It’s Less of a Formula Than You Might Imagine

I was meeting with a group of families today who had come to check out UW-Green Bay.  For our campus visits, families typically meet with an admissions representative for about an hour prior to going on tour.  One of the topics we cover is admission guidelines, and the admission decision-making process.  I commented to the group that it’s a very comprehensive process, and “less of a formula than you might imagine.”

 One very perceptive mom, who was viewing our “admissions grid,” raised her hand and challenged me on that statement.  She said it seemed that students within certain parameters were virtually automatic admits.  (Indeed, students with a combination of high ACT plus high GPA are admitted at a very high rate.)  That’s not the whole story, though.

 As I explain this farther, let me first list some of the different things we take into consideration when making an admission decision:

  • Grade Point Average: At UW-Green Bay, we use cumulative GPA (rather than rank) during our admission evaluations.  (See my previous post regarding rank.) 
  • Grade Trends: Has the applicant’s GPA gone up or down over the high school years?  Or has it been consistent?  (Consistent or up is what we’re looking for.)
  • Grade Distribution: In what subject areas does the student have the strongest grades?  Are they in core college-prep areas?  Elective areas?  Is the distribution even throughout?  If a student has all A’s in physical education and D’s in English, the GPA  might not be bad, but the GPA doesn’t reflect academic performance in that case.  That’s why the distribution is important.
  • Rigor (especially senior year):  See the blog post from October 13 for extensive coverage of the rigor issue.
  • Applicant Statement(s):  Can we tell from the statement(s) if the student will be a good “fit” at our campus?  Is the statement about choosing UW-Green Bay because if its outstanding Environmental Science major (which is true), or is it about choosing UW-Green Bay for its outstanding Interior Design major (which we don’t have at all)?  In other words, has the student done some homework to learn about us, and has the student chosen to apply here based on accurate information?  (For more about the applicant statement(s), see the blog entry from September 22.)
  • Letters of Recommendation: These are not required, but they can be helpful for students who are “on the bubble.”  We prefer letters from people who can address the applicant’s potential to do college-level academic work, but sometimes letters are helpful that tell us things about the student that may be relevant to the decision but that the student may not wish to write about.
  • “Engagement”: Because we know that students who are engaged in activities outside of the classroom tend to be most successful here at UW-Green Bay, we systematically evaluate the student’s level of engagement in high school.  If a student was active in high school, s/he is likely to be active in college.  We gather this information from both the application, and from information that comes in the ACT data file that contains student test scores.  (Which is one of the reasons that we require test scores directly from ACT or SAT.) 

So, the factors involved in the decision are many and varied.

Back to the mom’s question.

It is true that some combinations of credentials make admission seem virtually certain.  Think about this though:  Isn’t it true that the students with the highest GPA’s are often the ones who have chosen the most rigorous courses?  That the students with the most rigorous courses are often the ones with the highest ACT scores?  That the students with the best overall records are the ones most likely to have letters of recommendation to submit?  And, that those same students are also often the ones who are very engaged outside of the classroom?

I use words like “often” and “most likely” because these statements are generalizations that are not always true.  But frequently they are.  So while it may appear that decisions are formulaic, it’s likely that they simply reflect the reality of student characteristics and choices.

In another recent interaction with a parent, that person shared the perception that an applicant with an ACT of 28 (or other high score) would be virtually assured of admission.  That is not an accurate perception.  We do turn away students with high ACT scores if there are other elements (such as a low GPA) that cause us to think the student might not be successful in our environment.  In addition, although the number is too small to be reflected in the percentages, there are occasional applicants who have strong GPAs and/or ACTs, but do not meet minimal expectations regarding rigor – perhaps they took no math past geometry, for instance.  Those students may be turned away as well. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a phone call.  If you have a student for whom you wish to advocate, give us a call so we can talk.  It’s possible that you, as a school counselor, may be able to provide information that we might not otherwise be able to consider. 

I hope you agree that “it’s less of a formula than you might imagine.”

2 thoughts on “It’s Less of a Formula Than You Might Imagine

  1. Good information. It’s nice to have an insiders view into how the process works. The whole mystery of the admissions process is what is so intimidating.

  2. It’s human nature to think the deck is stacked against you and I’ve found the college admissions process tends to exacerbate that tendency. The students with fantastic grades and low ACT scores think the ACT is overvalued. Students with great ACT scores and low grades want the standardized test to be the most important factor. You get the idea.

    The bottom line is students have to be able to do the work when they get to college. I’m sure UW-GB looks at the whole picture of who a student is – grades, application essay, extra-curricular activities, special talents – just as other schools do, and builds a strong class every year. The process may seem formulaic simply because it works.

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