Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is admissions an arms race?

And if so, are we "disarming" this year?

Princeton has decided to follow Harvard and get rid of early admissions, a practice that they believe disadvantages low-income students, who, when they are bound to a particular college, cannot compare financial aid decisions between colleges. The funny thing is, though, that Harvard does not practice early decision. Harvard is single-choice early action, which is non-binding.

The only conclusion I can draw is that they are not making this change as Harvard and Princeton, but as "Harvard" and as "Princeton," in hopes that other universities will follow suit. The University of Delaware actually declared that it would abandon early admission last May, but it did not get nearly the press coverage that Harvard and Princeton are getting. It also took a conference in June among presidents of highly selective universities to seriously call early admissions into question.

However, there is a general tone of anxiety in college admissions right now that is leading many universities to want to call even more practices into question, such as the pervasiveness of merit scholarships or tuition discounting, or the very value of hyper-selective admissions. The New York Times article on Princeton's decision brings some of these issues to light. Why do we need to apply to colleges that we probably won't get into? Why do schools feel the need to give huge sums of money to students who are perfectly capable of paying themselves, to the detriment of low-income students? Both students and colleges feel intense pressure, the students to get into top colleges, and the colleges to attract those top students.

I think that an even more dramatic and beneficial move than nixing early admission would be if all colleges were required to give out financial aid money to needy students only.

But there is also a tendency in the media to overemphasize the amount of pressure and prep in the college admissions process. Less than one half of one percent of all students are probably getting professional coaching outside of their appointed college counselor. The media is also slow to see the benefits of a private counselor. In most of the country, there is only one college counselor for 500 students. In California, my territory, there is one college counselor for every 1000 students. Some counseling services are extremely affordable, and can be very helpful for students whose parents didn't go to college, or who are the first in their generation to navigate this new system.

What are your thoughts on the current state of college admissions?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Alumni interview requests are now available

As of today, first-year applicants can log into the online application and request an alumni interview. If you already have an account, you can just enter your username and password and click "Request an alumni interview."

If you have not created an account yet, just go to the online application and click "First-Year Applicant" or "Transfer Applicant," whichever describes your situation. Fill out the Basic Information Form, and click "Continue" until you get to your homepage. There, you will see the "Request an alumni interview" link.

What happens after you check that box and click "Save"? The request gets sent to our servers in the office, where Zach Rankaitis ('07), our geographic matching genius, has written a code to match you by latitude and longtitude with the Alumni Schools Committee chair nearest you. There are around 2,000 ASC volunteers, with maybe 50 chairs sprinkled around the world. The ASC chair gets an email with your information, and forwards it to one of their volunteers. You will also get an email confirming your request. The interviewer is instructed to contact the student within 10 days of getting the email, but, of course, not everything always goes according to plan. Still, we are able to meet about 70% of interview requests.

What if your request is not met? Students who live in the Chicago area will get an email telling them to schedule an interview at the office, since they are within driving distance. Students who are in areas with no ASC volunteer nearby (such as me, when I was growing up) will get an email saying that we do not have a volunteer available. I have to say that it was very strange to get a letter from the University of Chicago saying that there were no alumni within 75 miles of my home -- I finally realized how rural I truly was.

Early action applicants must make their requests by October 13. Regular notification applicants must make their requests by December 15.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The mid-September lull

Things are pretty slow as the staff slowly trickles away and we are waiting for the campus to liven up again.

It's been a while since the last update, but, honestly, folks, not that much is happening. We just got back from our staff retreat this week, where we had our first book club meeting about The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, by Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel. We read the last three chapters, mostly about Bakke and affirmative action, but also summing up Karabel's arguments and his thoughts for the future. A lot of us also read the first section, about the birth of selective admissions.

Hidden history? Probably not, but many people are shocked about the extent of anti-Semitism in universities at the beginning of the 20th century. The end of the book wasn't so shocking, but gave us food for thought as we discussed our own admissions practices.

Kate Spelman is the first to head out for travel this Saturday. She'll be making a swing through Texas and will send a blog entry or two about what that's like. Melissa Meltzer will also be in Texas for the Dallas fairs this weekend, and Ted will be visiting a school or two in the middle of the week.

This year we have five new staff members -- Kate, who graduated from the College with a degree in anthropology and linguistics this year; Colin Melinda Johnson, who is finishing her PhD in English and who has been interviewing for us for five years (so, not that new); Jon Quinn, who graduated from the College in 2004 and has been working at the Museum of Contemporary Art until now; Zarinah James, who came to us from Penn to be our minority student recruiter and our counselor for Chicago schools; and Mary, who comes to us from work with non-profit organizations and will be our marketing strategy director. She will also read applications from Missouri, where she's from. Once Zarinah and Mary get email addresses, they'll start appearing as your counselor in the upper part of the Uncommon Application. This should happen in ths next few weeks.

Today football opens and women's soccer opens at home. I'm gathering a group of alumni to do some grilling and watch the games. This Week in Pictures hasn't been updated for a few weeks, so I hope I get a chance to put some photos up there.

New students arrive on the 16th, and everyone else two Mondays later. It will be so nice to see the students and parents I met during the 2005-2006 cycle finally arriving on campus. Some of them are already here -- first-year and soccer player Alex Takakuwa made what my friend Omar Al-Ubaydli called "the best goal ever made by any Maroon" during their first game against Kalamazoo, which we won 4-1. Omar and Sean Ahmed, long-time editor of the Maroon sports section, have a blog about UChicago sporting events, and you can watch Alex's goal, and everyone else's from that game.