Angst of an admissions director

Pitzer admissions director Angel Perez writes in the LA Times about the agony of rejecting well-qualified students. Pitzer received received 4,079 applications for 245 spots in the freshman class. (The college accepts 22 percent of applicants; most who are accepted choose to go elsewhere.)

I recall the fate of one young woman whose academic profile was top-notch. She had a 4.0 grade-point average at a competitive high school in Los Angeles, she listed a fair amount of extracurricular activities, and her essays read well. But she was from a town very close by and had never taken the time to visit the college. We offer many opportunities to do so, but she had had no contact with us.

She was rejected on the suspicion that Pitzer wasn’t her first choice. But Pitzer took “a young man from New York City who was academically below our margin.”   
I interviewed him, and in my evaluation I wrote, “This kid bleeds Pitzer College.” He was concerned about issues of social justice and social responsibility — two key values that our institution was founded on.
The student’s grades were below the Pitzer average; he submitted no test scores (tests are optional).  Perez read his essay out loud to the admissions committee.
They laughed out loud in response to this young man’s humor, and they could not believe how much time he took to demonstrate to us how right he was for Pitzer.

I followed up the reading by telling them about my impressions from the interview: “He won’t graduate top of his class, but he is going to be a powerful presence here.” One of our staff members, who was clearly impressed, said, “This kid really does want to change the world, doesn’t he?”

Pitzer tries for an even balance of men and women (it’s 61 percent female), a mix of California and out-of-state students and “a strong balance of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity,” writes Perez. Clearly, they’re trying to boost their rankings by showing that a higher number of accepted students choose Pitzer. That means highly qualified students looking for a back-up school will be rejected while less-qualified students who really, really want Pitzer will get in.

Last week, I interviewed Downtown College Prep seniors who were applying for college scholarships funded by the charter school’s donors. The class of ’09 is unusually large and remarkably talented.  Most students apply for a scholarship — financial need is a  factor as well as grades — so I saw top students and students who’d struggled academically. I wasn’t most impressed by the kids who wanted to be a role model for the Hispanic community or those who said, “I don’t want to be a statistic.” I liked the girl who said, “I love math.” She plans to study aeronautic engineering. And the boy who said, “I love reading.” He’s hoping to qualify for the nationals in a slam poetry competition.  There was a boy who’s into chemistry but may not get enough aid to study chemical engineering at the excellent private university that accepted him. (Not a tragedy: He’s got a UC option.)  Another kid was fascinated by the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war in Yugoslavia. I met kids who are passionate about photography and choreography. Most come from working-class families; some are working to help their laid-off parents pay the bills. 

One of the interviewers was Magdalena Villalvazo, a member of DCP’s first class who spoke at the first graduation in ’04 and earned her college degree in ’08. She works as a banker. Her speech is in my book, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Mark Roulo says:

    Pitzer received received 4,079 applications for 245 spots in the freshman class. (The college accepts 22 percent of applicants; most who are accepted choose to go elsewhere.)

    245/4,079 = 6%.

    Do they actually accept 22% (in this case about 900 kids) to fill their 250 slots?

    -Mark Roulo

  2. Andromeda says:

    Mark: They accept more than 245, because “most who are accepted choose to go elsewhere”. 245 is the number they want to be attending in the fall, not the number of acceptance letters they send out in the spring.

    (I’m psyched to see a Pitzer article; I went to college across the street. And yeah, the school has a very strong personality; I can see it going for the students who fit that.)

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    “He was concerned about issues of social justice and social responsibility…”

    In other words, the kid doesn’t need to be qualified, he just needs to fit the proper far-left mindset.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Mark: They accept more than 245, because “most who are accepted choose to go elsewhere”.

    I read that. I just had a hard time believing it 🙂

    The school turning down 75% of the applicants and then 75% of the admits turning down the school just seems … strange.

    -Mark Roulo

  5. “He was concerned about issues of social justice and social responsibility…”

    Yes, being concerned about left wing issues negates all that he hasn’t learned about reading, writing, language, mathematics, history, and science. “Concern” for issues of social justice and social responsiblity just makes him more “well rounded.”

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    It’s not so strange when you consider the admissions strategy of the typical Pitzer applicant. He knows that the vast majority of applicants to Pitzer are qualified, so he figures he has about a 25% chance of admission. Therefore, he has to apply to a lot of similar schools to ensure himself at least one acceptance. The students I know about this year applied to around ten schools, some more, some less. The typical Pitzer acceptee is choosing between Pitzer and a handful of other schools.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    I don’t know why posters here are concluding that the New York kid was a terrible student. His GPA was below the average accepted student’s GPA (of 3.9), but a minute’s thought will reveal that Pitzer can’t possibly accept only those students whose GPA is above their average acceptee’s GPA.

  8. I sent this to Joanne, and I think the writer sounds deranged. This is way too subjective and emotional and touchy-feeley for me.

    Maybe the first female student mentioned actually went to the campus without getting the official In-tourist tour. What then of her interest?

    I’m so glad my kid applied to art school, and avoided this merry-go-round of manipulation and wackiness.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    Looking at princetonreview.com,

    Pitzer accepts about 900 out of the 4000 that apply. An SAT of 1400 will put you ahead of 75% of those accepted.

    It appears to be a place that kids apply when they are also applying to the UC system as a backup.

  10. @Mark: “The school turning down 75% of the applicants and then 75% of the admits turning down the school just seems … strange.”

    Just because one applies to a school doesn’t necessarily obligate you to go (unless you’re part of the Early Admissions program, which is a different beast in and of itself). It’s fairly common knowledge that for the best odds, one applies to a number of different schools (safety, reach, etc.) and chooses one from those that accept them. If a school can’t encourage enough accepted students to come to it vs. another school that’s accepted them, there’s a problem. It is part of the balancing act between keeping a high (perceived) academic standard and making sure those students that qualify actually want to come.

    So what’s the problem? Maybe another college becomes more attractive. Maybe they get more money elsewhere. Maybe the fit is better elsewhere. Admission counselors don’t always learn the reasons behind a student’s decision. If I’m the school I’m calling / e-mailing a survey to find out though.

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    [quote]
    Pitzer accepts about 900 out of the 4000 that apply. An SAT of 1400 will put you ahead of 75% of those accepted.

    [/quote]

    Be careful with the stats. An SAT of 1400 will put a student ahead of 75% of those who [b]enroll[/b]. But the students who enroll are not representative of the students admitted. A large percentage of the best students accepted at a school like Pitzer are using the school as a safety– in the end they choose to attend one of the better schools to which they were also accepted. On the other hand, the least qualified students accepted at Pitzer will attend (because they couldn’t be admitted to a better school) and that will drag down the average SAT of [i]enrolled[/i] students vis-a-vis the average SAT of [i]admitted[/i] students.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Sorry about that- has anyone actually gotten the Preview feature on this website to work? Here, again, without the formatting:

    “Pitzer accepts about 900 out of the 4000 that apply. An SAT of 1400 will put you ahead of 75% of those accepted.”

    Be careful with the stats. An SAT of 1400 will put a student ahead of 75% of those who *enroll*. But the students who enroll are not representative of the students admitted. A large percentage of the best students accepted at a school like Pitzer are using the school as a safety. In the end they choose to attend one of the better schools to which they were also accepted. On the other hand, the least qualified students accepted at Pitzer will attend (because they couldn’t be admitted to a better school) and that will drag down the average SAT of *enrolled* students vis-a-vis the average SAT of *admitted* students.

  13. i guess their admissions policies explain why i’ve never heard of the school. sounds like a less prestigious west coast version of brown.