kitchen table math, the sequel: No more fat versus small envelope surprises

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No more fat versus small envelope surprises

T-minus seven hours and counting. It's like the owls in Harry Potter when the electronic acceptances (or rejections) come in. However, he already has an acceptance, a rejection, and a waitlist (polite rejection), and the acceptance comes with no aid. Thank you out-of-state universities! The scholarships they do give won't come until summer after you have committed. Had I known... So as of now, he isn't going to college next fall. Sooooo many students seem to be rejected or waitlisted so far this year. Students are having trouble getting into "likely" schools (unless they pay full price). Likely and reach school admittances seem to have little to do with academics at all levels, and some schools might reject you because they think they are a safety. If a school can reject you for whatever holistic reason they want, then students can't reliably know what "reach" means. What is the probability of being rejected at all of your schools? My son applied to 10, and I'm thinking that it wasn't enough.

31 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

We've heard from 4 out of 8 so far. His 2 safeties have accepted him, and his 1st and 4th choice have rejected him. Other that the safeties, we estimated the expected number of acceptances as between 1 and 2, so are not too discouraged yet (though it is too bad about his first choice rejecting him, as it seemed like a perfect fit for him). We'll know more next week.

If he only gets into the safeties, he is considering doing a gap year to continue work on the startup company he's been spending half his time on this year. It looks like they'll need another year to finish the engineering, which would be difficult if he was a full-time student.

SteveH said...

We are waiting on 5 today and 2 more on Tuesday. For our son, "safety" really is hard to define, and there is no difference between likely and reach. Well "likely" is meaningless or unknowable.

I'm hearing about more kids who pick likely schools by academics (75th percentile) and don't get in. There is nothing about their ECs that they can point to. I'm not talking about Ivy League schools. Boston College has an admittance rate of only 29%. Northeastern has an admittance rate of 32%. There is no such thing as "likely" anymore. Actually, safety schools really should be called "likely". Students get advice from parents and counselors who don't know how things have changed. I read an article about how Yale's application numbers have doubled in 10 years. Many of them might be at a big reach level, but if they get into the academic bucket, then everything opens up and academic distinctions are reduced.

Hernandez, in her book "A is for Admission" talks about Dartmouth (10+) years ago and claims that if your AI was 230 or greater, then your chances of being accepted were 94%. Even if that was true then, it's nothing like that now. You would be lucky to get to a 20% chance.



"it is too bad about his first choice rejecting him"

Is this the school that is accepting 125 less students this year because one of their dorms is "offline"?

Anonymous said...

Just saw this from my alma mater (they did accept oldest kid, but he didn't want to go there, second kid didn't apply): http://admissions.tufts.edu/blogs/inside-admissions/post/selectivity/

On a brighter note, my son's out-of-state state school DID offer him money before summer. I'd been hassling him to call them before he said yes officially to see about the scholarships he seemed likely to get. Before he got around to it, they did send him the scholarship offers.

ChemProf said...

My sense is that things have gotten a lot more random ("holistic") at any place that accepts 1/3 or fewer of its applicants. At that point, academics stop being a great guide because almost all the applicants are strong. At "moderately selective" schools, who admit 1/2 to 2/3 of their applicants, the published 75 percentile numbers are more useful, but those are going to be safety schools for most parents at KTM (although those are also the places that you get lots of merit aid, and I can definitely make an argument for many of them as good schools).

Grace said...

"The scholarships they do give won't come until summer after you have committed. "

Do you mean you won't know the amount of scholarships until then? I'm unfamiliar with institutional scholarships that work this way. Usually an applicant will know award amounts before he has to commit.

Anonymous said...

I think this year has been exceptionally brutal. My son was rejected at two high ranking liberal arts colleges, rejected at UW-Madison (which doesn't send rejection letters and offers up in their electronic portal message that they hope you understand their commitment to saving resources), wait listed at one, accepted at four (but of course the one I like the best offered 0 aid) and is waiting on one that should be posted no later than tomorrow night. He wanted to apply early decision but he can't attend a private school without some merit aid. So far he had two reasonable awards, I hope his first choice school a. accepts him and b. provides some cash.

