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Admissibility: A Currency Model

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Every student brings value to the process, an application “wallet” which holds up to six kinds of admissions currency: 1) the academic record; 2) standardized test scores; 3) extracurricular activities; 4) the ability to pay full price; 5) the commitment to attend if admitted, and 6) the capacity to meet a particular need of an institution.

Decent performance on the first two measures alone will all but ensure admission to less selective universities, but what about highly selective institutions? Exactly how much currency does it take to be admitted? At which schools is the ability to pay extremely important? Which colleges are looking to maximize their yields this year? Which are more focused on test scores?

We don't know; we can't know.

More to the point, what kind of academic performance is expected to be admitted to a given college? What is “rigor,” to them? I am thankful to the colleges which provide clarity about GPA standards on their websites, but they seem to be the exception and not the rule. Because of obvious reporting inconsistencies between colleges, I’ve stopped tracking GPA and class rank info from Common Data Sets—and that was no easy decision to make, given the few performance metrics available. (I still include the last batch of 2020-2021 reported GPA and class rank in the dataset.)

Our stressed-out students gobble up the narrative about the importance of merit through the end of 11th grade, only to be disillusioned when unwritten rules prevail at the finish line. It feels like a lotto to them, but it certainly is not. To paraphrase longtime Harvard admissions dean William Fitzsimmons, all application outcomes may not be fair, but every one of them is rational. Translation: Colleges have goals which need to be met by the incoming class. We just don’t get to know what they are.

The lack of transparency is crazy-making, so how does one, then, predict one’s chances of admission to a particular college? My best advice is for an applicant to take an honest appraisal of their own "currency," learn what they can about each college, and ask questions. If their high school uses software like Naviance or Scoir, historic records help predict the GPA and test scores which typically yield admission from that high school. That’s a start. For everybody else, I'll show you a sample of what we have in the dataset.

Free Higher-Ed Viz of the Week

Check out the free Viz of the week at right, showing some of the colleges which reported rank and GPA info from 2020-2021.

The mission of Moore College Data is to promote critical thinking about the college search. Our dataset is built to offer both insights and outcomes. Predicting admission can no longer be boiled down to given selected metrics. It is necessary to move beyond admit rates, to understand the colleges themselves in order to assess a student’s potential fit with the institution. We invite you to check out our demo from a desktop to see all we’ve included.

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