Gleanings from College Board Conferences

Guest post by former Director of College Counseling Carl Ahlgren:

Here are some snapshots of my time attending College Board events.

Increasing applications to improve selectivity

I had a conversation with an old friend and former VP/Dean at a fine college in Pennsylvania. He now works for one of the many consulting firms that contract with admission offices to help them do their work. This is a very common trend. At a rapid pace, admission leadership is retiring or leaving the profession, often because of the profound pressures from presidents and Boards to increase application numbers as a way to improve selectivity. Colleagues like my friend eventually grow weary of persuading high school students to jump into their app pools only so they can be denied or waitlisted. Ironically, he now works for a firm that helps colleges attract more applications. If you receive an email from a college encouraging you to apply with, for instance, a ‘V.I.P.’ version especially sent to you, it is likely that this firm created it.

The new Coalition Application

The Coalition Application has become a very hot and emotional topic of conversation at conferences like these. Two members of Coalition schools presented the latest about their work and the spring roll-out of the Coalition Application. Much of the motivation behind the Coalition App is centered on creating ways for underrepresented and first-generation applicants to find their way into the application pools of these fine schools. Many counselors and admission professionals are skeptical about the efficacy of a new application and the ways it will serve these noble goals. This skepticism is offered throughout the session, by earnest counselors from urban Philadelphia public schools and others. I have become accustomed to tension in the room when the Coalition is on the agenda.

Demonstrated interest

I joined colleagues from Hockaday School, Lafayette College, Northeastern University, and  Shady Side Academy for breakfast as they placed the finishing touches on a panel presentation that addressed the growth and use of demonstrated interest within the admission process. It is clear to all that as app pools continue to grow, the presence and absence of demonstrated interest becomes more potent. The roles of the campus visit, interview, and supplemental essay have never been as potent as they are today.

The College Board promotes its newest products

As the juniors know, a student can merge his College Board account with his Khan Academy (online learning) account, and Khan will create a customized and free online SAT prep program designed just for that student. The College Board is especially proud of this new development. At one point, the smooth and enthusiastic College Board presenter interrupts himself and asks, in a self-deprecating way, “Wait…Is this too salesy? Am I being too salesy?” I appreciate the sentiment, but of course it is ‘salesy.’ The College Board may be a not-for-profit, but they are very sophisticated, slick, and robustly self-promotional.

The redesigned SAT

As you would imagine, much of these conferences are filled with discussion of the redesigned SAT. The College Board was eager to share the ways that this newer tool will improve equity, accurate evaluation for college level work, and access to high ed.

Common themes in many sessions

Often session titles included these themes and topics:  equity, AP, international students, enrollment management, transparency, first-generation college bound, access, student success, and college readiness.

Each Gilman counselor spends a significant portion of the year at similar events. They gain a great deal from this kind of professional development, and are eager to return to Gilman to  invest these ideas into the Gilman community. College counselors are grateful to colleagues who help with covering classes and study halls, and to school leadership who devote the resources that make it possible to attend.

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