Commentary on admissions, affordability & financial aid, and successful transition to college.

What Matters When You Consider College Rankings

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Katelyn Gleason Klapper, CEP 

The College Options team works hard to educate families about the realities of ranking lists and why discerning the formula values is so important. Ranking systems were developed years ago to sell magazines, and have devolved into a college competition that compromises the very essence of a good-fit college search.

When we discuss the best resources for our clients to use as they research schools that are a good fit for their needs and interests, we often field questions about the newest editions of annual college rankings. These are issued by publishers like Princeton Review, Money Magazine, Forbes or, the most popular, US News and World Report. Most questions are accompanied by a little chagrin because we suspect that families KNOW they shouldn't be paying as much attention to these as they do—but ranking lists are seductive and they are a national obsession.


With the likelihood of educational quality really not changing all THAT much in a year, why do the rankings always have so much movement? Well, in the case of US News, it's because they are frequently changing the ranking formulas! This year’s formula was adjusted by 5% to include a convoluted “social mobility” measurement.

The variations in the delivery of an education at a small liberal arts college, versus a large privately-endowed university, or a major public flagship institution are all quite different. What's most important is, "What are the factors that are most important to the student who is searching?"


Like any resource, rankings provide one way to assess good fit, but please pay attention to what measurements are being used. Are they quantifiable factors or are they opinions? Factors like student retention and graduations rates, number of faculty with terminal degrees in their field, and dollars raised per student are all verifiable. I personally like to look at "outcome numbers" (i.e. graduation rates) more than the "input numbers" (i.e. admit stats) because this gives me more information about what happens when a student gets to campus.


Student, faculty, and "peer administrator" opinions are often uninformed or one-sided (peer evaluation & reputation is still a whopping 20% of the US News formula). Admissions numbers can be manipulated (like not including students removed from waitlists in their reporting). Statistics from career services only represent those who fill out graduation surveys and rarely represent the entire graduating class--so user beware. College ranking lists can be an interesting place to start a search, but they shouldn't end it.

Taking Stock of the 2017 -18 Admissions Year

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Catie Costello & Katelyn Klapper, CEP

Every spring headlines are filled with college admission “shock stories”.  Media reports have once again focused on sinking admissions rates across the Ivy League, with Stanford dropping to a 4.3% admit rate and Harvard dipping below 5% for the first time.  The list of schools reporting record-low admit rates includes many familiar names—BC, BU, NYU, Tulane, USC, Wellesley, Bowdoin, to name a few. And yes, for a select number of schools, it has been another competitive admissions season for the class of 2022.

The good news is that every one of our College Options seniors has several well-vetted college choices, most with at least two merit grant offers.  That is how we measure our success! So, in light of these daunting statistics, it is important to understand how to interpret this information and what we can learn to ensure choices for students looking towards the college Class of 2023.                   

A continued increase in the number of applications filed by first-year students helps to fuel the admissions frenzy.  NYU reports 75,307 applications–the most applicants received by any private US university. USC reports a record, 64,000 applications— a 14 percent increase from 2017.  Five University of California campuses—Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara—received more than 100,000 applications each. With colleges ramping up recruitment through the web and social media, and centralized access to applications through the Common Application and the Coalition Application, we have the perfect recipe for increased application numbers.

Another probable reason for the increase in applications to highly selective schools is a result of the revised SAT.  Student confidence was bolstered by the perceived strength of their test scores.  It is important to note however, that the new SAT scores are comparable to results that would have been 60 to 80 points lower on corresponding sections of the old SAT.  At College Options, SAT/ACT concordance is an important aspect of our admissibility conversations, as we help students to maintain a balanced list.

But headline numbers can be deceiving, so it is important to always take in the broader context.   According to US News and World Report, only 19 schools reported an admit rate of less than 10%.  If you pull the admit rate up to 20%, the pool increases to 53 schools.  And a cumulative total of 98 schools admitted fewer than 30% of applicants.  Which means that more than 95% of the colleges in the U.S. have an admit rate greater than 30%. This is why we prioritize extending the conversation beyond a narrow list of schools to prioritize fit over name recognition.   

