Higher Education in Focus: Taking the Mystery out of Admissions

September 25, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

>>Support for “Higher
Education in Focus” comes from the Penn State alumni
association, serving alumni and alma mater for
more than 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State bookstore, now
in an expanded location in the HUB-Robeson Center. Improving the student
experience at Penn State with philanthropic support of student causes
throughout the university. PSECU, a credit union
providing financial services to its members throughout
Pennsylvania since 1934. More at psecu.com. And from viewers like you. Thank you. [ Music ]>>As college enrollment
continues to increase, students face stiff competition
for a limited number of slots. Last year, Penn State
received more than 66,000 residential
undergraduate applications. Of those, roughly
16,000 were admitted. When is the best time to
submit your application? How will your application
be evaluated? And should you consider
applying to an honors program? In this edition of
Higher Education in Focus” Penn State president
Eric Barron will focus on taking the mystery out
of the admissions process. Here to talk with him is Clark
Brigger, executive director for undergraduate admissions
at Penn State, Bert McBrayer, associated director for
admissions operations in the office of undergraduate
admissions and Mitch Kirsch, associate dean for
student affairs at the Schreyer Honors College. I’ll be back later in the
show to talk one on one with President Barron
with questions from a student’s perspective. Now here’s Penn State
president Eric Barron.>>Well, welcome. So 66,000 applications. That seems like an enormous
number for the number of undergraduates and total
131,000 this year and 6,000 more than last year, 18,000
more than the year before. So, you know, let’s take a
little bit of the mystery out of this whole process. And so maybe you could — Clark, you could walk us
through the application process for Penn State.>>Sure. So we have an
online application that — It’s a homegrown
application that we post. And it’s dynamically related
within the application so you can choose an academic
major that you want to study and it will only present the
campuses where that’s available. Or you can choose a campus
where you want to study and it will only present the
majors that are available. So you submit the application
electronically to us which then feeds in to our
student information system. And beyond that we need a high
school transcript and a set of test scores from
the testing agency to complete the application. And we would recommend
to students that they complete their
application with all three of those pieces by
the end of November. So November 30th is what we
call our priority filing date because at the beginning of
the season, as you well know, we have all of the admits
that we can admit available. And then successively
through the year, as we make some admit decisions,
the opportunity narrows.>>So what makes it smart?>>Yeah.>>The tool smart.>>Well, so it’s dynamically
related, as I talked about. So depending upon what you
select in a certain area, it changes the application
down the road.>>Doesn’t matter whether
it’s Commonwealth Campus, University Park.>>One and the same.>>Now do we say the
same thing for Schreyer? Do you have a different
application process?>>We have an application
process that’s actually integrated in to
the undergraduate admissions application. So a student who’s applying to Penn State will have the
opportunity to apply to Schreyer at the same time in
the same process. So there’s a question in the
undergraduate application that asks if you’re interested
in Schreyer Honors College. Then you can indicate
that on the application and then you’ll get the access
to our additional questions. We ask some additional questions
to be considered for Schreyer. And so by indicating that on
the undergraduate application, you can apply to Schreyer
and again it’s seamless through the entire system. So whether you’re looking
at coming to University Park or any other campus, you
can do the same application.>>That’s — That — Wonderful. Do we have the same process as every other university
out there?>>Absolutely not. So a lot of other universities
are on the common application.>>Right.>>And next year there’s
actually a new rendition or a new application
that will be coming out called the Coalition
application. So there — And a lot of institutions have their
own application as well. You know, it turns into a
process for a student to choose and narrow the number of
universities that they want to attend and try to
figure out, you know, what is the best way — What
are the different avenues as far as how to apply to that
specific institution.>>Any surprises in
that new platform?>>You know, it’s really
in the formative stages, listening to the
constituents, the students and the high school counselors,
and trying to develop it to make it as seamless as
possible for a student, emphasizing ease of use, access,
affordability and success which seem to align
perfectly for Penn State.>>Well, good. You know, I’ve met a
lot of people that wait until the very last
