How The New Digital SAT May Impact Students with Learning Differences

The standardized testing landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years with the pandemic-fueled increase in test-optional and even test-blind college admissions. Now the new digital SAT is shaking up the landscape even more, particularly for those students who receive standardized testing accommodations. With many assistive technology options, the new digital SAT will likely benefit many students with learning differences. However, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

Here are some ways the new digital SAT may positively and negatively impact neurodiverse students.

Pros:
  • Shorter test will benefit students with attention challenges such as ADHD
  • Completing the test on the computer will eliminate the difficulty some students have with tracking and alleviate the difficulties with bubbling in a scantron form for those with fine motor control challenges
  • Adaptive questions, which adjust to a student’s ability, may decrease frustration
  • More time per question, so a student’s processing speed is less important
  • Shorter reading passages benefit those with reading challenges
  • Text-to-speech capability, where a student can adjust the speed of delivery vs. relying on a human reader, which can be unpredictable
  • Students can alter the font size and type of font, colors, and background for increased readability
  • Calculator available on screen to help those with math calculation difficulties
  • Math formulas available for students to reference, reducing the need for memorization
  • Highlighter tool can help students mark text or answer options
  • Students can increase amount of white space between lines of text for easier reading
  • No more relying on a live proctor—extra time is much easier to administer because it’s run by the computer, ensuring a consistent, reliable experience
  • Students can isolate one line of text at a time to block out distractions
  • Students can eliminate answers using “strikethrough” to help them narrow answer options
  • Students can zoom in to make text bigger
  • Scratch paper will still be available
  • Access to a clock on the computer that counts down the time and gives a five-minute warning, helping students to manage their time strategically
Possible Cons:
  • The adaptive feature could cause anxiety and distraction for students who try to figure out the level of questions they are being offered
  • Students without computers will be using borrowed computers they may not be familiar with; this could disadvantage students without access to computers or who don’t have a comfort level with the computer they will using for the test

The PSAT in October 2022 will be a good trial run to see the ways in which LD/ND students experience and potentially benefit from the new format. IECs need to be aware that the class of 2025 will be a “test” class, because the scoring will be different from the paper SAT and there will be no correlation tables. IECs can help students prepare for the new format by recommending they take a digital practice test (if available) to familiarize themselves with using their accommodations on the new format.

Overall, the new digital SAT has the potential to greatly improve the testing experience for many students with learning differences.

By Elizabeth Cooper, JD, IECA (MA); Julie Richie, MFA, IECA (TX); and Ann Rossbach, MAT, CEP, IECA (NJ)

A Legacy Obsolete

The families I advise are generally aware of legacy admission practices, but many are less informed regarding its origins and the degree of advantage that it affords them.

As an independent educational consultant who works directly with students who benefit from this policy, I can also vouch for the pressure, and even embarrassment, this adds to an already stressful process. Not unlike the Varsity Blues scandal, students are the ones caught in the crosshairs of outside influences and expectations that can infringe on and even deter the process of finding that perfect-fit college.  

Although increasing college access and diversity is a growing priority for colleges, I have found legacy admissions to be the proverbial elephant in the room. The contradictory policy of legacy status still appears to be considered sacrosanct by many postsecondary institutions. College admissions is subjective, and the institutional priorities that define who is admitted each year often place emphasis on varying qualities that are not associated with academic merit: athletics, ability to pay, etc. However, the notion that an advantage is granted to applicants based on historical ties to the college is completely unjust when considering our country’s painful history of denying postsecondary access to students based on race, gender, and religion. Many colleges have a page on their websites dedicated to a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet duplicitously maintain legacy status in the admissions process, giving a clear (non-merit-based) boost to more privileged populations. 

