Nuance in the Numbers

Listen to “Nuance in the Numbers (Are All Admit Rates Created Equal?) – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

One of my 2021 resolutions is to run, ride, hike, walk, or swim over 2021 miles this year. This means I am tracking everything, because to meet that goal it will require averaging about 5.5 miles a day. In order to do this, I use a Garmin watch, which I have connected to the Strava app.  

Recently, I’ve been running with a friend once a week. He also uses Strava, but instead of using a watch, he runs with his cell phone and records directly into the app.   

Here is a run we did a few weeks ago. 

A few things to note. Same day/same route, but the pace and distance are different. If someone was looking at our two logs, they would assume he not only dusted me, but also decided to put in an extra half mile just to rub it in.  I’m not ok with that, and you should not be either. Here’s why.

Admission Application 

When it comes to college admission this kind of thing happens all of the time. People latch on to surface level numbers and assign them undue merit without really examining their credence. They assume they can compare apples to apples.  Rankings are a good example, which I’ve covered extensively.  Another place this commonly occurs is with application numbers and acceptance rates. In recent weeks, there have been a ridiculous number of articles talking about EA/ED application volume and corresponding admit rates. Notice the same schools keep coming up in those pieces, so while they draw plenty of press, they only comprise about 1%-2% of American higher education, i.e. not representative of the accurate/bigger story.   

So just to level-set, acceptance rate, aka. admit rate= number of students admitted divided by number of applicants. Example: 3500 admits/ 10,000 apps = 35% admit rate. Here is where we run into a Stravaesque situation (see what I did there?).  

Problem 1: Colleges do not count applications the same way. Here’s the thing. Some schools separate parts of their application. A student may complete the biographical information, activities, essay, etc., but never sends transcripts or test scores. One college counts that app, and another does not because it is not complete or actionable. I remember applying to a college as a high school senior that had a seven-part application. In hindsight, I see that was likely a yield strategy. As a student it just felt burdensome and annoying. I only got to the fourth part (but I’m sure they counted my application)There are other derivations and variations in counting apps, but we won’t enumerate them all. Suffice it to say, counting apps is not uniform.  

Problem 2: Colleges do not count admits the same way (for those scoring at home that means neither the numerator nor the denominator is apples: apples or apples/apples. So how do you like them apples? The fact that there are hundreds of apple varieties is an entirely different conversation altogether).

Some colleges admit the number of students they actually think will say yes to their offer based on historical models. They shoot to fill 100% on their initial round of offers knowing they will likely need to admit more students from their waitlist, due to melt in the summer 

Others will shoot closer to 90%-95%. They know they will come in well short of target, but this strategy allows them to work progressively up to 100+% to account for melt and limit admits. 

Problem 3: Colleges do not count their waitlist admits the same. At Tech for example, when we make waitlist offers, we count them all as admits. So, if we are looking for 100 students from the waitlist, we may make 200 offers knowing that typically 45%-50% will deposit. 

Some colleges, however, will first ask you if you want to accept their offer. If you say yes, and commit to depositing, only then do they count you as an admit. In other words, some colleges are basically yielding at 100% from their waitlist, thus limiting admit numbers.  

100% yield is often true for recruited/scholarship athletes, special skills or talents like musicians, and other cohorts depending on the school’s mission, i.e., military academies, etc.

So, take a college that brings in 20% of their class as athletes/special talents, 10% of their class from waitlist, and 50-60% of their class from Early Decision… well… admit rate protected, suppressed, controlled, you pick whatever adjective that makes you feel better.  

Look, I’m not throwing shade here. I’m just saying you cannot take a number like admit rate and attach too much meaning to it, because of the Seneca Crane level games-making going on out there.  

Advice from Experience

If you are a junior making a list of schools to research or possibly apply to next year, please do not correlate admit rate to quality. Please do not exclude colleges from your list because they are below a certain number of apps or above a specific admit rate…because, you know, the whole Garmin to Strava effect. 

If you are a senior, please do not unwisely stretch financially or let your ego get in the way this spring when you are deciding on a college. So have the confidence to be honest with yourself about your best match academically, socially, and financially, rather than attaching too much importance to stats that are at best not equivalent, or at worst highly manipulated.  

Instead, before applying to college or choosing one, I’d urge you to stick with the running theme and consider, “What are you Strava-ing for?”  

    

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college