Monday, May 24, 2021

Unintended Consequences of UCs Dropping SAT & ACT?

Hallelujah. Finally some clarity in the state of California: The University of California system recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be a factor in admissions decisions. 

And this isn't even a test optional thing. This is a no test thing. 

While the decision may just be a way to settle a lawsuit, it represents a major shift to the entire college admissions process. 

Followers of this blog know that CROSSWALK has long understood the inequities of the SAT and ACT. Though our specialty is test preparation, we know that these tests favor the wealthier and more educated segments of the population. Simply put, it has not been a fair way to assess student potential. 

So California, it's time to celebrate.

Or is it? Might this decision actually hurt California? What will be the unintended consequences

To assess the possible downsides of this move, I raise the following three questions: 

1) Will removing tests make it harder for California's high school students to get into top state colleges? 

Since UCs decided to go test optional last year, there was a major increase in applications (take UCLA, for example). As a result, admissions rates went way down. Now that UCs will go test blind next year, won't applications increase more? And admission rates decrease more? Add in the fact that UCs love to accept full pay, out-of-state applicants and the unintended consequence may be that our California high schoolers may have less of a chance to get into top UCs. 

2) Won't this decision actually make California high schoolers less competitive for out-of-state colleges?  

As long as the SAT and ACT are not required for UC admission, fewer high schools in California will offer test prep or support for SAT and ACT. Since states like Georgia and potentially Florida maintain their SAT and ACT admission requirements, this would mean that Californians will have to work harder to find test prep resources if they want to apply to schools in those states. 

3) Will this make college more accessible for all? 

The cynic in me says that even as test scores are removed, the privileged pockets of our society will still figure out ways to gain access to selective colleges. The inequities in our higher education system are enormous. So if the objective of removing the tests is to level the playing field, won't the rich just find another strategy to deploy? GPAs may become the new test score (the rich can afford tutors). Essays are certain to have heavier weight (the rich can afford essay editors). Demonstrated interest could be a more significant measurement (the rich can afford visits and trips). 

Ultimately, I applaud California's decision. It is certainly a move in the right direction to make college access more equitable, even if it is in response to a lawsuit. 

But I also wonder about the unintended consequences. I don't propose we return to the rampant use of test scores but I fear that this move will ultimately represent very little change overall. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Maximize the ROI of Your GPA

GPA is the most important factor in college admissions. Since more universities are adopting test optional policies, GPA is gaining even greater weight. 

As such, students should invest time in their GPAs. Investing time to improve a GPA will pay off. Literally. 

But how much will it pay off? 

To answer this question, let's determine the ROI, or return on investment, of the GPA. 

ROI is a calculation to measure how much an investment yields in return. It's a simple comparison of the initial cost of the investment to the final value of the investment. For example, purchase $100 worth of stock today, and if the value of that stock turns into $125 in the future, your ROI is 25% in ([final value - initial value]/initial value x 100). 

Calculating the ROI on GPAs is the same math, but since GPAs are not measured in dollars, we have to make some assumptions: 

  • Assumption #1: Investment = Time. The initial "cost" of an investment in a GPA is not money, but time. Assume that our initial investment, then, is all about time. 
  • Assumption #2: 1 Hour = $20. This second assumption takes a bit of a leap, but hear me out. If time is the investment, a student could choose to spend time studying, working, gaming, watching Netflix, swiping through social media or other. Of all of these, working is the one that yields money. And if the student chooses to work, like babysitting, mowing lawns or getting a part time job, we assume here that 1 hour would pay about $20. Likely less, but maybe more. So let's go with $20. 
  • Assumption #3: Higher GPA = More Merit Aid. This next assumption is actually a fact: the higher a student's GPA, the more scholarship opportunities and merit-based aid are available. However, each college or scholarship program looks at these numbers differently. So the assumption we will make here is that each 0.1 increase in GPA will offer $1,000 more in merit-based aid. In other words, a student applying to a competitive school may get no aid with an unweighted GPA of 3.5, but a similar student with an unweighted 4.0 GPA could earn $5000 a year in aid.  
  • Assumption #4: More Study Time = Higher GPA. Again, this assumption is generally true; if you study more, your grades will go up. But to make this work for our calculations, we are going to assume that one more hour of study time per week will boost the GPA by 0.1 points. This may not be a perfect correlation, but useful nonetheless for our calculation. 
With these assumptions in place, let's see what the ROI on GPA is for a typical student. Imagine Darnell, a freshman in high school with a 3.0 GPA. As Darnell thinks about sophomore year, he decides to dedicate five more hours a week of study time to his homework (1 hour per class). With 30 weeks in the school year, that's 150 extra hours in total. So Darnell's initial investment of 150 hours equates to $3,000 (150 x $20). 