Dartmouth College is the notorious trailblazer of legacy admissions, first introducing the practice in 1922, with other colleges such as Yale following closely behind. The origins of using legacy in admissions are seeded in nativism and antisemitism, created to ensure that certain populations remained excluded. Selective colleges such as Harvard and Princeton have single digit admit rates for the general population, yet admit about a third of legacy status applicants. At Cornell University, legacy admits make up “around 15% of the student body,” almost five times that of the Black student population, or almost equal to that of the entire Black and Latino populations combined. Although colleges have confirmed that legacy admits are often academically qualified, competitive applicants, this practice has given additional privileges to an already affluent population, further compounding inequity in the admissions process and serving as a barrier to achieving higher rates of diversity at college campuses. Furthermore, those who promote the use of legacy admission say it guarantees loyal alumni giving; research shows there is no correlation.   

Amherst College is the most recent institution to end legacy admission preference, citing it as a policy “that inadvertently limits educational opportunity.” The College is also strengthening its financial aid programming in an effort to making an Amherst experience more affordable and accessible to all students. Amherst joins the ranks of colleges like MIT and the California Institute of Technology in creating a holistic approach to admission that does not factor in alumni connections.  

Although legacy status is just one aspect of a college admissions process already rife with advantages for the wealthy and privileged, eliminating it is one solid gesture that all colleges can take to “walk the walk” in their diversity, access, and inclusion efforts. I applaud Amherst College, and its predecessors, for having the courage to make bold changes to embrace a new legacy that embodies the visionary leadership our students and families deserve. Breaking with past practices is something we all must be willing to do to create meaningful change for the diverse populations of students that we are called to serve and advocate for as college access professionals. 

By Yvonne Espinoza, IECA (TX)

Yvonne Espinoza, Yvonne Espinoza College Counseling Services, can be reached at [email protected]

How to Navigate Vaccine and Mask Mandates with Your Students and Families

More than 18 months into the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to impact the landscape of college admissions and how life on campuses looks these days. With mask and vaccine mandates varying across the country—as well as the responses to them from prospective students and their families—many IECA members are looking for suggestions about how to guide parents and students through this tumultuous time. IECA Secretary/Treasurer Ibrahim Firat (TX) offers this perspective and advice.

Stay Informed about a College’s Mandates and its Political Climate

Our office is staying informed about college mandates/requirements by reaching out to current and past students (who are in college now) to hear what they are experiencing; reading the Chronicle of Higher Education’s up-to-date information about colleges’ vaccine mandates and other requirements; and staying in touch with admissions office contacts.

We rely on current/past student feedback, online forums, student-published media (newspaper, radio, podcast etc.), events on campus, and faculty-led research/publications to keep our pulse on the political climate of the college.

Provide Context for Vaccine Mandates

Just as size, location, academics, etc. are factors to decide where to go to college, so are rules/regulations/mandates. Vaccine mandates are not new, however; certain vaccines (i.e. meningitis) have been required by colleges for some time, so we start by reminding that this has been around. Secondly, we remind parents that their college-bound student is (or by the time they go off to college will be) 18+/adult and that it really is their decision to further pursue discussions with the school about mandates. Thirdly, colleges have been providing religious and/or health-related exemptions to mandates and that they can look into these options if necessary/applicable.

Continue to Guide Students and Families According to Best-Fit

There is a fine line between making this issue political and scientific versus completely college admissions or fit related. We do not get into the politics or the science of it as we are NOT the experts in those areas. We do get into the factors of selecting the right-fit college for the individual student/family’s values, and if certain school’s mandates are against those values, then it is simply an X rather than a checkmark next to that factor and we treat it as such. For some people, that X means everything; for some people that X is just another factor that may not fit them (i.e. size of campus/class size) and it may be okay.

College life on campus is shifting from all angles (i.e. living, dining, political climate, frats/sororities, etc.). How can we support families who are trying to find the best-fit college in this dynamic environment? It is a challenge, given that we still cannot visit most universities in person to gather updated info and get a feel for these “vibes.” But we must use the resources available to us to find the college that best matches the student’s educational, social, professional, and personal growth.

