Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Admissions, Baseball and the Land of Statistics

When I was growing up in Connecticut, baseball was my passion. My sister was a NY Yankees fan, so naturally I became a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. I lived and died (mostly died) with the Red Sox, and my hero was Jim Rice, the home run hitting left fielder for my beloved team. I can still name most of the Sox starting nine from the late 1970's, from Hobson at third, Scott at first, Evans in right, Lynn in center and Fisk behind the plate among others. And like any baseball fan in the 70's and 80's, I collected baseball cards. There was nothing better than getting a fresh pack of Topps baseball cards to see which players you got (and nothing worse than the cheap stick of gum with a texture like cardboard and flavor that lasted for three minutes tops).

The greatness of a baseball card was not just the photo on the front, but the wealth of each player's statistics on the back of the card. This information transformed a kid from a mere fan into a fountain of baseball knowledge, with the ability to magically produce statistics like rabbits from a hat, amazing your friends by knowing exactly what Carl Yastrzemski's batting average was in 1977 (.296 in case you are wondering).

But statistics are a funny thing. Data that at one time seemed vital to success now is not so important now, while lesser know pieces of information suddenly take on a much larger role in predicting success. The batting average of a baseball player (percentage of hits compared to at bats) has been overtaken by a players OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), which includes walks, hitting for power, and total bases. It's no longer just about getting a hit, but instead about the most efficient way for players to get on base, score runs and win the game. In the same vein, the importance of stealing bases has dropped sharply, as in general the data shows the cost of being caught stealing exceeds the rewards of being successful stealing the base. We might never see the likes of a Ricky Henderson, the greatest base-stealer ever, again in baseball.

Just like with baseball statistics, admission statistics are not always static from year to year, and many times the information is misunderstood or the importance of data points changes over time. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • HS GPA vs UGA GPA - If you look at your average high school transcript, you will see at least one field labeled GPA, with some schools getting up to three or four GPA's (weighted, unweighted, etc.). The GPA could be on a 100 point scale, a 4.00 scale, a 5.00 scale, a 6.00 scale, even up to a 10-12 point scale. Each high school or school system has its own way of determining a GPA, and my office has no control over this (nor do we want it). But the problem is that there is no sense of standardization in a HS GPA. A 4.21 could be great in one method (4.00 scale), but merely average in another method (6.00 scale). As such, UGA does not look at, use or care about the GPA on your transcript. We calculate our own GPA so we can have a standard data point that is the same for all applicants. If you ever see us list a GPA, it is a UGA GPA that we are listing (and I have several blog posts showing how we calculate it). 
  • SAT/ACT test scores - If you had asked most college admission offices 20 or more years ago about the importance of different factors in admissions, test scores would have been near the top of the list. But as universities have done research on the factors which predict success and strong grades in college, the impact of the SAT and ACT scores have lessened greatly. On the academic side, what a student does day in and day out in the high school classroom and the strength of the student's coursework have shown to be much better predictors of student success. This is why you are seeing a number of colleges go test optional for their admissions process. When I see "Chance me" comments on certain web sites, SAT and ACT scores are generally the first or second thing listed in their description. This is not the order in which I would put them at all.
  • AP/IB/DE Data- When admissions offices talk about course rigor, it is almost impossible to convey things in a meaningful way. When we say that the average admitted student had a "Very Rigorous" schedule, this does not convey any real information, and leaves people wanting more details. As such, we have tried listing the mid-range data for AP/IB/DE courses taken over four years, but even this is somewhat misleading, as colleges are not telling students to shoot for a certain number of rigorous courses. What we are looking at is how a student has challenged themselves overall from 9th through 12th grade in their core area courses, and especially in the broader sense of their academic passion, as we want students to be prepared for the rigors of UGA's classes.  We are not looking at a certain number of AP/IB/DE courses, but instead on how you have overall prepared yourself for UGA academic experience within the options at your school and in your community. 

In addition, as UGA has moved (and will move even farther in the future) to a more holistic review process to look at the entire applicant, there will be more focus on the context of the individual student's personal situation. What are the academic options for the student within their community, what challenges has this student faced in their personal life, what has the happened within the student's academic and co-curricular activities over the period of their high school years, etc. We are looking at the trends within the student's application (how have their grades and rigor progressed), and how they have challenged themselves in the five core academic areas over time. If a student has faced a hurdle, how have they overcome it? If a student has a passion (be it theater, fencing, birding or whatever), how have they pursued this passion (I have seen all three of these this year). 

The overall admissions process at UGA has changed a great deal over the past 20 years at UGA, and the information and key data points have also changed. Just like with the baseball statistics, it is now a whole new ballgame.

Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Past and Present of College Admissions

You hear it all the time - "Back when I was applying to college ...". Yes, things have changed over the last 20+ years in admissions, but trust me, that is actually not a bad thing in many cases. I am currently reading a book titled "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling, and he writes about how, in contrast to what some would have us believe, life is a great deal better today as compared to the past. While there are still areas where the world can improve greatly, Rosling shows that in areas ranging from poverty, health, war, food, etc, the world is actually moving in a positive direction. From the admissions side of the table, there have been some amazing improvements over the years. Here are a few things I remember from when I first started working in the UGA Admissions office.