minute to do — You rolled your eyes
there so that was — You’ve met a few
people like that too. So just to tell people, how much
time is a good amount of time to plan for you to do
the application process?>>Yeah. We would recommend that
they complete the process now because what happens,
as you said — A lot of students procrastinate. In the neighborhood of
10,000 students procrastinate until the last couple of days. So imagine a python snake
swallowing a basketball at the deadline date, and that
basketball has to work itself through that snake
which is our processing.>>Yeah.>>Of the application. So it, you know, induces a
lot of stress in the system when it’s not spread out.>>Yeah. It doesn’t seem to me that a python swallowing
a basketball makes for a happy python. So, Bert, you get to
participate in this on the side of the python swallowing
the basketball. So what do you do with
67,000 applications? What’s the process for
going through all that?>>Sure. So we — The process
of reviewing the application, as Clark mentioned — We can’t
begin to look at applications until we’ve received all of the
documentation, supplemental. So the high school transcript
and either SAT or ACT scores from the testing agencies. So once those supplements
have joined that student’s application
that they submitted, then we start the
evaluation process. And the process of evaluating
an applicant for kind of your traditional aged
first year, you know, senior in high school going
to college is wholly academic. We’re looking at the student’s
performance in high school and that’s going to be
the bulk of the weight in the admission decision. But we also do look at the
student’s SAT or ACT scores as part of that process. So based on the student’s
performance and — in high school and on the
test, we would then look at the competitive nature
of the applicant pool. And this is where that November
30th applicant priority filing date is very important
because we review applications in pool groups or I
tell families in chunks. And the first chunk of
applicants we review is anybody who completed an application by that November 30th
date that Clark mentioned. That’s when criteria
for admission to a student’s first choice
campus or program is going to be at its least competitive. As the cycle continues, we are on a rolling
admission pool based cycle, throughout the year
then the criteria for admission becomes more
competitive for students. So if a student waits, again kind of following
the procrastinator — If a student waits
to — Exactly. If a student waits until March
to apply, then that’s going to most likely limit the options
they have at the university. So that’s — The students
who complete that application by November 30th, they’re at
their best shot for an offer of admission to their
first choices. And so we would review
the application and notify the student
of their decision. If they’re admitted, they would
receive the offer of admission and all of the information
that goes with that. If they are not admitted,
if we cannot offer admission to a student based on the
criteria that we’re looking at, we would present them
with other options. Typically students have
options at Penn State. It’s just a matter of what are
your options at the university.>>Okay. So you do it in a
chuck and it makes a difference to go early, but I
always sort of imagined with so many thousands of
applicants you’re looking at a group and saying,
“Great student. No problem therein. Oh no. You don’t have a chance.” And it’s that middle section
that becomes a challenge. Is that a good way
to look at it?>>I think that’s
a fair assessment. Sure. Yeah. So the on the bubble kind of
question that we get from –>>So that’s more work
if you’re on the bubble than it is, you know –>>Yeah. Sure. So there’s those students
who are, you know, kind of clearly admissible
to their first choice campus or their first choice program
and they go through the process. Then there are those
students who we would — we would decline admission to
their first choice and say, “You still have options
at Penn State. Reach out to us and let us
know what you’d like to do.” The folks in the middle,
then, they’re going to receive a little
bit more of a — a thorough scrub, so to speak. We do have an admission
review committee that looks at students. So, for example, if a
student has some kind of extenuating circumstance
in their sophomore year, something happened
that it’s clear that there was something
going on in their life that their academic performance
dropped freshman year and junior year, you
know, it’s much higher. So we would look at those
on a case by case basis.>>So I see. So it does — Even with
that many applicants, you can take the time to look
at special circumstances.>>Sure.>>So a process for
looking at the applicant. How many applicants do
you get for Schreyer’s?>>We’re a little different. We’re a little different. Last year we got
3,710 applications.>>For how –>>For Schreyer. For 300 spaces. So every year we’ve seen
an increase in applications and it’s growing more
and more competitive. And our process is a little
different from the standpoint that we do encourage our
