No Math, No Admission (It bears repeating….)

The post below is a copy of an editorial I wrote for last year’s counselor edition of the Phoenix Update.  I repeat it here due to continuing concerns regarding math preparation for incoming freshmen. 

No Math, No Admission

For the incoming freshman class of 2008, we saw an unfortuate trend – an unusual number of admissions were rescinded due to the failure of the third required credit of high school math.  It may seem that rescinding admission is a rather drastic response when a student “only” fails (or is missing) a credit of math, especially when the rest of the record is relatively solid.

Well, there’s more to this story than you may realize.  Research by ACT, as well as research on our own campus, indicates a strong correlation between success in math and success in college in general.  The number of  UW-Green Bay freshmen requiring remedial math has increased steadily each year.  It may be too much of a stretch to say that all students struggle in college as a result of inadequate math preparation, but indicators do show a relationship.

Solid research shows that the more math a student takes in high school, the higher their ACT scores will be in math and the less likely they are to need remediation.  We reel strongly that it is not unreasonable to expect an incoming freshman to complete at least three credits of college-prep math (with the understanding that more is better), with the expectation that their eventual college success will be tied to this preparation.

The bottom line:  A student who cannot successfully complete three credits of high school college-prep math is unlikely to be successful at UW-Green Bay.  Therefore, we feel that rescinding admission based on failing required math courses during senior year is not an unreasonable action.  It’s never an easy decision, but it may be a necessary decision.

To rank or not to rank; that is the question….

I hope all of the Shakespeare fans out there forgive me for the title of this entry.  (Hmmm, I was an English major and I’m not sure that I even forgive myself….)

Seriously, during the past two weeks I’ve been at the UW System school counselor workshops around Wisconsin (with brief forays into Minnesota and Illinois).  At every session, the question about rank comes up.  High schools struggle year after year with the question about whether or not to provide rank in class for their students.  Is eliminating rank a good thing or a bad thing for their students?

At UW-Green Bay we have a unique perspective on this question.  We have not collected class rank for several years.  We do not use it in the admission decision.  We do not enter it into our data base.  It is not a factor for us.  Why?  A valid question….

A number of years ago we embarked on a research project to try to identify the sorts of information available upon application that would predict later success at UW-Green Bay.  We defined “success” as both academic success and persistence to graduation.  It turned out that cumulative high school grade point average was a better predictor at UW-Green Bay than was rank in class.  We do not mean to suggest that this would be true at all institutions.  We only found it to be true at  UW-Green Bay.  However, from a statistical perspective (the study was done by our institutional researcher – a data wizard) the results were clear.  GPA was a better predictor of success than rank.  So we went with it, and have been happy with the results.

In reality, the overall profile of our freshman class did not change much after we made the switch.  The average high school GPA for incoming freshmen remained around 3.3; the average ACT hovers between 22 and 23.  So, it’s not that the elimination of rank really changed our profile.  Rather, we may have admitted slightly different students than would have otherwise been the case.  But, again, we are satisfied with the decision and the results.

[On a side note, an interesting thing that we found was that “engagement” (participation in activities outside of the classroom) was an important factor for students who were successful at UW-Green Bay.  Consequently, we started to systematically review students’ levels of engagement in high school as part of our review.  Again, we would not extrapolate that finding to other schools; it was just a significant factor for UW-Green Bay.]

I will also tell you that virtually all of my UW System Admissions Director colleagues disagree with UWGB’s stance regarding rank.  I am clearly the outlier when answering this question at the UW System workshops.  Most of the Directors will tell you that the more information they have when making a decision, the better.  I tell you that in the spirit of full disclosure!  Many of them feel strongly, and speak passionately, about the value of having class rank when making a decision.  It would be remiss of me not tell you that.

Having said all that, let me assure you that the process of making an admission decision is a complex process.  More care goes into the evaluation of applicants than you probably realize.  We all want to admit students who have a good chance of success at our campuses.  It’s possible that we should change our name from the Admissions Office to the Future Alumni Office to recognize that we want to admit students who will be successful at – and graduate from – our campuses. 

To rank or not to rank?  I can’t give you a blanket answer to that question.  But I can assure you that whether we use rank or not, we have the same goal in mind: making the best possible decisions for your students and for our institutions.

The Applicant Statement

I once heard a story (I have no idea if it’s true) about a man who asked President Abraham Lincoln how long a man’s legs should be.  (Apparently the President had long legs and a gangly build.)  President Lincoln allegedly answered, “Long enough to reach the ground.”

 Which leads to one of the first questions I usually hear regarding the applicant statement:  “How long should the applicant statement be?”  Well…long enough to say what needs to be said.  For one person it might be 100 words; for another it might be1000.  It’s a bit of a balancing act, crafting a statement that is complete but not overly wordy.  I think most Admissions people would agree that a good applicant statement can be extremely influential in the application process.  However, I think most would also agree that we don’t really want to read three or four pages – unless the candidate has truly extraordinary circumstances that require extensive explanation.  So, write as much as it takes to say what needs to be said, and then be done. 