As you finalize your college list, your high school’s admission history with colleges continues to be the most reliable gauge to ensure admissibility balance. However, admission statistics captured through tools like Naviance don’t tell a complete story.  Our experience allows us to clarify the context of 3-5 year results, and to interpret the nuances between a school’s most selective and least selective programs—engineering vs. liberals for example—or decisions made that reflect a variety of recruitment goals.

We always support our students’ desire to stretch for a dream school, but we equally encourage a realistic review of the admissions landscape and exploration of all the genuinely amazing options available at schools where we have greater confidence for our students' admission. And while the stories of 2017 -18 might spook you, we know the prospects are far from bleak. With the majority of colleges in the country admitting more than 60% of their applicants, our goal is to help students cut through the headlines and find their fit!


Building Affordability into Your College Search

Friday, June 23, 2017

Katelyn Gleason Klapper, CEP

Do you have to give up a great college match in order to afford an undergraduate education? No, but you do need an action plan!

The most important principle for matching a great college experience with an affordable price tag is to find schools that meet your criteria and have an admission profile that is close to your application profile. Identifying schools that provide merit aid (academic, service-oriented, or talent-based) is the best way to expand your options, whether or not your family will also qualify for need-based aid. Using a combination of affordability tools, like College Raptor or Capex, and the colleges’ own Net Price Calculators (NPCs), you can begin to gauge the probability for receiving merit aid from the schools you are researching.

There are four additional variables to consider if you want to build affordability into your college search: a strong academic profile; a willingness to look outside of your region and to consider schools you might not have heard of; an understanding of which schools DO NOT provide merit money; and time to do your research well.

Academics front and center! Nothing replaces the importance of good grades in any admissions process, even if you have an outstanding talent. Grades aren’t where you’d like them to be? An upward trend is also important, as is making sure you are in the most challenging curriculum you can handle and that you are taking five solid academic classes each semester. Make the most of your testing opportunities by practicing and studying for the SAT and/or ACT exams. The stronger your academic profile, the more likely you will be to qualify for merit aid.

Re-examine the importance of “name brand.” Name recognition is all about who you talk to, so beware of regional prejudices or ignorance! Considering schools that you have never heard of and being more flexible with your geographic criteria are great ways to maximize your options on the affordability front. There are hundreds of small private schools that provide great merit packages, but the misconception is that their higher price tag will mean more out-of-pocket expense. At a public school your family may not qualify for either need-based or merit aid, and therefore, the end cost of attendance for both choices may be the same.

Know which highly selective schools do not offer merit scholarships! Many families are surprised late in the process to discover that most of their dream schools do not provide merit money and are now off the table. If you know that paying more than $250,000 out-of-pocket is out of the question, then you may need to limit how many of these schools are on your list!

Add time on the front end of your research process so that you can identify colleges that have likely admission probabilities for you. It is easy to keep adding dream schools to your list, but take more time to work on the lower half of your list. This will allow you to identify any early, college-sponsored scholarship deadlines (often four to eight weeks ahead of other scholarship/admission deadlines) as well as other special awards that many families discover too late in the process.

Beginning early will also give you time to apply for outside scholarships—keeping in mind that the local ones often have the best odds.

Remember, the price of a good-fit education does not have to require tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Good grades will help tremendously in the pursuit of merit aid, but these college awards are not given only to the top 10% of students in the country. In fact, according to the College Board, more than 50% of students choose to attend an institution that has awarded them a merit-based or recruitment grant. You do have choices, if you look carefully for them.

College Options

Phone: 978-270-8198
Email: collegeoptions@comcast.net

Memberships & Certifications:
Katelyn Klapper, AICEP, HECA, IECA, NACAC
Catie Costello, HECA

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