applicants to also apply by November 30th, keeping with Penn State’s
priority filing date, but we actually stop our
application on January 15th. We actually bring down our
application on the 15th of January and we’re not
on a rolling process. We will announce all of our decisions usually
early part of March. So everybody knows. And the biggest difference,
I think, is since we have 3
additional essays and some short answer questions
where we’re finding more about applicants as far as
their activities and leadership and we also ask for 2 letters of recommendation
from our applicants. So we have a faculty review
committee who are honors faculty who are reading the
applications. Every application is read by
two different faculty members. And independently. All 3,700 of them are read by — Two faculty read them
independently and rate them. And primarily looking at all
the information they supply in the application. The transcript is
certainly heavily reviewed, looking to make sure the
student is an honors student in their high school. We do not look at
standardized tests in Schreyer. A lot of people don’t believe
us, but we really don’t. Obviously it’s important
to Penn State’s decision, but I think most of our
faculty have found that the SAT or ACT is not a distinguishing
factor. Most of our students do pretty
well on the standardized tests. So when we only have limited
spaces, it doesn’t help us.>>5% points different
does not –>>Doesn’t make a difference.>>No.>>But the transcripts,
the kind of academic rigor in a student’s high
school and how they did, and also the activities
and leadership that they’ve been involved in
fit in to the Schreyer mission and that’s what we’re
looking for. And that’s where the students
do separate themselves. So they will review
all those applications, put individual ratings on
each of the applications, and then the students with the
higher ratings will get the offers of admission. So it is very competitive. And I guess the one thing,
too, I should mention that the difference between
the November 30th deadline and the January 15th deadline
is the fact that if you apply by the end of November
you have the option to do an admissions interview. And it is optional,
but we have alumni all over the world literally who
are interviewing our applicants. And if you do the interview,
certainly that can be part of the review process as well.>>Does it turn out
to be an advantage?>>It does. It does. We have seen the last
few years that the students who are interviewing
actually have about a 7% higher rate of offer.>>Yeah.>>Than those who do not.>>Interesting. So now let’s take a little
bit more of the mystery out of the selection because I
hear all the time preferences. Okay? So I go off to an
ivy and dad went there. And that’s a preference. Is it a preference here?>>Well, I would say that
legacy plays a factor. Everything about an
applicant plays a factor. You know, the high school that
they attended is a factor. And how they challenged
that curriculum and how well they did
with that challenge. So all of these things,
how many activities that they’ve been involved
in, did they have leadership in those things, all of those
things enhance your picture of the applicant. So yeah. I think it does
matter to some degree. I think, you know, any
institution has to be aware of who their alumni are. And it does matter.>>So it’s a little
bit of an edge.>>Absolutely.>>To have mom and
dad and — Okay. So let’s — Let’s try another. I give you a big donation. Can I get my child in?>>So the student has to
be academically qualified. No matter if they’re –>>No matter what,
they have to be –>>Development, legacy,
you name it, they have to be academically
qualified. So at any juncture I think,
you know, that’s the basis.>>The first thing you say
with every single applicant is, “They must be academically
qualified.”>>Absolutely. We get that question
a lot, particularly with student athlete
recruits too. You know, “Is that a factor?” And sure. Being recruited
as an athlete at the division I
level, that’s a factor. But at the end of
the day a student has to meet the academic criteria
for admission to the university.>>So I could ask you a
whole group of questions and I might hear the
exact same answer because I watch some
institutions deliberately accept a couple thousand, what,
international students because they pay more. So do we look at them and say,
“Now we’re going to go deeper in to the pool here
because we want to have those extra dollars?” Or is it the same answer?>>Yeah. No. So, you know, we try and keep
the incoming class international population –>>Being very diverse. So this is an intent, but –>>Right. But we want it to
be geographically diverse. You know, worldwide. But, you know, it can
also be overwhelming. There are institutions out
there that go very deep in to China, as an example. And, you know, have 1,000
Chinese international students on their campus. Well, we don’t want that. We want great diversity
because it’s going to lend to the learning environment.>>And I will say certainly from an honors perspective the
academic qualifications are really first and foremost
because with so few seats in the honors college,