Ibrahim Firat, Firat Educational Solutions, LLC, can be reached at [email protected]

IECA Responds to Netflix Varsity Blues Docudrama and Anxiety Permeating the College Admissions Process

In response to the forthcoming Netflix docudrama “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” IECA commends its members commitment to the highest standards in ethical college advising while calling for greater transparency in the college application process.

The Netflix film takes a deep dive into the 2019 college admissions scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” involving a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several prestigious American universities. The scandal led to more than 50 high-profile arrests, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The conspiracy was arranged by William “Rick” Singer, who claimed to be an educational consultant and used millions of dollars from wealthy parents of college applicants to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores as well as bribe college coaches and administrators.

While the Varsity Blues scandal exposed the specific efforts of wealthy, privileged parents to ensure their children’s admission into the nation’s top colleges, it brought to light broader problems in the college application process:

  • Access to college advising in high school is unequal across the country, and particularly strained in urban and rural public high schools, where the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455:1 and more than 700:1 in some areas. This leaves school counselors overburdened and students under-resourced.
  • Colleges have become increasingly opaque in their admission criteria.
  • College acceptance rates continue to decline, partly due to the increase in applications, leading to heightened anxiety levels among students and parents.
  • Sophisticated modeling means computers play an outsize role in college admissions, minimizing the personal stories of students and admission counselors.

How IECA Members Help Students and Families Navigate College Admissions

Since its founding in 1976, IECA has been the leading voice in putting students first in the college admissions journey. IECA and its members work to assure families understand the drivers in college admissions and help them navigate its complexities in order to find a “best fit” college that meets a student’s unique set of academic, social, financial, and career needs.

“IECA members are ethical, compassionate professionals who dedicate their careers to advising students and families on their individual paths to success” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Our members focus on the unique student’s needs to help them have a successful experience wherever they choose to attend college.”

IECA members believe there are many great postsecondary options for every student, and no student should be made to feel that they must become something they are not to get accepted. Being and presenting one’s authentic self and demonstrating one’s own talents and abilities is a way of ensuring the right college fit. This is central to what an ethical independent educational consultant does.

IECA members offer an unequalled level of expertise, competence, and professionalism. Potential IECA members go through an extensive application process. They must have a master’s degree (or equivalent), at least three years of admissions counseling experience, experience working with scores of students, and have visited 50 campuses before they can be considered for professional membership. In addition, all members must agree to abide by IECA’s Principles of Good Practice and submit their marketing materials for review to ensure they accurately reflect the independent educational consultant’s role.

IECA members sign an annual pledge that governs their interactions with colleges, students, and parents. They agree to avoid any action that distorts or misrepresents a student’s record or interferes with a university’s ability to accurately evaluate a student. Because IECA consultants are committed to the highest ethical standards of practice, families find that IECA members have the student’s best interest as their sole focus.

We Believe

With a new docudrama on the Varsity Blues Scandal coming out this month on Netflix, as well as potential legislation impacting independent educational consultants (IECs) in several states, the IECA Board recognizes that the general public may not understand what IECA is and what guides our actions. These “We Believe” statements are meant to complement our mission and values and demonstrate IEC’s ongoing commitment to all young people.

1) We believe all students should have access to individualized educational guidance that will help them achieve their goals.

2) We believe independent educational consultants should act respectfully, honestly, compassionately, ethically, and professionally with every student.

3) We believe in the potential of all students regardless of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, sexual orientation, unique needs, or learning differences.

4) We believe that education should be available and affordable to all families.

5) We believe independent educational consultants are uniquely equipped to guide and support students toward their personal, academic, social, and professional goals.

6) We believe in the power of education to widen opportunities for everyone which will ultimately improve society for all.

 

Post-Election Update: What to Expect from the New Biden Administration

By IECAs Lobbyists/Government Relations Team of Brian Finch and Craig Saperstein, Pillsbury Law and Public Policy; and the IECA Government Relations Committee

With the November 2020 general election nearly concluded, the Biden-Harris transition team is beginning its initial tasks of identifying individuals for key agency positions, and setting the groundwork to implement the new Administration’s major policy initiatives. The Biden Transition Team has begun formal coordination with current agency officials, and now has access to direct government funding for the transition. Given President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign promises and stated policy goals, there may be substantive developments in the higher education space within the first few months of the Biden presidency of which independent educational consultants should be aware.

