Monthly Archives: May 2014

May 19, 2014

Eliminating Admissions Error Online

frustrationAdmissions management software like AMP make the admissions process simple and easy by automating many routine tasks. With the click of a button, you can now complete jobs that used to consume days or weeks of your admissions office’s precious time! But it can be dangerous to rely too heavily on automation. Admissions error is, if anything, an even bigger cause for concern with digital systems. One click of the button can now send a mistake to hundreds of students, which can become a costly headache.

In the past few years, several schools have had problems with erroneous admission notices:

  • In 2010, Vassar University cited “computing error” when 122 students were mistakenly told they were accepted. In this case, a test acceptance message was erroneously left on the site when it should have been replaced with a rejection notice. Vassar ended up refunding the affected student’s application fees in addition to calling each student to directly apologize for the gaffe.
  • In 2011, the University of Delaware accidentally notified 68 rejected students that they were accepted. After admissions decisions went out, students were able to login to their student portal. While the landing page displayed the correct messaging, an interior page told every student “Congratulations!” and invited them to sign up for accepted student visitation days. The error was blamed on human error; a chunk of code caused the incorrect page to be visible to rejected students, even after testing.
  • In 2012, UCLA accidentally told 894 waitlisted applicants that they had been accepted in a form email. The email ended with a sentence meant only for accepted students, reading “Once again, congratulations on your acceptance to UCLA,” which caused confusion among the already waitlisted students. The mistake was blamed on human error.

The thing is; even when an admissions error is blamed on “computer error,” it all comes down to human error. Whether it was a coding issue that occurred during development or an office employee sending out the wrong email template, safeguards need to be in place at every step in order to avoid problems.

When implementing and utilizing an electronic admissions system, errors are always preventable if appropriate protocols are in place.

  • Choose your admissions software carefully. The right admissions software will take care of all tasks, with no gaps in the process. For complex admissions processes, AMP Paperless Admissions is recommended.
  • Prior to launching an online admissions system, a strong communication between your internal team and your software team is paramount. An effective software team will continuously test your system system, but it is equally important to have your internal team thoroughly test the software to ensure that everything meets your needs before launch.
  • Provide thorough training of your admissions staff on a software system, while always keeping a user manual handy for reference.
  • A series of checks and balances should be implemented at every step of your process, and especially before any batch email notifications are sent to applicants. More eyes on an email means more chances of catching silly errors. Every large-scale form email should be first proofread by a peer, then emailed to a test account, and then sent to the entire list – particularly for important emails such as admissions decision announcements.
  • Create a work environment that encourages and/or rewards the reporting of errors. If an employee fears punishment or blame for pointing out an error, then it is less likely that those errors will be reported.

Modern admissions systems might be automated, but that does not mean that they are infallible. Software is only as effective as the people who are using it. Admissions employees and stakeholders need to approach every step of the process with a doubting attitude. Every step in the admissions process needs to be checked, double checked, and triple checked before moving forward.


May 5, 2014

New Changes to the SAT

This year, the SAT is implementing big changes in their test structure and content. Most notably, the mandatory essay section of the test will now be replaced with a revamped optional writing section, and scores will again be marked out of 1600.

The now defunct mandatory writing section was introduced in 2005 and has drawn a lot of criticism. Test prep tutors and students alike quickly discovered loopholes and methods for gaming the system. Many students were advised to pre-write a generic essay and then make small adjustments to suit the prompt. Les Perelman, a former director of writing at M.I.T., once tutored 16 students on tricks to ace the writing section. To gain a high score, he advised the students to write a long essay, sprinkle in some advanced vocabulary, add lots of details without worrying about factual accuracy, and to cite famous quotes from prominent historical figures regardless of their relevancy to the topic at hand. Fifteen of sixteen in the group scored in the 90% percentile for SAT scores (Balf, New York Times).

In a recent news release, the College Board admitted that the old essay “has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam..” The new SAT test has been restructured to assess traits valued by these educational stakeholders. The new test emphasizes reasoned analysis of source documents in the writing portion. The reading/writing portion will test evidence-based reasoning, deriving the meaning of powerful words from contextual clues, and the ability to explain their thought process in selecting an answer. The new test discourages memorization of “SAT words” by instead testing students on words that can change meaning in context and will be commonly encountered in everyday life. The math section will also change, narrowing the focus to multi-step problem solving, algebra, and advanced math.

09sat2-blog427-v2The new SAT also seeks to minimize the proven correlation between income and test scores in two ways. First, the College Board will be issuing fee waivers to qualified low-income students. Second, they are embarking on an unprecedented partnership with the free online educator, the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy now offers free, guided SAT test prep made available to everyone at no cost. Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, says, “For too long, there’s been a well-known imbalance between students who could afford test-prep courses and those who couldn’t.”

“Like any other truly significant change, there will be debate,” says William Fitzsimmons, the Nacac chairman and head of admissions at Harvard. “Sometimes in the past, there’s been a feeling that tests were measuring some sort of ineffable entity such as intelligence, whatever that might mean. Or ability, whatever that might mean. What this is is a clear message that good hard work is going to pay off and achievement is going to pay off. This is one of the most significant developments that I have seen in the 40-plus years that I’ve been working in admissions in higher education.” (Balf, New York Times)

The coming years will prove if these changes have an effect on low income student accessibility and the score gap. Do you anticipate adjusting your program’s admissions policy in response to the changes in the SAT?