and I think the fact that this was the top 3%
of students at Penn State, the legacy, the relationships,
really are irrelevant because you have to demonstrate
the strength in the classroom. Absolutely. That’s key.>>Yeah. So what about
for first in your family? Do we look at those differently? I mean many universities
consider this to be a challenge to get them to graduate. And they may actually shy
away a little bit because they like their yields to be high and their graduation
rates to be high. And it’s more challenging for
a student like that perhaps to fill out an application.>>Right.>>Do we look at
them differently?>>So to some degree,
I would say. I’m a first generation
student myself, and a first generation student
does not have the resources at home, the knowledge of the
process, from their parents that other students do have. So we know that they have had
to work hard and perform well and there has been some
struggle involved for them. So I can’t say that it’s
easier for them to get in, but you know it’s definitely
a consideration in the process that they are a first
generation student. And we want to level the
playing field, so to speak.>>And we certainly recognize
that’s Penn State’s mission. That’s who we are as a
[inaudible] institution and even as the honors college within it. That’s who we want
to be as well. We want to reflect the residents
of Pennsylvania and certainly when students are applying to the honors college we’re
not going to penalize them because they may have gone
to a rural high school where there are no AP classes. That’s okay. They can still be
an excellent student and an outstanding leader
in that environment.>>What about second chances? Well, you didn’t
quite make this. Go take this course
or this course. You might have a chance. Or Schreyers. I’ve gone to a commonwealth
campus and I’m a great student. Have I lost my chance?>>No. Within Schreyer, fortunately we have something
called a gateway process where because we can only
take 300 students coming in as freshmen, we do
have the opportunity for continuing Penn
State students to apply after their first or
second year at Penn State and the decision’s purely based on your performance
at Penn State. So if you’re a late bloomer, the gateway to Schreyer
is a perfect opportunity.>>With regard to the rest of
kind of the general population, the idea of second chances
is something that we do talk about with students
and families. In most cases, a
student is probably going to have options at Penn State. And that may be their
local commonwealth campus in their region. But it also, if the
student performed — I don’t want to say
exceptionally poorly because that’s kind
of a dichotomy, but if a student
struggled in high school and then just did not do well,
we might advise that student to say, “Hey, there’s a local
community college in your area.” So if you’re from Philadelphia,
go take a couple of classes at the community
college of Philadelphia. And then apply as
a transfer student. And we do see a lot of students
who do that, particularly if there is a community college
local to them that’s local to another Penn State
commonwealth campus.>>And a last statement. If you were to give one
bit of advice to a student that was applying and hoping
to come to Penn State, obviously 131,000 were, what —
I’m going to ask each of you, what bit of advice
would you offer them?>>So getting back to the
November 30th, applying. Complete that application
by November 30th. The early bird gets the worm. I mean that’s the kind
of — the philosophy.>>Yep.>>Right. So I’ve got
children of the college and high school age myself. And that has been some
of my advice to them and their friends throughout
the process is get it done. Submit your applications. And let the decisions
come to you. You’re in high school. You need to worry about your
senior year and to continue to perform well and you need to enjoy your senior
year at the same time. So submit your application
and let — Right. Absolutely.>>Very simply I will
just say be authentic and enjoy the process. I know there’s so much pressure
on kids these days for applying to college and I
think it’s unfortunate because it should be a fun
process for you and your family. So take a look around. Present your authentic self when
you apply so that people know who you are when you’re
submitting your application. Don’t try to be somebody
you’re not.>>Well, thank you. I suspect we did take
a little mystery out of that application process for
tens of thousands of students from the commonwealth
and around the world. Thank you very much.>>You’re welcome.>>Thank you. [ Music ]>>Next up on “Higher Education
in Focus” I’ll talk one on one with President Barron about
the admissions process from a student’s perspective. Students have so many choices
when it comes to what university or college to apply for. So why Penn State? What makes a Penn State
education so unique?>>Great brand. Highly visible. Huge alumni group that
will help you out there in the world wherever
you are in the world. A history of having great jobs
at the end of your education and a real sense of
community and spirit that makes it fun
to be on campus. And a very high quality faculty.>>You just talked with a
