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  Honorable Admissions - colleges improve their admission practices
A web page for colleges to describe their efforts to align admission practices with educational principles.

Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Beloit College

There has been on-going debate about the value of Early Decision plans and the conversation became noisier in the past few years. We at Beloit took the opportunity in March of 2002 to drop our own Early Decision plan. We believe that the choice of a college is a serious decision, one that has obvious implications for a young person's future. There are over 3000 colleges and universities in the US. Without question, there are wonderful choices but it's really about making the right match. If the college search is done well and thoughtfully, a student will realize potential he or she never dreamed of as a high school student. Admission to college through early decision has no more prestige or importance if it just isn't the right place. And I argue that the way a senior in high school views the world in November is a good bit different from the view the following April. Tremendous changes—physical, emotional and intellectual—often occur in those precious months leading up to high school graduation.

In the often confusing (and daunting) world of college admissions and enrollment, Early Decision plans are available to students who have a clear first choice. The origins of the plan go back to an era before computers and common applications and were meant as a convenience to students who had researched their choices well and were willing to commit by fall of the senior year to one college. The application, usually filed by early November, was reviewed and a decision was known about 30 days later. The task of completing additional applications and writing an equal number of essays was necessary only if the student were denied admission. And the benefits were obvious if the decision were positive.

Today, though, Early Decision is big-time business for colleges and universities. In the scramble to win higher ratings through the US News and World Report and other ranking services, a college's selectivity is taken into consideration. The larger the number of students enrolled through early decision (where the student has no other option), the higher the overall yield on the total number of applications. That is, statistically, the college appears to be more sought-after among its applicants, boosting the prestige factor, higher rankings and a perceived desirability of that particular institution.

Deciding upon one's college or university isn't a gimmick and it shouldn't be made in haste. Colleges and universities should focus their attentions on the very reason they're in business: helping students make good life decisions and realizing their potential through reasoned investigation.

-Nancy Monnich Benedict, Vice President for Enrollment

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Denison University

Denison University recently took the step to make the admissions process more student-centered by moving to a test-optional plan. In the words of college president Dale Knobel, "Many students believe that their preparation for college is best represented by their actual academic record in secondary school, supplemented by letters of recommendation and evidence of school and community leadership, while others believe that this information plus standardized test scores is the most accurate indicator of their college readiness. Denison will now give students the opportunity to choose which materials they believe best show their individual strengths. Standardized test scores, which are suspected by many in and out of higher education to be affected by socioeconomic and cultural biases, should not stand in the way of strong students who want to put their best foot forward in the college admissions process. The goal of this approach to admissions is to give Denison the greatest opportunity to acquire a holistic reading of an individual candidate for admission. We are a place that strives for the education of the whole person, and it is only fitting that we ask an applicant to provide the portrait of him or herself that best captures their strengths and the attributes that they believe could strengthen our college community."

Commenting on a growing body of research that questions whether standardized tests add much to the documented record of academic achievement that a student brings from high school, Knobel observed, "Many in the higher education community have become anxious about the ability of standardized tests to accurately reflect, in a culturally-blind and socioeconomically neutral way, actual student readiness for college. We seek first and foremost to enroll students of all backgrounds who have demonstrated through their hard work in the classroom that they can achieve at Denison. The alternative of reviewing test scores or not as they are submitted by the student applicant gives us the flexibility to make even better admissions decisions and to achieve greater social equity."

This option will make the Denison admissions process more accessible to bright and talented individuals coming from all segments of the population, including students of color, first-generation college-goers, and young people from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. It essentially 'levels the playing field' for strong students who may not have had the opportunity to take standardized tests numerous times, pay the tuition for a private test preparation course, or have access to test preparation tutors at their secondary school.

-Perry Robinson, Vice President and Director of Admissions

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Dickinson College
In order to reduce the "frenzy" of the college admissions process, Dickinson College no longer completes the "Academic Prestige" section of the US News college ranking report and no longer posts on its website or in any other of its publications notice of its various rankings by commercially-based sources such as US News and Princeton Review.

Also, Dickinson attempts to be fair and forthcoming about its Early Decision program, which in recent years has had the same proportion of underrepresented students as in Regular Admissions and a comparable percentage of students receiving aid. The College ensures that students may withdraw after ED admission if the financial aid offer is not satisfactory. In all admission programs, Dickinson emphasizes value rather than price and is committed to helping students who identify with the College but whose resources would prohibit attendance without financial assistance.

Coming up: Dickinson College is currently developing two approaches to provide better transparency and holistic evaluation in their admission practices.

-Bob Massa, Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Earlham College

Earlham is committed to being authentic and transparent in all practices. We present an unvarnished experience during a student's visit to campus so there isn't a difference between the Earlham experienced during a visit and the Earlham experienced at enrollment. Admissions counselors do not attract applications in order to deny admission to a larger percentage. Instead, they guide students toward colleges that will admit them. Earlham holistically considers students for admission allowing them options to best represent themselves. The college community helps guide the Admissions Office in the crafting of the class.

Earlham is one of a few selective liberal arts colleges that continues to practice need-blind admissions. As a result, the vast majority of our institutional financial aid funds are dedicated to need-based financial aid instead of merit-based.

Earlham is open about sharing student outcomes and assessment. On our Institutional Research Office pages the public can learn much about our students and the College and Earlham's president welcomes feedback.

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Hampshire College

Whether on the road or in the Admissions Office, Hampshire's admissions counselors focus on counseling. Demystifying college selection, admission and financial aid as well as assisting students to make well-informed choices is central to our work and service as admission professionals.

