Like everyone else, I am reflecting on the year with Vielka Hoy Consulting and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you. This year, I met a lot of new clients and potential clients. Learning their needs in finding fit was very eye-opening and led to some revamping of the structure. I also met a lot of different strategies in college access and reconnected with a lot of college access providers that I used to work with. It was great to have a reminder about what we are doing and how changing things up to reach the overall goal is always important. So here goes: 2015 Year in Review!
1) Data, data, data…
I once told a new teacher that teacher-school was about teaching us our process to teaching, not covering all of the subject matter in all of the classes we may teach in our careers. One of those methods is how we analyze data to fit the story we would like history to be. With the 2016 election and police aggression in 2015, we can easily see the role data plays in what we want to believe and how we want to respond. Such is the same for college admissions. So I wanted to take the time to define some of the terms and data sets that came up this year:
Admit percentage: This is the percentage of students who are admitted in a given cycle. So let’s look at Stanford’s 4.9% in the 2015 cycle. 4.9% represents the percentage of students who were admitted last year, but that doesn’t mean only 4.9% of applicants were qualified to apply. Let’s look at the previous year’s profile: The average high school GPA was 4.2 and 96% were in the top 10% of their high school class. My apologies in advance for doing a little Statistics here. If we were to draw what this looks like in a bell curve, using the 4.2 directly in the middle, the curve would be pretty wide in the middle, with a deviation of something around .2 at most. This means a few things: there are students with incredibly high GPAs who are admitted and there are students with much lower percentages who are admitted. It just shows, as admissions officers have been saying for a very long time, that they are looking for something beyond the GPA. Although they could easily fill their freshman classes with top GPA-getters, there is another data point that says why that doesn’t matter as much: 99% of students returned for their sophomore year and 95% of students graduate in six years. This means there is a lot of good happening when the students are there that goes way beyond GPA as an indicator.
While your GPA is important, don’t depend on it so much as to not work on demonstrating character or assuming that would be all you need in order to be admitted to a top-tier school.
Net price: This is probably one of the data points that is super important yet often ignored. Net price is the price that you are actually paying to go to the college, meaning tuition, room and board, minus scholarships and grants. Most people are frightened by the sticker price…as you should be. But here is the rest of the data (let’s keep looking at Stanford). The sticker price is about $60K but 95% of all freshman and 96% of freshman who need it, receive scholarships and grants (NOT loans or other aid that one has to pay back). I have even heard that this percentage is as high as 99% of all freshmen. To keep that going, 23% of all undergrads borrow money in order to attend Stanford and their average cumulative indebtedness is a little over $16K. That may mean that someone is writing a check for that entire amount, but that is literally a someone and no where near the majority of students. Some people laugh when they hear this, but Leland Stanford did found the school with the idea that it would not be cost-prohibitive. This means that their endowment, as large as it is, is dependent on them giving away a lot of money. Some people ask why they just don’t make the sticker price lower, but then they wouldn’t be in compliance with their endowment.
Take a second look at those high sticker price schools with the large endowments and what their net price is compared to the sticker price.
A few weeks ago I received a text that started with, “Hey, Ms. Hoy. How’s it going?” It was wildly suspicious since I knew acceptance letters were coming in. I was crying soon after as the student exploded after being admitted with nearly a full funding package to her dream school. She told me I changed her life, something that I would never take credit for. But I did do a lot in terms of making her believe she could attend a school like that. Long talks in the evenings, text exchanges, and just the occasional positive note while she was working on her application. Those are the intangibles that are critical.
But then there are the tangibles. I listened to what she wanted from her college experience and matched her with a school that met as many of those as possible. Part of that is actually talking to different representatives and getting to know the schools in different ways. It also meant reviewing data sets to no end. I knew she would get in and I knew she would be funded, but I also knew what the school would want to see from her in order to do that, including submitting her application early. I prepped her for her interview and even sat with her as we went page-by-page in the Common Application. I coached in how to ask her teachers for a letter of recommendation, understanding from a teacher perspective how to get strong letters early without offending anyone.
I also employed my best strategic skills because regret is a horrible thing. I’ve encountered enough high-achieving students who did not get admitted to any schools or waited too long and have the huge net price to pay or are sort of floundering and embarrassed around their classmates. My heart broke when I visited some of those students during the winter break. These were students who I didn’t work with, but I was familiar with their situations. All students of color or girls who dropped out of Wellesley, Tulane, and Arizona State by their first year. It was money, or they claimed to not know what they were doing, or they felt too isolated—all things that could have been addressed during the application process. All things that could have been addressed if college counseling is done differently–by looking at admissions as a secondary goal as part of the primary goal–college graduation.
Get a counselor.
3) Race, religion, gender, sexuality, and class
If I were to do a general Year-In-Review, it would include all of the above. Schools tend to be smaller versions of what is happening in the world, meaning it is imperative to evaluate how those larger discussions show up on campuses. I don’t think there is a magic formula to decide if a school is addressing these issues in the correct way, because that way depends on who you are and what you believe. I’ve had my dream of opening a K-12 school, and it would be have a specific framework according to my beliefs on the above. This may not work for everyone. Regarding how schools currently address these issues, I do believe that they should in some way in an effort to truly train young people for the larger world they will enter one day and hopefully impact.
It troubled me to think about the campuses that had a grow a thicker skin approach to talking about race and gender. It troubled me even more when that became a more public argument. I described this to my students using sexual harassment on campus as an example. Schools will take a good amount of time showing mostly women how to respond to sexual assault, and almost no time talking to possible aggressors about not assaulting. We say to the few Black students on a campus to just ignore the nooses hung around campus, but never say to anyone else to stop hanging nooses on campus. Women are told not to wear short skirts to office hours, but professors are not disciplined when they hit on the students. And Muslims are asked to leave or assimilate, but no one was addressed for ripping off a hijab.
Social fit is just as important as academic and financial fit, especially today, in this world we are living in.
Happy new year and all the best in your college endeavors!