Top Biden Policy Goals

Whether by executive order or through legislation, President-elect Biden has already indicated that he hopes to address student debt within the first 100 days of his presidency. Although no specifics have been revealed by the Biden team, potential relief may include a specific amount of debt forgiveness for undergraduate loans (rumored to be ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, with income-based caps), an extension of the COVID-19 forbearance period, and reduced federal interest rates on future federal loans.

Another priority for the Biden Administration will be reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), which establishes federal student aid programs and governs most federal money going to colleges and universities in the United States. The HEA is designed to be reauthorized and updated every 5 years. However, the most recent update has not occurred since 2008. House Democrats introduced a bill, known as the College Affordability Act, to reauthorize the HEA in the current session of Congress, but action on HEA reauthorization is not likely to occur until the next session of Congress.

Beyond these initial objectives, the Biden team made education reform a key priority throughout the presidential campaign. Specific to higher education, the Biden campaign promised to invest in educational pathways programs in high schools, including investing in school vocational training programs, building partnerships between high schools, community colleges and employers to allow students programs to earn industry credentials while in high school. The Biden team has also promised to allow Pell grants to be used for dual enrollment programs, allowing high school students to take classes at community colleges for college credit.

Stakeholder groups have also been using this transition period to identify specific Trump Administration directives that the incoming Biden Administration should address. This week, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the American Council on Education (ACE) both sent their policy priorities and recommendations to the Biden transition team. Their recommendations include reversing Trump Administration limits on H-1B visas that have limited international student enrollment in colleges, ending the Trump executive order limiting diversity and critical race theory trainings, and ending certain “unnecessarily adversarial” investigations by Department of Education into admissions practices. While the Biden team has not responded to these requests, these two influential higher education lobbying organizations and may help shape the initial Biden Administration policy goals.

Department of Education

Recently, the Biden-Harris transition team named its Agency Review Team for the Department of Education. The Review Team is led by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute, who previously served in the same role in 2008 for the Obama-Biden transition. Other Review Team members include the head of the Institute for College Access and Success, the postsecondary education leader at the Center for American Progress, a senior administrator at Howard University, the policy director for the Alliance for Excellent Education and numerous stakeholders from the primary and secondary education worlds. These volunteers are responsible for reviewing and understanding the operations of the Department of Education, coordinating the transition of power, and preparing President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris and incoming Administration leaders to implement key policy priorities.

As part of the COVID-19 relief measures, federal student loan payments had been suspended through the end of 2020. The Biden – Harris administration had signaled a desire to extend student loan relief in some way. Recently the Trump administration announced that student loan relief for 41 million Americans who have benefited from a freeze on monthly payments will now have this relief extended to January 31, 2021.

While President-elect Biden has started naming his picks for top Administration positions, he has not yet indicated his choice for Secretary of Education. While campaigning in 2019, Biden promised to pick a teacher for the position, but left it unclear whether this only meant a K-12 teacher, or whether he would also consider a post-secondary educator. Potential rumored candidates for the position include Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers; Lily Eskelsen García, the former president of the National Education Association; Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises; Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson; and Philadelphia superintendent William Hite.

Regardless of who is ultimately named as Secretary of Education, the largest priorities will remain the same: increasing federal funding for schools to address the COVID-19 impacts, restoring Obama Administration civil rights guidance in schools, rolling back many of the Trump Administration and Secretary DeVos positions and directives and restoring funding cut over the past 4 years.