Numerical factors such as GPA, standardized test scores, and class rank only partially reveal students' readiness for Hampshire's self-directed academic program. Submission of standardized test results from the SAT or ACT is optional. The quality of students' critical thought and writing and what students accomplish through their initiative are better evidence of fit. Interviews, essays, recommendations, responses to Common Application Supplement questions and submissions of creative work is strongly valued and carefully evaluated by the Admissions Committee. Hampshire's focus on fit rather than formula results in offering admission to students with a wide range of numerical factors, adversely affecting Hampshire's admission statistics.

From its founding documents onward, Hampshire has encouraged the practice of deferred admission, recognizing that a "year off" is better characterized as a "year on." We recognize that a gap year allows students to reflect on their past, focus on themselves and engage in significant life experiences before embarking on college. As some high school students possess exceptional maturity and academic readiness for college well before high school graduation, Hampshire has an Early Entrance program, allowing students to forgo all or part of their senior year to enroll at Hampshire.

We support the notion that the best college is the best college for the student. We recognize that careful research and a lot of soul-searching are integral to this process.

-Karen S. Parker, Director of Admissions

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Lawrence University

Beginning with students enrolling for the 2006-07 academic year, Lawrence University no longer requires students to submit the ACT or SAT for admission consideration. With this decision, Lawrence becomes the only liberal arts college in Wisconsin and the first member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest to adopt a test-optional approach.

Lawrence has traditionally enrolled students who rank among the nation's highest in standardized test scores, but the quality of a student's high school curriculum and the performance within that curriculum are really the best predictors of academic success at Lawrence.

Critics contend that standardized tests (of all sorts) place pressure on high school teachers to "teach to the test," rather than offering a more appropriate curriculum. In the case of the ACT and SAT, they also tend to disadvantage minorities, rural students, and those who are unable to afford the cost of test preparation services.

In that context—and with the new writing segments for both the SAT and ACT further raising the level of confusion, angst, and expense already associated with the tests—Lawrence has decided to say "enough already" when it comes to the preoccupation with standardized testing.

Students who feel their high school record is strong enough to merit admission without standardized test scores need not submit them. Ultimately, their choice of courses and record of achievement over four years of high school provide a better indication of their ability to thrive at Lawrence than do the results of a four-hour test taken on some Saturday morning.

-Steve Syverson, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

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Lewis & Clark College
Lewis & Clark College is committed to a holistic application review process that is intended to provide students with the opportunity to present themselves in a way they feel best represents their performance and potential. Hopefully, this can be done without the student feeling the increased external pressures imposed on the admissions process in recent years.

Since 1990, Lewis & Clark has allowed the Portfolio Path option for admission, which makes standardized tests optional. In 1998, we eliminated the Early Decision plan in favor of a non-binding, non-restrictive Early Action plan. We do not use guidebook rankings in our admissions materials and speak to this issue on our web site.

In our office we provide the Education Conservancy handout entitled, "We Admit... Guidance From Those Who Do" and often quote from College Unranked when addressing parents. We hope the college selection process can be about fit and match, rather than promotion and prestige.

-Mike Sexton, Dean of Admissions

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
Reed College

Since 1995 Reed College has refused to participate in the U.S. News and World Report "best colleges" rankings. Reed does participate in several other well-established college guides that do not assign numerical rankings to institutions, including Barron's, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, Peterson's, Colleges that Change Lives, Newsweek's College Guide, and the College Board's College Handbook. Each of these guides attempts to describe more fully the experience, student culture, and academic environment at different schools. Consistent with Reed's non-participation in U.S. News rankings, the college also does not participate in Money magazine's college-ranking issue.

Reed College has actively questioned the methodology and usefulness of college rankings ever since the magazine's best-colleges list first appeared in 1983. Reed's concern intensified with disclosures in 1994 by the Wall Street Journal about institutions flagrantly manipulating data in order to move up in the rankings in U.S. News. This led Reed's then-president Steven Koblik to inform the editors of U.S. News that he didn't find their project credible, and that the college would not be returning any of their surveys. Since 1995, the college has repeatedly asked U.S. News simply to drop it from the best-colleges issue, yet the magazine continues to include Reed and to harvest data from non-Reed sources.

The college's decision to boycott the rankings has received widespread enthusiastic support from parents, students, faculty members, high school college counselors, and college and university presidents--several of whom have even confided that they wish they could refuse to participate. Reed's president, Colin Diver, cautions prospective students and parents against relying on rankings. Rankings, he says, are grounded in a "one-size-fits-all" mentality. "They are primarily measures of institutional wealth, reputation, influence, and pedigree. They do not attempt, nor claim, to measure the extent to which knowledge is valued and cultivated on each campus."

-Paul Marthers, Dean of Admission

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Practices from the Colleges that Change Lives:
St. John's College

At St. John's College, the focus of admissions is to identify a good match between prospective students and our "great books" program, which all students pursue in common. We have tried to simplify the admissions process, taking out of it as much as possible anything that is extraneous to the question of match. We ask for only a minimum of personal data - less than a page - and we do not charge an application fee. With few exceptions, we do not require standardized test scores, but we will consider them if students elect to submit them.

We allow our prospective students to present themselves primarily through a set of reflective essays about their educational experiences and intellectual interests. These may be as long or as short as the applicant likes. Applications are read need-blind as they are received, and decisions are given in about two weeks without any binding obligation; financial aid awards are issued to approved applicants as their forms arrive, and students have until May 1 to respond. We make every effort to accommodate acceptable late applicants by offering places (and financial assistance) in subsequent classes on either of our two campuses.

St. John's does not participate in the US News rankings and has repeatedly asked to be left out of them. We do not publish the results of any rankings involving St. John's on our web site or in our printed materials. Our objections to such rankings appear on our web site and in printed material sent to prospective students and others.

-Larry Clendenin, Director of Admissions
St. John's College, Santa Fe, NM

-John Christensen, Director of Admissions
St. John's College, Annapolis, MD

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