I am always focused on the end-game. The end-game for students is the next level after they leave K-12. Preparing students to compete and succeed is difficult. There is always a huge debate over where time should be allocated, what subjects are more important, and what skills will be required ten years after graduation.
I do believe there are always trends, and finding those trends can be difficult. Most of the data we gravitate towards, is data that we are directed to look at. The trick to finding trends, is to find new questions to ask. In order to find those questions, I try and look at data through a variety of lenses.
College Admissions Data
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) publishes a report called the State of College Admission. I decided to research the 2014 and 2016 reports (data range from 2006-2015) after being very intrigued by a 2007 article titled, Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard.
Of course, evolution is not the same as progress. These kids have an AP history textbook that has been specially created to match the content of the AP test, as well as review books and tutors for those tests. We had no AP textbook; many of our readings came from primary documents, and there was no Princeton Review then. I was never tutored in anything and walked into the SATs without having seen a sample SAT question.
As for my bean sprouts project, as bad it was, I did it alone. I interview kids who describe how their schools provide a statistician to analyze their science project data.
I started to wonder, aside from academics, are university admission processes valuing all the extracurricular work students are doing, and all the stress and time involved in this competitive process. Many extracurricular options involve technology, and require significant investment in time and money.
The data from NACAC was interesting. There are four common summary columns: Considerable Importance, Moderate Importance, Limited Importance, No Importance.
I decided only to review the change of “importance” in the No Importance category. The first three categories are variable. No Importance is not variable, it is absolute, and reflects a definitive negative statement.
The concept is fairly simply. I have 100 points. I weight each of the four categories until I run out of points. In this game, I can decide to declare something a waste of time and effort by using that last category, No Importance.
Here are the results:
This data is troubling. Aside from IB/AP scores, most internal non-academic criteria are losing importance.
Why Has the Value Decreased?
Looking on Reddit and some forums, I found some interviews between admissions officers, students, and parents. Interestingly, I found a comments from these people that resonated with the Harvard interviewer from 2007.
A few things were clear from this small, but powerful, sample:
- Students working on or in teams need to clearly explain their roles and their contributions; simply being on a team is not enough.
- Students working without structure, and on original independent projects, are very interesting to the admissions team.
- Students working inside of a managed program are not really that different from one another.
The value has not decreased, but the supply of students who are doing the same things, and have the same basic profiles, has increased. The demand for those students is lower than the demand for students who are more independent.
The Maker Portfolio
In 2013 MIT introduced a different option for admissions. They called it (and are calling it) The Maker Portfolio. “In many respects, the Maker Portfolio has been a resounding success. Over the last two years, more than 2000 students have used it to show us the things they make, from surfboards to solar cells, code to cosplay, prosthetics to particle accelerators. We believe the Maker Portfolio has improved our assessment of these applicants and offers us a competitive advantage over our peers who have not developed the processes to identify and evaluate this kind of talent.”~Chris Peterson, Hal Abelson
Since then, a quick Google Search will reveal other universities are aligning with MIT. Washington University, Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, California College of the Arts, and more are now offering this option for admissions.
What does this all mean to K-12 education and educational technology? Activities that used to be hobbies, now need to be student lead within the curriculum. Students need to find an interest, and develop it themselves with as little support as possible. A student should be able to articulate their specific contributions, failures, and growth through a variety of methods, and in a very succinct manner.
Technology investment must shift not only to equipment and resources that allow students to plan and create, but also to systems that will help schools optimize schedules and planning to ensure academic rigor is not sacrificed.
I encourage everyone to review all the resources that went into this post, and I leave you with this comment from Chris Peterson from the MIT Admissions department, “Sometimes students ask me if MIT wants students who are well-rounded. I usually say I don’t care as much if you’re well-rounded or pointy, what I care about is evaluating the space enclosed by the shape.”
- Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard
- Former Ivy League admissions officer reveals how schools pick students
- Hi I’m Nelson Ureña, I am a former admissions officer from Cornell and currently an admissions counselor
- 10 College Admissions Secrets: An Inside Look From an Elite College Counselor
- 3 Hooks in College Admissions
- When Makers Apply to College
- I’m an MIT Admissions Officer & longtime FIRST person, AMA
- Admissions Revolution As 80 colleges unite to create new application and portfolio platform
- 2016 State of College Admission Report from NACAC
- 2014 State of College Admission Report from NACAC