College Admissions Madness

For our inaugural Tanager Talks in 2013, we asked Lisa Montgomery, – “arguably the most sought-after college preparation consultant in the U.K.”, according to the Financial Times – to help us understand the challenges of applying to US universities from abroad. Her interview remains one of our most popular Tanager Talks and you can listen to her timeless advice here.  Two years later, we’ re back for an update.

With the 2015 admissions season recently concluded, Lisa describes an admissions process where everything has intensified. “If it was hard to get in the last time we spoke, its harder still … with students across the globe continuing to flock to America and the numbers are going wild.” As demand from abroad escalates, prominent US universities enjoy the ever-increasing luxury of choice making the admissions process highly unpredictable. For example, Harvard and its compatriot schools admitted less than 3% of applicants this year.

Spoiled for choice, top universities now focus on managing yield – the % of students who accept their offers – and the way they do this is to put out a small number of definite offers with an enormous wait list. They can manage demographics and yield more closely by carefully mining their wait lists but the consequence for students and families is that the process no longer ends on May 1, dragging on into the summer with increased uncertainty and anxiety for students and their families.

If that weren’t enough, Lisa describes her many concerns about the redesigned Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) that will come into force in 2016. “Nothing in this test excites me at all… there are too many unknowns” and she strongly advises, at least for the next few years, to take the alternative ACT exam that serves the same function in the university process. Furthermore, she sees the decision of New York University and others to make the reporting of standardized test scores optional, as a positive development as the research shows that the tests are poor predictors of university success.

And finally, Lisa has wise words of advice to combat what Frank Bruni of the New York Times and others have called ‘college admissions madness’ and the heavy toll the process takes on everyone. First, be absolutely honest with your child about your own expectation of the process. If there are institutions or search parameters that are important to you, tell your child. Second, make sure that someone very knowledgeable is there to help, be it a private counselor or someone at your child’s school. Good guidance is essential so make sure it is available and invest if necessary. Third, never forget that your child is the same fabulous person they always were, whether an Ivy League school admits them or not and remember: “You can get an outstanding education at hundreds and hundreds of universities in America and so much of what you get out of your education, and indeed out of your life, is what you choose to put in to it … and good luck to everyone as they march through this process.”

To learn more about Lisa Montgomery and the educational consultancy, Edvice, click here.

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