kitchen table math, the sequel: highly selective colleges

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

highly selective colleges

Here's what I've learned. Not earth shattering, but not completely obvious, either.

First of all, highly selective colleges, at least some of the time, are in competition with each other. In recent years Ed interviewed a boy who was accepted by two Ivy League colleges; his parents then negotiated a better financial package on the strength of the second acceptance. Speaking hypothetically, Harvard doesn't want its admits going to Yale, and Yale doesn't want its admits going to Harvard. (I'm not saying those were the colleges involved in this case.)

Second, one department or area inside a highly selective college or university may be faring better than another. That is to say, one department may be losing a disproportionate share of admits to another highly selective college or university than other departments are losing. I gather admissions departments track these things.

If that's the case and your child is interested in that area, he or she might have a better chance of being accepted than the global admit rate implies.

I don't know whether this information is "actionable," but I think it might be. For instance, it might be possible to find out figures on the number of majors a department has had going back over the past 10 years, say. If the department has seen a drop in majors, it is probably looking for students. (Obviously, academic departments don't make admissions decisions. Nevertheless, it appears to me that colleges want all departments to have students.)

I suspect college magazines may have useful information to share as well. Retirements of famous professors, for instance. When a well-known professor retires, the department loses a drawing card.

Another thing to look for: new programs being developed. It strikes me that new programs might imply a higher admit rate early on for interested students. And new programs will almost have to pull majors away from other departments, which may shift the odds for students headed towards those departments as well.

No other thoughts at the moment.

5 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Usually brand-new programs are more selective, as they've just gotten a lot of publicity and don't have much capacity. Three years later, their capacity has generally gone up and they are no longer getting publicity for being the shiny new thing. Then their selectivity drops.

Many admissions officers pay no attention at all to what program students say they want to join, as most students don't end up declaring the major they said they would.

One exception is engineering schools, where if you don't declare your major in your first year, you are going to take more than 4 years.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Indicating interest in a major in an undersubscribed field only tends to work if someone really has already shown very substantial commitment to/achievement in that field (e.g. a budding archaeology major has volunteered at a natural history museum for the past four years). It's also not the sort of thing that will boost a borderline candidate to the admit pile. But if you're relatively close to the top of the pool academically and/or extracurricularly, it could give an admissions officer a reason to push for you. I've worked with kids who tried to play that card at schools they weren't cut out for (despite my advice to the contrary), and none of them ever got in.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Indicating interest in a major in an undersubscribed field only tends to work if someone really has already shown very substantial commitment to/achievement in that field (e.g. a budding archaeology major has volunteered at a natural history museum for the past four years). It's also not the sort of thing that will boost a borderline candidate to the admit pile. But if you're relatively close to the top of the pool academically and/or extracurricularly, it could give an admissions officer a reason to push for you. I've worked with kids who tried to play that card at schools they weren't cut out for (despite my advice to the contrary), and none of them ever got in.

Catherine Johnson said...

Usually brand-new programs are more selective, as they've just gotten a lot of publicity and don't have much capacity.

Interesting.

Makes sense.

Catherine Johnson said...

Indicating interest in a major in an undersubscribed field only tends to work if someone really has already shown very substantial commitment to/achievement in that field

We're seeing something different having to do with yields - and not having to do with borderline students (although we would have considered C. borderline for the school that has approached him).

However, the reason we considered C. borderline is that we'd read one too many (or 10 or 20 too many) Tiger Mom stories.

Ed has now had time to talk to various people working in university admissions. The "yield" issue is important, and it's not necessarily what we see from our vantage point.