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					953 Danby Road
Ithaca College
Ithaca, NY 14850

May 3, 2011

Scott A. Schulz
Program Director
Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089

Dear Mr. Schulz:

We write to you today as a group of Strategic Communication students from Ithaca
College, in response to The Case for Change in College Admissions symposia. As a class
assignment for our systems science class, we decided to explore the issue of
undergraduate college matriculation in highly competitive institutions within the United
States. While doing research into this issue, we came across the workshop held at your
college. We explored the resources that were presented at the conference and wanted to
share with you our own ideas on changing the college admissions process.

Through research of scholarly journals and articles, as well as interviews with
prospective high school students and psychology majors, we constructed a plausible
solution for the problem of college admissions. This solution consists of increased
feedback within the decision process that expresses why students were not granted
acceptance. This feedback would consist of a short paragraph at the end of each
individual rejection/wait-list letter. This would be optional based on the student’s
preferences indicated in the initial application. We believe this is a small step in changing
the larger problems involved in the college admissions process. This feedback will help
to make the decision more personalized and will also aid in the changing cycle of
emotions of rejected/wait-listed students.

Even though this is a small effort, we believe that taking this first step will enhance the
admissions process and through time will lead to a more enhanced educational pursuit for
the student.


Jen Segal
Tiara Kanney
Michela Moe
Jenny Barish
                                 STCM 12300: Challenge 3


        With the college application process so close to the front of our minds, we

decided to explore the college matriculation process at highly selective institutions. Based

on research and personal experience, we found that the system of college admissions is

vastly mysterious and emotionally draining. These students that are applying to

institutions of such high caliber have put in a tremendous amount of effort throughout

their academic careers. These students received near perfect grades, exceptional test

scores, and had time for leadership positions, etc. With this amount of commitment and

excellence, the weight of a rejection letter is very difficult for them to accept. To

understand the emotional effects of rejection with these students, we interviewed various

students and researched an informal blog with rejected student testimonials. On this

website, College Confidential, students are able to voice concerns throughout the

admissions process. Students vent openly about their experiences and often show

frustration, and are extremely confused at rejection and wait-listed letters. We found that

the generic responses for students who received a rejected/wait-listed letter were anger,

sadness, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. According to blogger “Fatum”, on

March 18th, 2011, “I hate short rejections. :(. At least give me something longer to read

while I wallow in tears.” This is only one example of the many that are on College

Confidential and other similar sources. Based on our analysis and observation of these

student’s reactions and responses, we were able to model the emotional cycle that a

typical student may feel or experience when rejected or wait-listed from a highly

selective institution.
       Model 1: Emotional Responses & State of Acceptance

       In order to gain further insight into the emotional aspect of the college rejection

process, we decided to create a model representing the plethora of emotions students go

through. This type of model demonstrates the cycle and process of human responses in

accordance to a college rejection/wait-listed letter. It starts with “rejected/wait-listed

letter,” then an arrow leading to sample adjectives regarding what students may feel when

receiving this rejected/wait-listed letter. Such as shock, disbelief, regret, sadness, and

anger, etc. There is then a circular, arrowed line serving as a connection to the next set of

words. This line also represents that this process of disappointment and anger could

either stop during just one round, or could continue for multiple rounds before entering

the next set of words for certain very emotionally attached students. All the lines also

have two hash marks to represent a delay in the process to the desired state. The next set

of words represent a typical student who is still experiencing the first set of negative

words, but who is beginning to understand or cope with the college’s decision. Then

there is a connecting line, and the following set of words. These represent that the student

has moved on such as chosen to attend another college, is learning to cope with the

decision, and is progressing with life and pursuing other educational prospects. Another

connecting line is drawn, and then acceptance is written in the middle. This model reveals

that we are not advocating for every student to be accepted into said college or university,

yet we are rather advocating for him or her to get to a state of self-acceptance. It is not

feasible and not appropriate to have every student accepted into every college they apply

to, but it is feasible and very much appropriate to have every student achieve a state of

acceptance. This is our desired state of outcome. This model conceals the emotions of
non-typical students, those who received an acceptance letter, how long each sub-cycle

will last, the specific college/university that these emotions are stemming from, and the

specific reasons as to why they are feeling that way. This model illustrates the different

types of emotions that students experience after receiving a rejected/wait-listed letter and

the “spiral” pattern that follows. We chose to model it this way because it explains

systemically the emotional processes that students undergo after receiving a

rejected/wait-listed letter. With this process-like model we can show the initiating factor

of the spiraled emotions, the delays that occur during the scenario, and the desired state

of acceptance.

