The year 2019 did not disappoint those who love change in college admissions. Here are highlights prospective students should be aware of.
Changes to the NACAC Code of Ethics
Last year, the Justice Department stated that the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) rules violated antitrust laws and reduced student choices. In order to preserve the organization (and avoid a costly legal fight), NACAC members reluctantly voted to remove four key protectionary provisions at their annual conference.
How will this impact students?
The deleted protections prevented colleges from offering exclusive incentives to students applying Early Decision (e.g., special housing or scholarships), and rules that prevented colleges from recruiting students once they committed to a college. With the restrictions removed, admission experts predict many colleges will begin “poaching” students after the May 1 deadline in order to fill their classes (May 1st is the enrollment deadline for selective colleges, but an increasingly irrelevant deadline to many others); others predict colleges will raise their deposits in order to avoid being raided by other colleges for their students.
The Admission Scandal and Admission Changes
Of course, the most publicized event of 2019 was the Varsity Blues College Admission Scandal. While there will always be individuals who manipulate the system, the vast majority of those who work in college admissions (including NACAC, HECA, and IECA members) do follow strict ethical guidelines. Time will tell if there will be any positive, systemic changes as a result of the scandal, but many colleges took it as an opportunity (or responsibility) to review admissions policies, especially around recruited athletes.
A recent Bloomberg article reports that Yale, Pomona, and Bowdoin are performing “spot checks” with this year’s application cycle, taking the time to verify information students put in their applications. “Beyond athletics, we will be implementing measures to reduce the risk of fraud in all applications,” Peter Salovey, Yale University’s president, stated in a letter. The goal is to encourage students to be honest – even about the little things.
Standardized Test Changes
The College Board, which administers the SAT, started a firestorm when it revealed last spring that it had been quietly sharing an Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, the “adversity score”) on students’ SAT reports with a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) and that many more colleges (100-150) would be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle.
The adversity score was made up of the average of two rankings, one for the school environment and one for the student’s neighborhood environment. The intent was to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment, thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, were told they would not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.
The announcement immediately sparked a rush of criticism about both the predictive value and fairness of the test. The College Board responded by agreeing to provide additional background information with colleges instead of one arbitrary score, changed the name of the dashboard to the less objective Landscape, and agreed to share details with the public on Landscape’s methodology.
In October, the ACT announced big changes to what it will offer students this fall. Starting with the September 2020 test, the ACT will offer Section Retesting, a listed Superscore, and online full-length tests with faster scoring (two business days).
Section Retesting will allow students to retake one, two, or three sections instead of having to retake the entire test, but is only available to students who have already taken a full-length test. There is no limit to the number of times students can retake sections. While this sounds enticing to ACT test-takers, experts argue it favors the wealthy and will drive up the scoring curve.
The ACT will also be adding a student’s calculated “Superscore” (a composite of a student’s top section scores across multiple test dates) to students’ Section Retesting report. The ACT is strongly encouraging colleges to allow superscoring (which would save families additional fees when sending multiple reports), but colleges set their own policies regarding test scores. It remains to be seen if and how colleges will change their policies in light of ACT’s enhancements.
A coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in November against the University of California, demanding that its nine undergraduate campuses stop requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT results. The group argues that the standardized tests are inherently biased against the poor. If the UC system becomes test optional, many predict this will drastically change the college admission landscape and more colleges would follow. A review of SAT and ACT relevance by a UC task force is expected to conclude by the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
Other Trends in College Admissions
To learn about other trends in College Admissions, read NACAC’s State of College Admission Counseling Report. Highlights include:
-Colleges are increasing their use of selecting Early Decision applicants to fill a large portion of their classes.
-More colleges are offering to put students on their waitlists, but admit very few of them.
-A high Student-to-Counselor ratio remains in schools (in 2016–17 each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 455 students).
-Admission Offices continue to identify grades, high school curriculum, and test scores as top factors for first-time freshmen.
-Colleges, on average, accept 66.7% of their applicants.
Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon and is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready.