communication and planning at Augustana College, wore a sandwich board to the opening night reception at NACAC urging Assembly members to be careful about approving additions to the ethics code. In an interview, he said Augustana does not ask applicants where they are applying and to rank their choices. But he said Augustana does do some things that come close to that, and while he's been assured by NACAC leaders that he would not be violating the ethics code by continuing these practices (which are in place at many colleges), he was worried about seeming to possibly violate the policy.
For example, he said that Augustana asks, postadmission, if the college ranks first, in the top three or top five of an admitted applicant's choices. And Augustana asks applicants placed on the wait list "Are we your first choice and will you enroll if admitted?"
Barnds explained that the rationale for such questions is that they "help prioritize counseling outreach and ensure the others involved in recruiting are focused on those who are most interested." He added, "If we had limitless resources this wouldn't be necessary, but we have to try to be efficient when possible."
As director of admissions at the College of Holy Cross, one of the 80 colleges and universities that have joined to launch the coalition, I am delighted -- and encouraged -- to be part of this effort to improve and reform the college admissions process for all students.
In my 36 years in college admissions, I have seen the stress and angst of students during the college search grow exponentially each year. Many students are under enormous pressure (some of it self-imposed, much of it driven by a marketplace focused on rankings and test scores) to get into the “right” college. Too often, students don’t devote time and energy to truly thinking about who they are, who they want to become and how their choice of college can help them achieve their goals. In addition, too many talented students are opting out of or severely limiting their college search because of the perception that a college is out of their and their family’s financial reach.
The coalition’s online tools promise to alleviate both of those obstacles. That will benefit not only high school students in navigating their search, but also colleges like mine in recruiting and enrolling our classes. The tools will drive students to start the college search much earlier and help in finding a diverse set of colleges and universities that will invest in them financially and academically.
Providing a way to start building a digital portfolio early in their high school career will, I hope, encourage more and more students to give more time and thought to what they want out of college. I also am excited that the application process promises to be a resource for first-generation college students and those from underrepresented groups or low-income households. For example, a student from a low-income background can now use the collaborative platform to invite mentors, advisers, a parent and others to engage in a dialogue. They can provide feedback directly on the platform and let the student know if what he or she is producing is on the right track. I see enormous possibilities for students in these groups to be empowered by the options and flexibility this platform will provide. I also hope that starting earlier in the process will give them a college mind-set.
At Holy Cross, we use a holistic admissions process and evaluate every aspect of an applying student’s background, experience and achievement in order to work toward the diversity of a class and the campus community as a whole. Currently the admissions office evaluates students based on the four-year story they tell us through their transcripts, essays and interviews -- a file that is typically put together in a few months. The coalition tool will allow students to spend even more time and reflection on their applications. The new tool will give high schools across the country a free and sophisticated system that has not been available to them in the past.
At Holy Cross, we are committed to building a campus community that represents diversity in all respects, including cultural, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic and geographic. For us, diversity is a constant work in progress, and we seek students who will thrive in and contribute their talents and perspectives to our community. The coalition’s direction and tools will help us get even better at meeting these goals. These tools -- across the board -- will encourage students to think about college earlier in the process and also help them to find an alternative way to represent themselves beyond essays and SAT scores.
Holy Cross became SAT optional in 2006. Almost 10 years later, I can say with confidence that becoming SAT optional has brought our college very positive results. The first classes to be admitted under the new policy -- beginning with the Class of 2010 -- have been more geographically and ethnically diverse than previous classes. The percentage of ALANA (African-American, Latin American, Asian-American and Native American) students went from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2010 to 24 percent this year.
As a Jesuit institution, Holy Cross places a high value on the unique combination of background, experience and personal qualities in each individual and the opportunity to learn from many life situations. As an alternative to the Common Application, I expect that the coalition’s application will work with our current admissions process in choosing future classes. That being said, it won't be without challenges for our staffing and processes. But we will use those challenges to create opportunities and adapt to the changing admissions needs. I eagerly look forward to reading the applications from students applying to the Holy Cross who opt to use the new platform.
Ann McDermott is director of admissions at the College of the Holy Cross.
Catholic University of America announced Monday that it is dropping a requirement that undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores. “This policy implements the findings of our research: that a student’s academic program in high school and his or her classroom performance are the best predictors of academic success,” said a statement from President John Garvey. “We recognize that standardized tests can sometimes present an impediment to students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. We want to assure all potential applicants to the university that their record of achievement in high school is the foundation of our review for admission.”
Hampshire is the only college that not only doesn't require the SAT, but won't look at applicants' scores. The college is no longer ranked by U.S. News -- and it may have just had its best admissions year ever.
Dartmouth College will no longer be need blind in admitting international students, starting with the next admitted class (the class of 2020). The college had previously been one of a small number of American institutions that didn’t consider financial need in admitting international students under a policy that was in place for the classes of 2012 through 2019.
Dartmouth will continue to meet 100 percent of financial need demonstrated by admitted international students, and remains need blind in admitting U.S. citizens and permanent residents, applicants with refugee or asylum status in the U.S., and undocumented students in the U.S., according to a university spokeswoman.
“Our goal is to increase and stabilize the population of international students on campus, and to enroll a population that is geographically, culturally, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, and which is robust and sustainable. Financial need will be considered as just one of many factors,” Dartmouth’s director of media relations, Diana Lawrence, said in an email.