lot of admissions experts on what it takes to
get in to Penn State, but what does it take to
really succeed at Penn State?>>Well, I will tell
you this, you know. There’s step one. Go to class. Study. And do well. And there’s another part of it
and that is to become engaged. And the more engaged you are
in doing worthwhile activities, the more likely you’re going
to build a strong resume, that you’re going to enhance
the education in a classroom, the greater peer
group you will have because they will
also be engaged. So do well in class and become
engaged in worthwhile activities that will serve you
later on in life.>>That’s very true. And you know a lot of
newspapers and magazines come out with rankings
every year such as “U.S. News and World Report.” A lot of people look
at those media outlets, parents, student perspective. And in your perspective, what
do those numbers really mean?>>Okay. So they’re
— They are numbers that a university can’t ignore. They can’t ignore because
especially good students want to go to the highest
ranked university they can. And we have a very high rank
and so you pay attention to those rankings because
it’s an important signal. Now you dig in to them and you
discover there’s some parts of the rankings that you
can be extremely proud of. In our case we graduate students
way above what’s predicted by the economic and
social characteristics of our student body. That’s a great metric to have
and it helps raise our ranking. There are others like
how much money you spend. Probably a little
less interesting.>>So you did your undergraduate
work at Florida State and your graduate work at
the University of Miami. Can you speak on the
value of a public versus a private education?>>Okay. So publics have
a mission and that is to educate the students in the
commonwealth and the nation. And that also means we want
to look like that population. We want to make sure that
we serve everybody, whether or not you’re financially
disadvantaged, whether you’re rural,
whether you’re in a city. And I really like that mission. And a private is a little
bit different in terms of they don’t have
to have that mission. So I prefer a public mission.>>One of the bigger issues
or decisions students have to make once you’re in the university is
what are they studying. What’s their major? And about three-quarters
of students end up changing their
major at least once. And some experts say, “Well,
maybe they shouldn’t decide until their second year.” What is your perspective and
your opinion on this debate?>>I like students
to have options. So I come in there
and decided I — You know, I wanted
to study geology. That’s exactly what I did. And that’s what I
did and I loved it. And I ended up being a
geoscientist faculty member. So let’s not disadvantage that
student that’s really driven and has a strong idea. At the same time, let’s
not create too much stress for a student that hasn’t made
up their mind because we offer so many majors and so
many opportunities. And if you compare it to a high
school, and you say, “Okay. I love chemistry.” And then you realize
you have biochemistry and chemical engineering
and this whole broad area — So I don’t — I wouldn’t want
students to stress over that. On the other hand, if
they wait too long, it takes them longer
to graduate. It costs them more. So it’s kind of a balancing act.>>You know, it can be difficult
to graduate within 4 years with one major, change
of major, two majors. So how can the university
help to guide students in to that 4 year graduation?>>Absolutely we’ve got a
whole group of initiatives that we’re launching to help
students succeed in a timely way because the cost of your
degree is really equivalent to the time it takes
you to get your degree.>>Thank you so much.>>My pleasure.>>On behalf of Penn State
president Eric Barron, we’d like to thank our
guests, Clark Brigger, executive director of
undergraduate admissions at Penn State, Bert
McBrayer, associate director for admissions operations and
Mitch Kirsch, associate dean for student affairs at the
Schreyer Honors College. For “Higher Education in
Focus,” I’m Lauren Doyle. Thanks for joining us.>>Support for “Higher
Education in Focus” comes from the Penn State alumni
association, serving alumni and alma mater for
more than 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State Bookstore, now
in an expanded location in the HUB-Robeson Center. Improving the student
experience at Penn State with philanthropic support of student causes
throughout the university. PSECU, a credit union
providing financial services to its members throughout
Pennsylvania since 1934. More at psecu.com. And from viewers like you. Thank you.>>The college admissions
process can be daunting. What can you do to make the
most of your application?>>The first chunk of
applicants we review is anybody who completed an application
by that November 30th date. That’s when criteria
for admission to a student’s first choice
campus or program is going to be at its least competitive. Throughout the year
then the criteria for admission becomes
more competitive.>>Taking the mystery out
of admissions on the next “Higher Education in Focus.”