Magic Numbers

Numbers can magically determine college admission and scholarship moneyLike Ali Baba’s magical phrase, “Open Sesame,” numbers open doors to colleges around the country. I’ve discovered some magic numbers over my 30 plus years first as an admissions counselor, then as a high school counselor, and most recently (seventeen years) as an educational consultant. College admission, like any competitive endeavor uses numbers to streamline, objectify, and simplify the process. In college admissions important numbers can be test scores (SAT and ACT), GPA’s, athletic statistics, or class rank, that determines who gets in, who receives scholarships and who doesn’t stand a chance.

Over a decade ago, Texas legislators created a simple rule to allow public universities to grant automatic admission to students who rank in the top 10% of their graduating class. Since then, students have stampeded (academically speaking), to rank in the top 10% to qualify for automatic freshman admission, especially to The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. To deal with the rising demand for quality and affordable public education, universities have created even more numbers’-specific guidelines and publicize them, which helps guide and inform students and their parents.   The top 10 percent rule gives students a high goal to shoot for and in many ways has made admission seem more objective. Numbers can help students and families set realistic goals and reach them.

On the lower side of the class rank and test score continuum, ACT set up minimum scores that reflect college readiness benchmarks. The University of Houston has used these score cut offs to ensure freshman applicants know them. Community Colleges, which offer open enrollment, use academic placement tests with cutoff scores that help place students into regular or remedial courses when they enroll to ensure students receive instruction that matches their ability as measured in academic areas such as mathematics, English and writing. Students can obtain scores like this, too.

Prestigious Purdue University, a public university in Indiana, as well as other universities post their freshman class profiles ( Freshman profiles provide historical data to help applicants determine their admissibility. This university also shows what scores and grades will qualify them for merit scholarships. Beware, because most public universities give preference to freshmen applicants who are residents of their state. So, out-of-state applicants may need even higher scores and grades to be assured of admission. This is especially true of public universities such as North Carolina Chapel Hill and The University of Virginia, where only a limited number of out-of-state applicants are admitted.

Not only officially posted scores, but there are certain numbers that I use to help a student maximize their scholarship award at a college that gives merit aid, which is tied to test scores. Just recently I met with a student whose SAT combined Math and Reading score was 1270. Because I want students to receive as much merit scholarships as possible, I match what they are looking for (as size, location, major) with admissions criteria such as test scores and class rank cut offs. My goal is to locate colleges that students can not only be admitted to but receive merit scholarships too, which makes college more affordable. I encouraged the student who earned an SAT score of 1270 in May of their junior year, to “test for dollars” and retake the SAT in October of his senior year. I find that students feel rewarded for their hard work when they receive merit scholarships and this feeling can be a decisive factor when they choose the college in which they will enroll.

More and more colleges are transparent with the numbers it takes to receive admission, scholarships and even an invitation to their honors college in their literature and on their websites, while others, the most prestigious, keep their magic numbers a secret.

I read a recent post on the Higher Education Consultants Association’s (HECA) professional listserv. The question concerned an Academic Index used by Ivy League admissions when considering athlete applicants and whether or not the index had changed in light of the new SAT. It appears the “Academic Index” is somewhat of a closely guarded secret. It apparently is not only used for athletes, but can be used by many of the Ivies for all students. It also varies from school to school as to how exactly the number is calculated. Magic and mystery does not motivate students; it just creates more stress.

A few examples of magic numbers:

Numbers can magically determine college admission and scholarship money, but they don’t always have the final say in whether or not an applicant is admitted. The essay, which conveys intangible, non-numerical information can play a significant role in admissions, especially when a student’s numbers are borderline. Regina Hartley, who is not an admissions counselor, but the Vice President of Human Resources for UPS said in her TED Talk, there’s more to an applicant than their formal credentials, one’s grit or “scrapper factor” can play a decisive role. This is true when it comes to getting into college as well as in job hiring decisions after graduation.