Potential Washington Gridlock

Despite the many Biden team objectives and promises, the viability of many higher education reform proposals will largely depend on the outcome of the January 5th Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The results of these two races will determine political control of the Senate. Victories by the Democratic candidates, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, would give Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, along with the tiebreaking vote by Vice President Harris. If Republicans are able to win either seat, they will maintain control in the Senate. A divided Congress, with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, would be far less likely to enact any sweeping changes to federal higher education policies than if Democrats have unified control of Congress and the Presidency. While some of Biden’s policy objectives can be accomplished by executive order, and through Department of Education initiatives, control of the Senate will be critical to the success of the Biden Administration’s legislative goals.  Without such control, there is a distinct possibility that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not even permit a vote on legislation he or the majority of the Senate Republican Caucus opposes.  Democratic control of the Senate will permit the party to set the committee and floor agenda, though even having a majority is not a panacea; bipartisan support for higher education reform legislation will likely be necessary regardless of which party controls the Senate, given that Senate rules dictate that a 60-vote majority is needed to pass the vast majority of legislation.

Calling on Colleges and Universities to Permanently Adopt Test Optional Admissions Policies

The significant barriers to access imposed by the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests, and the resulting inequities, are not limited to the challenges of test administration during a pandemic.

 The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members are deeply committed to helping students navigate the college process and find colleges where they can grow, succeed, learn, and thrive.

IECA believes in the transformative power of education, and we are devoted to our mission of ensuring that all students have access to education, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, learning differences or zip code. We demonstrate this commitment through (1) our work with thousands of students and families from all 50 states and around the world (2) our partnerships with colleges, schools and therapeutic programs and (3) the creation of equitable and inclusive resources.

IECA seeks to prevent barriers to that access.

In an effort to advance equity, IECA believes that all students should be able to choose how to present themselves in their college applications and whether or not to submit their standardized test scores.

Every year, many students are disadvantaged in the college admissions process because of the inequities ingrained in the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests. Large numbers of low income students lack access to private tutors, enhanced educational opportunities, study guides, computer technology, reliable internet access and other resources typically available to wealthier students. Low income students face additional barriers associated with the financial burden of sending score reports.

These are not the only students who face barriers imposed by standardized testing. Countless students with learning differences struggle disproportionately with standardized testing. These students are often unlikely to perform as well as their neurotypical peers on standardized tests and, as a result, are frequently at a disadvantage in college admissions.

As a result of these significant barriers, many students find that their standardized test scores do not accurately reflect their skills and abilities. These students should have the opportunity to decide if their scores are considered in the college admissions evaluation process.

FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and many others, have provided extensive data to support the unfairness inherent in these tests. This data shows that standardized test scores are neither a strong predictor of academic achievement in college nor of graduation rates, and also establishes a correlation between test scores and income. Many colleges and universities, well aware of these factors, became test optional (or test blind). These colleges and universities reconsidered their traditional admissions requirements and found creative solutions that allowed them to continue to make thoughtful admissions decisions without standardized test scores. Studies have also shown that test-optional colleges and universities admit higher numbers of low income students, underrepresented minorities, women, and first generation students.

Colleges and universities must act now to remove the barriers to equitable access to higher education that are presented by standardized testing.

COVID-19 and the resulting complications with the administration of standardized testing has magnified these inequities. The College Board (SAT) and ACT have canceled, and continue to cancel or postpone, numerous test administrations across the world. The resulting uncertainty has also increased student stress and anxiety. The at-home AP exam was especially problematic for students without access to quiet spaces, reliable technology and internet access. Many thousands of students were unable to complete the exams, and it is impossible to quantify the numbers of students who did not even attempt the exam, because of these barriers. The at-home AP exams also presented challenges for students with learning differences who require accommodations.

According to FairTest, more than half of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities (and this number continues to grow) have responded to these challenges by becoming test optional for the high school Class of 2021. Many also have chosen to be test optional for up to a three-year pilot period, and many have made the decision to become permanently test optional. Others have adopted test blind admissions policies.

In announcing the decision to become test optional, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce summarizes the rationale for eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement: “Careful analysis and research showed that standardized testing did not add meaningfully to the prediction of student success that our holistic admission process already provides.” Similarly, as stated by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis of the University of California system’s Governing Board, “These tests are extremely flawed and very unfair. Enough is enough.”

