The Edge Our college admission blog

The Unlevel Playing Field

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 29, 2015

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The New York Times recently published an excellent article entitled “You Draw It: How Family Income Affects Children’s College Chances.”  What’s particularly unique about this piece is that it’s interactive – before delving into the meat of the article, there’s a small exercise for the reader to complete, wherein he/she is asked to guess the likelihood of children from families of various income levels attending college.  Once you draw your line on their graph, the rest of the article materializes and the information revealed is quite sobering.  I don’t want to give it all away, but suffice to say that there is definitely a relationship between parental income rank and the likelihood of college enrollment by their children.  Now, this opens the door on a whole slew of issues surrounding not only income inequality and the ever-growing gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States, but also inequality of opportunity and, associated with this, inequality as it relates to social capital*.  Given that many tout education as a crucial component of the cure for these social ailments, and rightfully so, it’s worth noting that the system often functions in such a way that those from wealthier backgrounds have distinct advantages throughout the college admissions process.  For example, from another New York Times article, consider these numbers, comparing the family incomes of SAT test takers with their average scores:

SAT and Income from College Board

While inequality is a complex and multifaceted problem with no one “fix-all” solution, there are attempts being made to make the playing field more level.  For instance, in terms of test prep services, there is an admirable new partnership between the College Board and Khan Academy that “directly addresses one of the greatest inequities around college entrance exams: the culture of high-priced test preparation.”  Admitster also seeks to address inequalities, and we do so by providing a wealth of information alongside powerful college admissions tools that everyone can access, regardless of background or family income.  When you take advantage of the current free registration at Admitster, you gain use of the company’s very-cool Acceptance Predictor and ‘What If?’ Engine, both of which help you to determine your best strategy for getting into the schools of your choice.  Further information on the ‘What If?’ Engine, and how this tool can be of great use to you, is coming to a blog near you (yes, this one) soon!    

* For more information on social capital, see the Harvard University’s Kennedy School Saguaro Seminar website.

Things That Aren’t Enough

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 19, 2015

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I’d like to turn your attention to an opinion piece that was published on CNN, entitled Low Cost College Isn’t Enough. The author makes this excellent point: “Affordable college doesn’t matter if the college they can afford isn’t designed to help vulnerable students succeed. The exclusive focus on cost misses the equally important question of quality.”

Now, there are many ways to measure quality in higher education, but as a high school junior or senior, you should perk up when you hear the words “graduation rate” mentioned on a college tour or when your eyes skim across them on a college website. You see, getting into college isn’t enough. Showing up to start your freshman year isn’t enough. Proudly wearing your school’s sweatshirt or baseball hat isn’t enough. In order to make the years of studying pay off, you also need that diploma in-hand on graduation day. As such, whether colleges and universities do an excellent job of graduating their students should be high on your “to consider” list when thinking about the schools to which you’d like to apply. As The College Board points out, “If the college’s students normally graduate on time, you are also more likely to graduate on time.”

A great tool for checking out graduation rates at different colleges around the country is College Results Online – just enter the schools you’re interested in and voila! Another great resource for investigating graduation rates, and other crucial college statistics, is the College Scorecard – click here to learn more about it! Using either resource you will, in the blink of an eye, have the numbers you need to better assess the quality of your prospective colleges.

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The Details of Design

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 12, 2015

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You’re going to be hearing a lot about the new SAT, coming to a test-taking center near you in March of 2016, and the debate on whether it’s an improvement will be heated.  But debate is important, as is a serious reflection on the test’s changes.  Recently, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled, The Big Problem with the New SAT.  I whole-heartedly agree with criticisms discussed by the authors.

My takeaways:

  • Though the content is revised, the new test is still designed to produce a bell-curve distribution of scores. This means that you will still be ranked compared to others taking the test rather than having your performance measured against a fixed academic standard.
  • This is problematic because small differences in correct answers can still have a large impact on scores, so those who can afford expensive test-prep services will continue to have an edge over their less affluent peers.

The College Board and Khan Academy have teamed up to make new SAT test-prep materials free and accessible to all (“a future determined by merit, not money”, an admirable goal) but until the underlying design of the test is altered, the college admissions playing field will remain noticeably unleveled.  The coming launch of the new SAT may well be a situation of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, and time alone will tell how it plays out.  In the meantime, did you know that there are test-optional schools out there?  Check out: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

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