       Model 2: All of the Factors That Contribute to College Admissions

       To gain further insight after constructing a model to reveal the array of emotions

students undergo, we decided to discuss all these factors that contribute to college

admissions. For this model, we decided to use a web format to explore all of the different

elements included on a typical application for a highly selective institution. In the center

of the web, there is a blue cloud to represent all of the compiled factors that are involved

in the application and ultimate admission decision. On the model, there are three

different categories of factors conveyed, each represented by a different color. The

factors that are represented in red convey elements in the application process that could

potentially have legal ramifications if shared with outsiders and are too explicit to be

shared in feedback. All of the factors that are included in the web have black lines

connecting to the blue cloud in the center to convey that these factors ultimately lead to

the application decision. We chose to represent some factors with a yellow color that

convey a neutral factor in the application process because these are not explicit
determinant factor in regards to your admission decision. The green text represents

factors that directly influence the decision of the college, and will also be the factors that

colleges will report and reflect on in the feedback. This model reveals all of the factors

that may or may not contribute to your college admissions decision. This model also

conceals irregular applications and situations.

       From this model we gained insight as to why the college application process is

complex. This is not only frustrating from a student’s perspective, but even more from

an admission counselor’s perspective due to their need to synthesize a student’s academic

and personal profile and make a imminent decision in a short period of time. We feel that

there are many contributing factors as to why this process is confusing for students,

although what we found that significantly impacted the complexity was the imbalance

that occurred during the application process.

        Model 3: Communication Funnel Imbalance

       With an exploration of emotional factors and an additional look at factors For our

third model, we decided to represent all the efforts taken by students in the college

application process. We represented this in the form of a funnel. A funnel starts out large

at the top, and gets progressively smaller as you reach just bottom, just like the college

admissions process. At the top of the funnel exists all of the preliminary things that

students do to get into highly selective institutions, some of these include taking rigorous

classes, participating in a multitude of extra-curriculars, and forming positive

relationships with counselors. These preliminary things start during the student’s

freshman year in high school, and continue until their senior year. The next smaller

section of the funnel consists of everything the student does to determine what schools
they want to apply to; these include research, college visits, and comparisons. This

section of the funnel can start at any point in the student’s high school career, but

typically occurs during the end of their junior year until the beginning of their senior

year. The third section of the funnel consists of everything that goes into the college

application process itself. This section occurs from early October until early February

during the student’s senior year. The fourth section of the funnel illustrates the large

waiting period that exists from when the student submits their application until when they

receive their decision letter. Within this waiting period admissions counselors review all

of the received applications and determine who is accepted, rejected, and wait-listed. This

waiting period varies from college to college, and can also depend on when the student

submitted their application. Generally, the typical waiting period for admission decisions

lasts from mid February until mid April. During this waiting period, there is no

communication between the student and the college. Our last and smallest portion of the

funnel is the decision letter. All of the efforts a student places into the application process

culminates with one single letter. In comparison with the first three sections of the funnel,

the singular final decision letter seems very small against all the of efforts that students

place into this entire process. This model reveals all the efforts placed by both parties in

the college admissions process. This model conceals the relationships between parties,

the specific information/work involved and special scenarios. We chose to model it this

way because it represents the disparities between what is put into the process versus what

comes out of the process and how ultimately imbalanced it is.

       Throughout our time working together, we have generated many different

alternatives and a variety of solutions. Our first possible solution would be implemented

at the high school college counselor’s level. This would encompass pushing a safety

school and having them push students to self reflect on all the factors that contribute to

college admissions decisions as indicated in our second model. Pushing a safety school

would not prevent a student from still getting rejected to the highly selective institution,

but it would make the spiral cycle go faster and have less delays - bringing them to a state

of acceptance, and literally acceptance into their safety college.

       Our second possible solution is to have a forum for all applicants (like IC Peers)

with different portals for accepted/rejected and wait-listed students. This will provide

those rejected and wait-listed students with a place to talk to other students in the same

situation and see that this is a worldwide process and they aren’t alone. This would help

those students reach their state of acceptance in accordance to our first model, at a faster

rate. Through talking to peers in the same situation, students will understand that there

are a variety of different factors that can influence your admission decision according to

those in our second model.

       Our third possible solution is to have videotaped sessions of the actual application

critiquing process. Faces and names would not be revealed, and their conference talking

would proceed as normal. These videos would be sent to applicants with their admission

decision letter. This brings them to the state of acceptance faster by offering a clear

understanding as to why they were rejected or wait-listed. It would reveal and expose all

of the factors listed in our second model and how each factor specifically applies to each
student’s circumstance and application. This would offer complete transparency into the

college application process.

       Our fourth possible solution would be to provide extended feedback on the

admission decision letter. The feedback would address all the reasons a student was

rejected or wait-listed according to all the green factors listed in our first model. This

effort to decrease transparency would bring the students to their desired state of

acceptance explained in the first model and therefore balance the communication funnel

model within highly selective institutions.


       Our desired situation and proposed solution would be to have a small paragraph

regarding the reasons behind each rejected or wait-listed student’s admission decision.

Based on our insights gained from the models we constructed and the research we

evaluated, this was the best and most feasible applicable solution to address the multiple

root causes and performance gaps present in the college admission process. Our three

alternatives presented earlier address root causes in this process, although do not adress

all of the primary performance gaps that our models exposed - although our proposed

solution does. In regards to the first model, the feedback will guide students to their state

of acceptance faster and more efficiently, while cushioning as best as possible their

emotional responses as indicated in the first cycle.

       In a study conducted by two Applied Psychology majors at Ithaca College, they

found that adolescents are prone to self-handicapped syndrome. This means that they

blame situational and environmental factors rather than “internal attributions.” The

researchers felt that our new design would be an asset to students - preventing them from
developing self-handicapped syndrome. When a college provides a logical rational as to

why a student didn’t fit into the college, students are forced to look within themselves

and can not blame external factors. This causes the students to self-reflect and will

decrease the cycle’s time and will bring rejected students to our desired state of internal

acceptance. Feedback will effectively deal with the transparency issue documented in the

second model. The feedback will incorporated all the factors listed in our second model

and how each factor specifically applies to each student’s circumstance and application.

        The feedback addresses the root cause in the third model by balancing out the

funnel diagram. The feedback acts as a balancing factor to all of the work that goes into

the application process. The feedback does not equal or completely balance out the

funnel, but it does still provides stability to the funnel.

        We spoke to eight juniors attending an admissions event at Ithaca College. The

overwhelming response was that extended feedback would ease stress and anxiety. They

agreed that the feedback would Their responses varied - some wanted reasoning and

others didn’t, this led us to revise our initial proposal and thought it would be appropriate

to provide students with a generic letter and those who wanted it, with an extended

evaluation. One kid out of the eight said he would not gain internal insight into the

extended feedback. Therefore having the feedback as an option on the initial application

would help students like himself.

        We talked to an Ithaca admissions counselor as well as an admissions director

from Pacific University. Although these counselors are not representative of highly

selective schools, they are versed in the admission processes. Both felt that this feedback

would achieve our desired state of internal acceptance for the students. They questioned
the feasibility of implementing this solution in regards to the computer systems capacity,

increased compensation, and time constraints. We understand that this will not be an

immediate process and updated computer systems may be in order. As for time

constraints, we are only asking for a small paragraph, and the application fee that is paid

upon submission should be able to cover the small feedback.

       We feel that admissions counselors who have the ability to implement this change

should do so because they are a part of an educational institution - an institution that

should strive to offer learning initiatives in any way, shape, and form possible. The

application in and of itself is a learning process, such as through the personal essay

section - the reply should be a learning process as well. Higher institutions have an

ethical commitment as an educational institution to provide this informational feedback.

This will allow students to reflect on their achievements and help guide them to higher

learning. Offering this educational insight is what brings a holistic balance to the entire

process - this feedback change in a part of the system changes the whole.

                               (Following Purdue Owl)

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