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College admissions is already a high-stakes, daunting process. There are so many moving parts students have to deal with: essays, letters of recommendation, financial aid, interviews, standardized testing — not to mention keeping up with high school classes and activities.
In my previous role as a college counselor for Bottom Line (a college access and success program for first-generation, low-income students), I worked with a cohort of high school students from start to finish in their application process. I was there to answer questions, give responsible advice, help make college accessible, and ease the stress of the process. My students were often worried about making mistakes -- as evidenced by the countless frantic phone calls and emails I would receive -- and now I have to wonder if their biggest mistake was trusting that their applications would be reviewed fairly.
I asked several of the students I worked with what they made of the situation.
For Kimberlee Cruz, a student I counseled in high school and college, having to worry about the FAFSA position would have been a huge concern. “It would have stressed me out, to worry that my fifth choice could have given me terrible aid just because I didn’t list them first. What if I didn’t get into my first choice? Would that mean I would have no options with good aid?”
Financial aid was the most important part of the application process for Cruz, a junior at Worcester State University, as well as the part that was most confusing. “Regardless of the position, you’re interested in the school; otherwise, it wouldn’t be on your FAFSA.”
Most of the students I have worked with wouldn’t think twice about the order they listed colleges on the FAFSA. For some, sure, it was probably in the order of their preference, but for others, maybe the order was alphabetical, geographical, FAFSA code numerical (O.K., probably not that last one, but you get the idea).
And why should they think twice? There’s not any indication on FAFSA that the order matters or that it will be shared.
Daniel Figueiredo, another former student, was shocked to find out that some colleges use information in this manner. “I think it’s completely unethical. To infer something like preference based on a list, it’s sneaky and can really mess up someone’s future -- it shouldn’t be evaluated.”
Figueiredo, a senior at Worcester State, said that he applied to a few reach colleges at the last minute, institutions he wasn’t sure he could get into but wanted to try. “I thought, what the heck, I’ll do it. Maybe I had a chance, but I put them farther down on my FAFSA list since I added them to my list later than some more attainable schools. I did get waitlisted for two of them, and now I’m wondering if the FAFSA position played a role.”
What students should focus on with the FAFSA is having accurate information, having all their colleges added, and meeting all of the priority deadlines. Financial aid can be confusing enough for students and their families, and for many, the weight of their future completely rests on the aid packages that schools offer.
Throwing FAFSA position in the mix is another step for applicants to remember, another potential barrier to access. And I wonder, would an alphabetical or random order even make a difference, or would schools interpret the list as preferential anyway?
Maybe it’s just me, but a college taking its FAFSA position into consideration for admissions and aid decisions seems like a popularity contest. I know that colleges want to fill their classes, that admissions recruiters have goals to meet, that everyone wants the best and the brightest to want to attend their institution. But holding a FAFSA position against a student -- especially since many students don’t realize that something so arbitrary could greatly affect them -- seems in direct opposition to the ultimate goal of getting students to attend and graduate from college.
If FAFSA continues to share this information, colleges engaging in this practice really need to reconsider their position on student access and success. And students thinking about applying to these institutions might want to reconsider as well.
Ali Lincoln is a project director for TVP Communications, a national public relations agency with expertise in higher education.
Brevard College, in North Carolina, has become the latest institution to stop requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. A statement from President David C. Joyce said: “Numbers rarely tell a student’s whole story, and we believe this new holistic approach will open our doors even wider to talented and deserving students who will thrive in Brevard’s exceptional academic atmosphere.”
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 14, 2014 - 3:00am
The National Student Clearinghouse on Tuesday released a broad data set on students' transition from high school to college. The nonprofit group's report, which is the second annual installment, tracked 3.5 million students from public and private high schools over four years. It found that students from low-income high schools were more likely to attend community colleges, with almost half of that group's college enrollment being in the two-year sector.
U.S. News and World Reporthas announced that it will release its first global ranking of universities on Oct. 28. U.S. News plans to publish a global ranking of the top 500 universities across 49 countries, as well as four regional, 11 country-level, and 21 subject area-specific rankings.
The Best Global Universities ranking will be based on reputational data, bibliometric indicators of academic research performance, and data on faculty and Ph.D. graduates. Robert Morse, U.S. News’s chief data strategist, said that there will be no cross-over of data between the publication's longstanding ranking of American colleges and the new global ranking, which will rely on data from Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters also provides data for the global university ranking compiled by Times Higher Education (THE).
“What we’re doing is completely, 100 percent independent from THE,” Morse said. “It’s our methodology, our choice of variables, our choice of weights, our choice of how the calculations are done, our choice of how the data’s going to be presented.”
U.S. News is entering into territory dominated by three major global university rankings: those produced by Times Higher, the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, and QS. “I think it’s natural for U.S. News to get into this space,” Morse said. “We’re well-known in the field for doing academic rankings so we thought it was a natural extension of the other rankings that we’re doing."
Morse pointed out that U.S. News will also be the first American publisher to enter the global rankings space (Times Higher and QS are both British, while the Shanghai rankings originate in China). Noting that to date there hasn’t been much interest among the general American public in global university rankings (as opposed to U.S.-specific ones), Morse said, “maybe people will pay more attention to the ones we do.”
U.S. News and World Reportannounced Wednesday that some data that two colleges had submitted for the most recent rankings was incorrect. For one of the institutions, Lindenwood University, the correct data would have resulted in a different rating, so the magazine moved the institution to its "unranked" category. In Lindenwood's case, it added the numeral 1 in front of the correct number of alumni donors used in the magazine's calculation of the alumni giving rate. When the correct figure of 2,411 was used, instead of 12,411, the giving rate dropped from 37.5 percent to 11.9 percent. The correction for the other institution -- Rollins College -- did not change its ranking. Rollins had reported admitting 2,233 students, when it really admitted 2,783. That change increased the acceptance rate from 47.2 percent to 58.8 percent.
In recent years, several colleges have admitted to sending U.S. News incorrect data intentionally. But via email, Robert Morse, who leads the rankings effort at U.S. News, said that these were "honest mistakes" caused by "one-off, one-time sloppy reporting."