SteveH said...

"things have gotten a lot more random ("holistic") at any place that accepts 1/3 or fewer of its applicants"

Admissions people would not call it random, but this is exactly(!) what I see, and that would include a LOT of schools. This is not a problem of kids wanting to get into the glamorous schools. I see it with places like BU. Nobody knows what reach or likely means because the criteria have really shifted. So what happens, even in the lower tier schools, is that admissions people have far more control and apply their holistic - not so academic - thought process.

The results of tonight's massacre among my son's friends was brutal. No, no, no, waitlist, no, no, no. These were not academic reaches for these students. It's awful. Although this was the Ivy League night, I see it going on at much lower levels. My son was lucky or whatever. Three yeses, one no, and one waitlist. I couldn't possibly explain why. We were seriously preparing for noes or waitlists. Seriously.

SteveH said...

"Do you mean you won't know the amount of scholarships until then?"

That's what financial aid told me when I contacted them. My son did get a scholarship offer from the math department today, but it was only for $2500 per year. However, he could get some other merit money from the college. I will have to study it more.

SteveH said...

My son loves Tufts, but I'm betting they will reject him. It's perhaps moot now.

From the Tufts link:

"In fact, 72 percent of our applicants were evaluated as qualified for admission to Tufts based on the academic credentials we reviewed; 43 percent were “very qualified."

Forty three percent are "very qualified", but their acceptance rate this year is 17.4 percent. BTW, Tufts did not want my son's music supplement. They basically said that they did not care how good he was. Tufts is a very funny bird.


"We asked, “How does this student enhance the academic and residential community we are creating?”"

I've heard over and over that schools don't want well-rounded students. They want oblong students (ha ha). They will then put the oblong pieces together to create a well-rounded class. The problem is that there will be few intersections between those pieces.

Auntie Ann said...

We need a second land-grant style wave of new universities and colleges. There are too few places and too many people applying. Back when I was applying to college in the mid 80's Yale (which I didn't apply to) had about 3,000 applicants for 1,000 places. Today the number of places has remained the same, but the number of applicants is now around 30,000.

Katherine Beals' left-brained kids, those who are less likely to be participating in lots of extra-curriculars, are often unwanted. Schools look for "leadership potential" which leaves the introvert behind.

I wish everybody luck! We faced the same thing this year with middle school applications and were also disappointed.

allison said...

Best of luck for a good outcome!

I should have been a waitress before college. A real job where I had to learn how to just show up on time, deal with difficult people, and realize what I actually liked before heading off to drink from a fire hose.

If your son waits a year, it will be a fantastic chance to learn how much of what he wants isn't based on academics anyway, but hard work and persistence. College doesn't cultivate much if any virtue in young adults these days. Work still can. Older and wiser before heading to school helps focus the mind quite well.

VickyS said...

Sounds like your son will have some good choices, Steve, if I read you correctly. Congrats to him!

For those that want, or need, a "plan B," there are some less traditional options that might be of interest. One of my boys attends a math/computer science oriented Canadian university. The application deadline is March 31. Tuition is reasonable, and the education is great. My other boy, who graduated from high school last year, targeted less selective, out of state public universities with good physics programs. Most of those have rolling deadlines well into the spring. He got a nice merit package at a school with a solid record of getting undergrads into grad school. Very satisfied so far. Neither of these institutions would have been a typical choice for their peers (or a college counselor).

Anonymous said...

@"Auntie Ann"
"Back when I was applying to college in the mid 80's Yale (which I didn't apply to) had about 3,000 applicants for 1,000 places. Today the number of places has remained the same, but the number of applicants is now around 30,000"

And yet I read that just over 60% of 2012 HS grads are attending college. I suppose if everyone if applying to 500 colleges each, it makes sense.

Anonymous said...


"Back when I was applying to college in the mid 80's Yale (which I didn't apply to) had about 3,000 applicants for 1,000 places. Today the number of places has remained the same, but the number of applicants is now around 30,000"

And yet I read that just over 60% of 2012 HS grads are attending college. I suppose if everyone if applying to 500 colleges each, it makes sense.



