When I was growing up in Connecticut, baseball was my passion. My sister was a NY Yankees fan, so naturally I became a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. I lived and died (mostly died) with the Red Sox, and my hero was Jim Rice, the home run hitting left fielder for my beloved team. I can still name most of the Sox starting nine from the late 1970’s, from Hobson at third, Scott at first, Evans in right, Lynn in center and Fisk behind the plate among others. And like any baseball fan in the 70’s and 80’s, I collected baseball cards. There was nothing better than getting a fresh pack of Topps baseball cards to see which players you got (and nothing worse than the cheap stick of gum with a texture like cardboard and flavor that lasted for three minutes tops).
The greatness of a baseball card was not just the photo on the front, but the wealth of each player’s statistics on the back of the card. This information transformed a kid from a mere fan into a fountain of baseball knowledge, with the ability to magically produce statistics like rabbits from a hat, amazing your friends by knowing exactly what Carl Yastrzemski’s batting average was in 1977 (.296 in case you are wondering).
But statistics are a funny thing. Data that at one time seemed vital to success now is not so important now, while lesser know pieces of information suddenly take on a much larger role in predicting success. The batting average of a baseball player (percentage of hits compared to at bats) has been overtaken by a players OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), which includes walks, hitting for power, and total bases. It’s no longer just about getting a hit, but instead about the most efficient way for players to get on base, score runs and win the game. In the same vein, the importance of stealing bases has dropped sharply, as in general the data shows the cost of being caught stealing exceeds the rewards of being successful stealing the base. We might never see the likes of a Ricky Henderson, the greatest base-stealer ever, again in baseball.
Just like with baseball statistics, admission statistics are not always static from year to year, and many times the information is misunderstood or the importance of data points changes over time. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- HS GPA vs UGA GPA – If you look at your average high school transcript, you will see at least one field labeled GPA, with some schools getting up to three or four GPA’s (weighted, unweighted, etc.). The GPA could be on a 100 point scale, a 4.00 scale, a 5.00 scale, a 6.00 scale, even up to a 10-12 point scale. Each high school or school system has its own way of determining a GPA, and my office has no control over this (nor do we want it). But the problem is that there is no sense of standardization in a HS GPA. A 4.21 could be great in one method (4.00 scale), but merely average in another method (6.00 scale). As such, UGA does not look at, use or care about the GPA on your transcript. We calculate our own GPA so we can have a standard data point that is the same for all applicants. If you ever see us list a GPA, it is a UGA GPA that we are listing (and I have several blog posts showing how we calculate it).
- SAT/ACT test scores – If you had asked most college admission offices 20 or more years ago about the importance of different factors in admissions, test scores would have been near the top of the list. But as universities have done research on the factors which predict success and strong grades in college, the impact of the SAT and ACT scores have lessened greatly. On the academic side, what a student does day in and day out in the high school classroom and the strength of the student’s coursework have shown to be much better predictors of student success. This is why you are seeing a number of colleges go test optional for their admissions process. When I see “Chance me” comments on certain web sites, SAT and ACT scores are generally the first or second thing listed in their description. This is not the order in which I would put them at all.
- AP/IB/DE Data– When admissions offices talk about course rigor, it is almost impossible to convey things in a meaningful way. When we say that the average admitted student had a “Very Rigorous” schedule, this does not convey any real information, and leaves people wanting more details. As such, we have tried listing the mid-range data for AP/IB/DE courses taken over four years, but even this is somewhat misleading, as colleges are not telling students to shoot for a certain number of rigorous courses. What we are looking at is how a student has challenged themselves overall from 9th through 12th grade in their core area courses, and especially in the broader sense of their academic passion, as we want students to be prepared for the rigors of UGA’s classes. We are not looking at a certain number of AP/IB/DE courses, but instead on how you have overall prepared yourself for UGA academic experience within the options at your school and in your community.
In addition, as UGA has moved (and will move even farther in the future) to a more holistic review process to look at the entire applicant, there will be more focus on the context of the individual student’s personal situation. What are the academic options for the student within their community, what challenges has this student faced in their personal life, what has the happened within the student’s academic and co-curricular activities over the period of their high school years, etc. We are looking at the trends within the student’s application (how have their grades and rigor progressed), and how they have challenged themselves in the five core academic areas over time. If a student has faced a hurdle, how have they overcome it? If a student has a passion (be it theater, fencing, birding or whatever), how have they pursued this passion (I have seen all three of these this year).