Enough is enough.

IECA is calling on colleges and universities to embrace this opportunity to become more equitable and reduce barriers by becoming test optional on a permanent basis for admissions consideration and in the awarding of merit aid, thereby increasing fair and equal access to higher education for all students. IECA is further calling on colleges and universities to allow self-reporting of test scores in order to reduce the financial burden on students.  

The time is now to remove barriers, not just for the high school Class of 2021, but for all future college applicants.

IECA Statement of Support for International Students and Education in the USA

The Independent Educational Consultants Association stands fully in support of the 1.2 million international students studying in the United States and urges ICE to rescind its decision to force international students back to their home countries in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, July 6, 2020, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students in the United States whose schools and colleges are open for the fall 2020 semester with online-only classes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will not be issued student visas or otherwise be allowed to enter or remain in this country. Most devastating, ICE’s policy holds that if colleges are forced to switch to online study as a result of a spike of COVID-19 cases—at any point in the semester—international students would be immediately deported, despite financial obligations, closed air routes, or violence that may await them in their home countries.

ICE’s policy and its requirement that international students “take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction” to remain in the United States is discriminatory, ill-advised, and capricious. In no way does this improve our educational system, strengthen the financial viability of schools or colleges, or help to combat—or even address—the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, the policy leverages the current public health crisis for political gain, targeting international students by those who oppose diversity in learning. IECA believes this policy is part of an ongoing effort to force schools and colleges to reopen for in-person instruction prematurely, using significant financial incentive—and overriding the health and best interests of students and educational institutions.

The United States’ educational system leads the world, and young people from across the globe flock here to learn. Millions have become doctors, researchers, and entrepreneurs enhancing American life or serving as ambassadors upon returning home. American students have their experience enhanced through daily interaction with friends from other cultures, and educational institutions rely on the approximately $45 billion dollars that international students contribute to the schools’ bottom line and the US economy annually. Without international students, some small colleges and boarding schools may no longer be viable. ICE’s policy further erodes the interest of top students across the globe in pursuing their education in the United States, and its rippling impacts hurt us all.

2020 AP Exams Cannot be Considered a ‘Standardized’ Test

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

Starting next week and continuing through much of May, the College Board will be offering its AP tests, an important opportunity for students across the world to demonstrate mastery of subject matter from the advanced placement courses they have taken.

This year’s tests will have a significant difference. To ensure security at a time of online testing, all students—regardless of where they live—will be taking subject tests at the same moment.  So, consider this: as the first AP exam on Physics kicks off testing season, it will be 12:00 noon (ET), 7:00 p.m. in Turkey, 1:00 a.m. in Japan. What if a student is also taking the Government AP exam that same “day”? That will start at 4:00 p.m. (ET), 10:00 p.m. in Germany, and 2:00 a.m. in India. How can we possible consider it a “standardized test,” offered with fairness and equity when students in much of the world are asked to begin that test of mental acuity and knowledge in the wee hours of the morning? It is simply unfair.

But this is a siren call to all.

Both ACT and the College Board’s SAT have announced plans for online testing—most likely at home—in the coming months. We can learn from the AP exams that issues of validity and fairness have not yet been resolved. Availability of broadband, access to technology and quiet spaces remain unsolved and must be addressed. Already some colleges indicate an unwillingness to consider AP exam scores for this year and at least one, Claremont McKenna College, has indicated it will not consider at-home SAT or ACT scores in the coming year.

We hope these issues can be addressed by the testing companies soon, as student and parent anxiety is off the charts. And they must do better than the inequity next week, as students are asked to take a test in the middle of the night that could impact their college admission aspirations and affordability in significant ways.

2020 Rankings Released: What Colleges are Looking for in Applicants

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.

Among the key 2020 findings:

• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).

• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)

• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.

• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.

• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).

• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.

• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!

The complete survey results can be found here.