Yale has an admit rate of about 8% (not 3%).

UNLV has an admit rate of about 81%.

And many of the folks in that 60% are going to their local community college.

The other thing to remember is that for the top-tier US colleges, there are a lot more foreign kids applying that 30 years ago. For directional-state-university ... not so much.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"We need a second land-grant style wave of new universities and colleges. There are too few places and too many people applying."

The US has something like 3,000 colleges. After the top 50 or 100, getting in isn't super difficult. The "problem" here is the huge demand for slots at the top 10, 20, 30, whatever. Creating a bunch of new universities (on top of the 3,000 or so we already) have isn't going to make getting in to the top few any easier.

And it isn't like we can create a new Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Whatever from scratch.


-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

Part of it is the college-for-all mentality. Another part is the demand from overseas. I've read about private high schools that cater to overseas students to prepare them for US colleges. And part of it is the Common App.

The competition causes high school students to try to be super students academically and with extra-curricular activities. These are students who don't know or care about CC. They split from the CC track by their freshman year at the very latest. These are not necessarily Ivy League wannabees. Many are kids who are thrilled to get into schools like BU or Northeastern.

The bigger problem is that students don't know what a reach or likely school is. That's generally done using SAT scores and some idea of the strength of an extra-curricular activity. And most people think that academics is the dominant variable, but it isn't, if you are in the bucket.

When Princeton rejected my son yesterday, they wrote that "most" of their applicants were "admissible". "Most." Envision a bucket of these applications that they mix around as relatively equal, but who gets to decide which one of five or more gets accepted? Admissions people, and these are NOT STEM people. I could see that oh so clearly when I went to their info sessions. At Tufts, the young admissions person went on about how, after pre-calc, he really wasn't thrilled by math (didn't do well), but there were many ways to fulfill math requirements in their curriculum.


Admissions people also claim to know enough to make holistic decisions, yet they limit recommendations, two of which are from (typically junior year) teachers who don't know you very well, and one is from the guidance counselor, who may not know you at all. My son wasn't allowed to include a recommendation by his chamber music coach who knew him from sixth grade. It's superficial holism of very massaged applications.

Most people blame students for over-reaching, but that's not what's going on here. The problem is that colleges are not providing enough numbers on their holistic selection process to give students any sense of what is likely or a reach. Colleges need to put more numbers on things like slots for sports or other areas they are promoting. They need to give detailed data on academics versus admittance so that students can see (within their bucket) whether they favor academics or other things. Some schools favor academics a little more than others. Yale asked for AMC and AIME scores. Yale said yes.

Auntie Ann said...

I talked about the buckets with our kids and 7-12 schools too. Our 11 year old doesn't fit in many buckets--he has solid academics and plays clarinet really well, but most of the schools don't really care about music. Around here, the only extra-curricular the schools really seem to care about is athletics--and neither of our kids is athletic.

Meanwhile we have a friend who is definitely in the basketball star bucket (including a Nike travel team)--he got in with much lower test scores.

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that colleges are not providing enough numbers on their holistic selection process to give students any sense of what is likely or a reach."

The colleges' incentives are actually to the contrary: their ranking depends on how selective they are, so they have an incentive to increase the number of applications, which decrease their selectivity rate.

Froggiemama said...

I don't get what is going on. My administration keeps telling us that the number of traditional college age kids is plummeting. I understand that this does not affect the elites so much, but Northeastern??? How many tiers down do you have to go to start seeing the number of applicants shrinking in line with the shrinking demographics?

SteveH said...

"... but most of the schools don't really care about music."

Yes, one gets better mileage out of sports - if you are in the need range for that college. At least you can get some feedback about that from the coach. There is no such feedback (or advocate) for other areas.



"The colleges' incentives are actually to the contrary:"

Indeed. It's a problem for students, not schools. I'm seeing the extraordinary angst it's causing - and unnecessary expense.

SteveH said...

