Trends in Ivy League College Admissions: Lessons from the IECA Retreat
Last week, I attended a business retreat with other Professional members of the Independent Educational Consultant Association (IECA) to discuss industry trends and business related topics. During the retreat, we had the opportunity to meet and hear Peter Johnson, Director of Admission for Columbia University speak. He is a fascinating man who has been working in elite college admissions since the early 1980’s. He highlighted some trends that will impact Ivy League admissions.
Angular Students or Niche Applicants will increase. Johnson said that Columbia is seeing a rise in what he calls “Niche Applicants” and what we call angular students. These are students who have already demonstrated a deep independent intellectual curiosity or expertise in a given area from science research to humanities to outstanding athletics.
More push to admit low income and first generation students. Columbia currently has the largest number of Pell grant students among this group of elite institutions; however, the push to increase that number will increase at all Ivy League institutions due to increased scrutiny from the Obama administration.
Supplemental Essay(s) More Important Than Ever. For students to get a sense of what a specific college looks for in its candidates, the supplemental essay questions are a good place to start. Since Columbia values kids that read, they ask specifically what students have read both as a class assignment and on their own. Schools that ask how you will contribute when you attend want students who will engage and make a difference in the community. Schools that ask quirky questions, such as UChicago, Wake Forest or Tufts, want students with a distinctive voice and way of thinking.
Independent Intellectual Curiosity is key. Columbia wants to see students who not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. It wants to see students who truly have a deep intellectual curiosity and pursue knowledge across a wide range of sources. Students will have to illustrate their curiosity through independent research, summer study programs, the books they read, the events the attend etc. “If a student claims an interest in French, is he reading Le Monde? If a student says she loves politics, it is not enough to read The Onion and listen to The Daily Show or Rush Limbaugh.”
Need to demonstrate match more critical than ever. Most students say they want to go to Columbia because of the core curriculum and its New York location. But there has to be a more compelling reason beyond these obvious answers. Is there a particular professor or course of study that resonates with you? What about the student body do you like? How does the academic culture of a given school match the way you like to learn? The more specific the better.
Potential decrease in the waitlist and deferrals. Some admissions committees are looking to decrease the number of students they put on the waitlist or defer who they know will not be admitted. The philosophy of the waitlist or deferrals varies by school and even by individuals within admissions. Some feel it is kinder to defer or waitlist a legacy student or a top student in a high school where an athlete with lesser academic credentials is accepted. However, others are pushing to let students know sooner if they do not have a chance of acceptance. Admissions will, however, continue to wait list or defer students whom they would like to admit, but just don’t have room.