If Darnell does this, his GPA would jump from a 3.0 to a 4.0. And if he maintains this same GPA his sophomore, junior and senior years, he could finish high school with a 3.75 GPA. This would mean he could qualify for $7,500/year in merit-based aid or scholarships. 

Thus, his ROI would be 150%

OK, yes, there are more assumptions to Darnell's situation but hopefully the point is clear: generally, any investment in GPA will be a positive ROI. Or more concretely: time invested in GPA improvement will literally pay off. 

Perhaps Darnell needs a tutor to ensure that huge GPA jump. No fear here because the investment would still pay off. Even if he decides to spend $100 a week in tutoring, his ROI would still be 25%. Not even Warren Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha", can sustain a 25% ROI! 

So maximize the ROI of your GPA but putting in the time. And invest in productive time. Spend an extra hour organizing content, create online flashcards, reread material, look up alternative sources or perspectives, research ideas more, review past tests or find other ways to learn more about what you are studying. 

And if you need a tutor to help with this, CROSSWALK is here to help. 

Study time is worth the investment. Maximize the ROI of your GPA with the investment of time. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

"Better Off After College" -- Book Review

Big thanks to Sabrina Manville and Nick Ducoff of Edmit for their succinct overview of paying for college in their book, Better Off After College: A Guide to Paying For College With More Aid And Less Debt.

This book is perfect for parents and students embarking on the heavy question of how to afford college. 

My favorite aspect of the book is how it is organized. Manville and Ducoff start with the basics of college pricing in the chapter called "The Big Picture." From there, each subsequent chapter is a timeline of what families should know and do from pre-high school all the way through college. This flow allows families to jump into the book at whichever point they need the support and determine the steps necessary to pay for college. 

This book is truly bursting with useful information. Here are some of the key points that hit home for me:

  • While the published price of college has gone up dramatically over the years, the net price (as in the price paid after discounts and financial aid) has remained about the same over the same timeframe. 
  • The word "financial aid" continues to mislead families as loans are usually offered as part of the aid package. 
  • Parents and students alike should understand the R.O.I., or return on investment, for the money they spend on college. It's rarely a good idea to take on tremendous debt even if the brand name university is the dream school. 
  • When taking on loans, a good guideline is to take no more in loans than the student would earn in income in their first year out of college. 
  • There are a variety of ways to manage college costs including choosing an affordable school, making sure the student graduates in four years, taking out manageable loans and appealing financial aid awards. 
In all, this book is a straightforward take on what is an increasingly complex decision. 

Perhaps my only criticism of this book are the anecdotes. Sprinkled into the factual and helpful information are vignettes of student and family situations. However, many of these stories lack deeper context and raise more questions than answers. I understand the goal was likely to demonstrate a concept with a real world story, but the stories are too limiting and leave the reader (or at least me) wanting to dig deeper to understand more. 

That said, this is a great guide for anyone seeking greater understanding of the finances of college. Students, parents, teachers and counselors will all benefit from reading this, keeping it on your bookshelf and dog-earing key parts for future use. 

Edmit is doing tremendous work in the college affordability space. I am grateful they have produced this book and I love the detailed information they have about colleges on their website: