Select a Meaning for Selectivity

What does “selectivity” mean in college admissions parlance?

A. The ratio of admitted students to applicants, i.e. the admit rate
B. An aggregated score based on SAT averages (50%), the portion of enrolling students in the top tenths of their high school classes (40%) and admit rate (10%)
C. The ratio of enrolling students to admitted students, i.e. the yield
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

The answer is A if you interpret the term literally, but the answer is B according to the methodology of the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Sometimes people actually mean C when they say “selectivity,” but yield more accurately speaks to an institution’s relative popularity within its particular market. USNWR proudly proclaims that yield no longer plays a part in the selectivity rating assigned to institutions, but of course yield continues to be a determining factor in admit rate.

One can make a strong case that the correct answer is E. When people say that an institution is highly selective, what they likely mean is that it has a low overall admit rate and a high academic profile for its enrolling class, but they likely don’t mean anything so formulaic as the selectivity rating USNWR calculates (which in turn comprises 15% of an institution’s overall rating).

As soon as we broaden the term to mean more than admit rate alone, however, we run into problems. Bear in mind that fewer and fewer secondary schools provide class rank anymore, and more and more colleges are deciding not to require a standardized test score for all of the applicants. While neither of these developments impairs an admission committee’s ability to assess applicants individually, they certainly affect the data we’ve commonly relied on for an academic profile. They also complicate comparisons of that data across multiple institutions.

The biggest problem with knowing what selectivity means, in other words, is figuring out how to measure talent in a standardized way. Not only is that becoming harder to do with the information an admission office receives, it’s actually the antithesis of what an admission officer does when delving into an essay or a teacher recommendation to look for wonderfully various indicators of intellectual potential.

– Henry Broaddus

Categories: Admission, Faculty & Staff Blogs

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