  1. There was a point in time when we only accepted paper applications. We would print them out and do a huge mailing in late summer to get the applications out to both students and high schools. This also meant that we needed a large staff of people who did one job, entering in a student's biographical data (name, address, school, etc.) into our record system. Every year, we would need to have the printing of the applications bid out (and of course, lowest bidder won the job), and that year, a printing company based out of a state prison won the bid. I can still remember driving to a high school in Louisiana when I got a call from my boss to see if I had heard about the printing issues. A riot had broken out in the prison, and our application print job was on hold due to the issue. Imagine explaining that to students calling in wanting an application sent to them.
  2. When you have thousands of paper applications, you need to have a place to put them. Our office had roughly 20-30 six foot high file cabinets for all the application files, and we used "bankers boxes" (or open lid boxes) to route files by application submission date from one part of the process to the other. Every day when documents came in, we would have to either match them to existing files (by running around and finding the right box) or putting them in the orphan documents bins, which we would then check every day against the new applications for the day. 
  3. Old methods were not just relegated to the application process. For a long period of time, one state used to require admissions people to bring their own table to every college fair. Luckily, this state was within easy driving distance, and we would just have a card table ready for anyone traveling to that state. 
  4. The world of google maps on your cell phone roughly ten years ago was a break-through for admission travel, as we survived on three things; Old paper maps that were horrible to fold and did not function well while driving, Mapquest/Garmin, which seemed to get you lost as many times as it helped to get somewhere, and driving around looking for school signs or the lights for the HS football fields. It was even worse in some cities, as I clearly remember visiting schools in New Orleans and having the street dead end at one of the many canals in the city and seeing the high school just across the water.
  5. Everything was paper. I mean we were overrun with paper. One record setting year, we came back from the December holiday time to 45 bins of mail. It was ugly. The applications were filled out by hand and sent in by mail, the recommendation letters were all done by hand, the transcripts were mailed in, and even a number of test score results were sent by paper. And then it became a game of find the file so you could add all the paper to the application. Then you add in all the paper we sent out, from postcards letting students know what was missing (and it was out of date immediately due to materials flowing in daily), brochures being mailed out, letters being sent, etc. The worst were decision letters done in house in envelopes that had to be licked. Paper cuts on your tongue are the worst. I almost cried when we got our first real recruitment system that sent out automated emails. I did cry when we got our first batch of peel and close envelopes for acceptance packets.
  6. Admissions give-aways are so much better these days. Twenty years ago, the best you would get would be a bumper sticker for your car (not even a static sticker, but an actual bumper sticker) or a pen/pencil with UGA on the side. Now you're getting socks, shirts, backpacks, sunglasses, phone popsockets, stickers, etc. Enjoy it while you can.

While college admissions has its challenges, there was a whole other layer of challenges 20 or so years ago. Be glad that you can submit your application online, that test scores and documents can be matched in seconds to your file, and that you can see your admissions status page online. Like Billy Joel sings in Keeping the Faith, "cause the good ole days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems".

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

UGA Decision Dates for 2019

The final two decision dates for UGA freshman applicants are now set (unless some major issue impacts our office), and the smaller February wave of decisions will be released on Friday, February 8, while the final decisions in March will be released on Friday, March 15. In addition, transfer decisions will begin being released on Friday, March 1. Decisions are all released in the late afternoon, but I do not have an exact time (so don't ask me for one).

February Decisions - UGA will offer admission to just around 2,000 freshman applicants on Friday, February 8. This group of decisions is made up of only offers of admission, and if you were admitted, you will be able to see the decision on your Admission Status page (so only admitted students will see a decision change on their status page) and these admits will receive an email communication. Additionally, an admissions packet will be sent out in the mail the following week. Our office is too busy reviewing files for me to run any mid-range academic averages at this time, but the academic information should be very similar to the Early Action admitted students (it will not be exactly the same, as we had a large number of EA admits who were applying for our top scholarships, which slightly skews EA stats a little higher). My earlier blog post about Early Action decisions gives you more insight into the academic strength of this range of student. As we did in the November Early Action offers of admission, there will be some scholarship offers in this group, and those who have received them will see it on the status page. We will continue to offer scholarships through late March, so please be patient as we do these reviews. These admitted freshman, made up of mostly Regular Decision applicants, met the stringent academic criteria of Early Action admission that we used with our much larger wave of November admission offers. Do not panic if you are not admitted with the February group. We are still very much in the midst of carefully reviewing documents and data on a great many more files, and there are still lots of decisions to make.

March Final Decisions - On Friday, March 15, all final freshman decisions will be released. There will be three decision groups (Admit, Deny and Wait-List), and I will try to post some information on all three of these decisions during the week leading up to the final decision release. We will also have a small group of freshman that we will admit for the Spring 2020 term. We are still deep in the holistic read process, and I do not have any numbers on how many final admits we will make, what the statistics will look like overall, or how many students will be put on the wait-list. When we do release final decisions, I will have statistics on the overall applicant pool and admitted group the following week, but not broken out into the different release dates. After we make final decisions, we will continue to offer scholarships through late March, so please be patient as we do these reviews as well. Thank you for your patience during this review process.

Transfer Applicants - We have begun reviewing the Summer and Fall transfer applicants, and we will release the first group of transfer decisions on Friday, March 1. We will then continue to release transfer decisions every Friday. All applicants with a decision will receive an email alerting them to a change in their status, so you do not need to constantly check your admission status page. We generally review transfer applicants by term first (so summer decisions before fall if possible), and then roughly by the date the file becomes complete. This is not exact, as some transfer files are more complicated than others to review. As such, please do not compare application date to release dates with others, as it might vary due to other factors (included days when several hundred applications were received/completed).

Go Dawgs!