"...the number of traditional college age kids is plummeting. I understand that this does not affect the elites so much, but Northeastern???"

Back when my son was a freshman, his guidance counselor warned students and parents about what was happening at colleges like Northeastern. I've heard that demand is about at its peak, but people were predicting the peak a few years ago.

Even Boston University is using the same elitist advertising. My son got mail from them that showed three happy students on the cover. One was a National Merit Scholar, one had a top GPA, and one had 5's on AP classes (or something like that). The ad said that only one of these students got into BU. Come to our open house to find out why and what you can do to show yourself in your best light. I saved the letter, but I can't find it right now.

cranberry said...

"...the number of traditional college age kids is plummeting. I understand that this does not affect the elites so much, but Northeastern???"

Froggiemama, there's a strong increase from international applicants.

Northeastern has grown much more competitive. I think their Coop program is in line with the times. Getting work experience in a planned fashion while in college is popular.

kcab said...

Congrats to your son, SteveH, and good luck to all for admissions & financial aid.

Thanks for the reminder about Canadian universities, VickyS. My daughter is a junior and loves cold weather so I think I need to make the suggestion to her. Not that anything I say is heard or acted on...

momof4 said...

One of my kids swam with a kid who went to McGill, in Montreal, and was very happy there. I don't know specifics, but he had a reputation for very strong academics, in an area where that was raised to an art form.

For those liking hot weather, the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, (the flagship campus) has a great Honors College, which includes upper-division courses (unusual) and has generous scholarships for kids in the HC - lovely housing on the historic Horseshoe (original campus, ca 1801) too. I don't think my kid had a class larger than 25 and he triple-majored - and no TAs. He had many classes of less than 10.

Auntie Ann said...

Here's Yale's own numbers for this year. They actually take 2,000 students:

---------

http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2014/02/04/record-high-applications-for-class-of-2018/

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yale received a record-high total of 30,922 applications for the class of 2018, cracking the 30,000 mark for the first time.

The number of applications the University receives each year has doubled since 2002 when about 15,000 students applied to be a part of the class of 2006. This year’s application total marks a 4.4 percent increase over last year’s application count of 29,611. Because Yale expects to admit the same total number of students as it did last year — about 2,000 — the acceptance rate this year will likely drop below last year’s 6.72 percent. The University’s acceptance rate for its early action program this year was 15.5 percent — 735 students were accepted out of 4,750 early applicants.

SteveH said...

"They actually take 2,000 students"

For 2012/2013 Yale admitted 2043 students for a final class size of 1356 (66% yield). They took 70 off of the waiting list. Their Common Data Set doesn't say how many were on the waiting list, but some report that it was in the range of 900. Many colleges are like that. It doesn't cost them anything to put you on the waiting list. Many of my son's friends, however, did not even get on waiting lists of schools where their academics were easily over the 50 percent SAT accepted range. It's one thing to deal with competition and reality, but another to have the information to do so.

Cornell has some breakdowns that could give potential students more "likely" information:

http://dpb.cornell.edu/documents/1000001.pdf

VickyS said...

A pitch for Canadian universities. Most Americans know about McGill. However, there are many other excellent Canadian universities--and they are more affordable than many comparable US schools, even at international student rates. U of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and for the math types, University of Waterloo, are worth looking at. Also, it seems you get into your major courses more quickly in the Canadian system which is a plus for kids who know what they want academically.

Now about international students coming to the US--there has been an increase in international undergraduates coming our way, whereas the entry point for international students used to be graduate school. My kids actually went to a high school here in the US in which 90% of the students were foreign exchange students (mostly Asian), here on student visas, aiming to attend US universities. They shoot for the top schools (Ivies or major public universities), no doubt making admissions more competitive. Interestingly, our strong Liberal Arts Colleges system (LAC), which does attract some Canadian and European interest, isn't very popular with the Asian population.

SteveH said...

"University of Waterloo"

Yes. I knew it as a hotbed for the mathematical aspects of computer graphics - Richard Bartels. I completely forgot about that. Oh well. Do your homework.

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