 “What should I write about?” is the next most common question.  Well, first, if the instructions tell you what to write about, it’s a good idea to write about that.  For instance, the UW System application asks for applicants to write about which activity is most important to them and why.  There’s a reason for that question, and to over-coach a student undermines the value of that question.  When a student answers that question honestly, it tells us something about that student as a person – what s/he values, what is important to him/her.  And that’s what we want to know about – who is this person applying to our school?  What can we learn about him/her that we cannot learn from the numbers (rank, GPA, test scores)? 

 As for the more open-ended questions, again I have to defer to the individual circumstances of the student.  Certainly, if there are extenuating circumstances that need to be explained, then by all means write about that.  However, some students claim that nothing interesting or unusual has ever happened to them (their parents are healthy, living, and still married; they’ve never been poor or disadvantaged; they’ve received a good education at a good high school…)  That may be true – but it does NOT mean that THEY are not interesting or unusual.  Everyone has circumstances and experiences that shape them – and if those circumstances are healthy and stable, then it’s valid to write about how they have been shaped as people because of their stable environment.

 One other thing that all students should be able to write about is why the school they are applying to is a good fit.  All of us in Admissions want to admit students who will be a good fit for our institutions.  And every student has a reason for applying to the school(s) that they are.  Tell us about those reasons.  Is it the size?  The location?  The major?  Certain extracurricular opportunities?  Did you fall in love with the campus during a visit?  Why is UW-Green Bay the best possible place for you?  And why are you the best possible student for UW Green Bay?

 Finally, make sure the statement is well-written, spell checked, and proofread.  No text abbreviations please.  Be careful with punctuation.  Capitalize appropriately.  We draw conclusions about a student’s academic ability by this writing sample, so it is worthwhile to take care with it.  And finally, if a student composes the statement in Word, then cuts and pastes it into the application, be sure to edit the name of the school for each application!  It is amazing how often applicants forget to do that, and you can bet that the red pen comes out to highlight that blunder before the application gets reviewed!

 If pressed for a short answer to the “What should I write?” question, I would say, “Tell me who you are and how you got to be who you are.”  Everyone has that story to tell.

The Truth About Timing

You know you’re a school counselor if September 15 is more frightening than October 31.

 You know how it goes:  A bazillion anxious seniors descend on your office clamoring for you to fill out the UW System application completion form and mail their transcripts.  “Now!” they shout.  “Now!” the parents shout.  I salute you for not whimpering and crawling under your desk.  (Well, most of you don’t, at any rate….)

 Here’s the reality – IT’S OK TO SLOW DOWN!  And, yes, you can quote me on that.  Back in “the day” – and by that I mean the era of restrictive enrollment management within the UW System – it’s true that there was some urgency for early application.  Campuses did close admission, sometimes as early as January (our record at ‘GB was January 18).  However, it has been years since UW System schools were closing really early.  Many UW campuses this past year were open into the spring and summer months.  At GB we closed on May 18 for most freshmen, with the exception of local students.

 Please understand, I’m not advocating procrastination here, and there are many good reasons to apply and be admitted to “short list” schools by the winter holidays.  It just doesn’t all have to be done on September 15. 

 Seniors have enough on their plates as the school year starts – as do you.  It’s OK to wait until October – and later – to submit an application.  Even uber-competitive Madison assures “equal consideration” for all applicants up until February 1. 

 Now, there’s a caveat here that is very important – at some campuses, some programs have limited enrollment and do close earlier than the general closing date, some have early scholarship deadlines, and some campuses with housing limitations suggest earlier application.  So it’s still important that students do their research for the campus and program they are interested in.  Rest assured, however, that it will be the exception rather than the rule to find it necessary to rush the application. 

 At ‘GB we recommend being admitted by the winter holidays so that students can apply for housing in a timely fashion.  Our housing is in high demand and we generally go into the summer with a housing waiting list.  But, I say it again, October (and November, and most of December) is fine! 

 It may be too late for the seniors – they’ve probably already beaten down your door.  But it’s not too early to start reaching the juniors.

 Wouldn’t it be nice if Halloween went back to being the scariest day of the year?

An Introduction

I once had a strange dream.  In it, I was the winner of America’s Got Talent.  My talent?  Blogging.  This is strange on many levels, but one notable thing was that I had (have) never blogged, much less done it in an award winning-fashion.  And now, here I am…writing a blog.  I’m feeling a little self-imposed pressure….


Anyway, award-winning or not, I’m hoping this blog will provide some useful insights to school counselors.  I’m planning to write about items of interest to you – things that perhaps can be helpful as you work with college-bound students and their parents.  Right now, on my schedule, I have topics like: rigor, timing, the applicant statement, senioritis, things that wait-listed students should know….  The list goes on.  In addition, I’d be glad to hear about topics that you would like covered.  My plan is to blog at least once a week for the whole school year, so there should be plenty of time to cover a lot of territory.  Anything I blog is fair game for you to use in newsletters, programs, etc.  Like I said, I hope it will be useful to you.


I will be covering the UW System School Counselors’ Workshops between September 14 – 25, and will be at all of them.  Please take a moment to say “hi” and chat about any suggestions you might have.  Hope to see you at the workshops!