Making the cut
Sara Felsenstein | Thursday, February 9, 2012
As colleges compete for top national rankings and students compete for top SAT scores, some people argue the college admissions process places too much focus on numbers.
Don Bishop, associate vice president for Undergraduate Enrollment, said test scores do not fully reflect the attributes of a school or an applicant, especially at Notre Dame.
“Colleges are accused by families as using the SAT too much to value students in the admissions selection process,” Bishop said. “Well, the colleges are concerned that students and their families use the rankings too much to value the colleges. There’s kind of a balanced equation, there, of discomfort in the process.”
Bishop said an applicant’s exam performance is extremely important, but more weight is placed on class performance than on standardized test scores during the decision process.
“People are concerned we use [test scores] too much, we would disagree with that,” he said. “The admissions office would be as poorly served if all we used were SAT scores. If we started being guilty of what the public thinks we do and we overused the numbers, we would have an inferior student body.”
Bishop said along with academic excellence, Notre Dame emphasizes personal qualities in an applicant, including intellectual curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and leadership.
“We are not going to become more generic in our selection process to get higher ranked,” he said. “What’s interesting is the more we stay Notre Dame at the core, the more successful we’ll be at raising the profile of the class.”
Bishop said he wishes students and their parents viewed college rankings the same way Notre Dame Admissions views standardized test scores ⎯ in the context of other qualities.
“Do you assume that the values that the U.S. News & World Report or other ranking organizations … are the same as yours, as a consumer?” Bishop said. “I would suggest … your ranking might put more emphasis on certain things.”
He said students’ overuse of rankings to determine whether a college is a match shows a lack of sophistication.
“There’s a certain sort of disease in this of, ‘No matter what I have, it’s not as good as what I want to have,'” Bishop said. “People have just lost their sense of perspective.”
Those numbers should instead be used to help students identify a neighborhood of colleges to look into, Bishop added.
“Whether somebody is ranked sixth or third or tenth or fifteenth, you need to put that away and go visit the campus, go to their website, talk to their alumni,” he said. “Do your due diligence of other fact-finding.”
Bishop said Notre Dame’s ranking as number 19 in the 2012 U.S. News & World Report’s list of best national universities does keep the quality of applicants consistently high. The ranking reassures the public that Notre Dame is a top choice, he said.
He said the University has especially benefited from the Mendoza College of Business’s number one ranking by Bloomberg Businessweek.
“We have seen a disproportionate raise in applications over the last couple years because of that number one ranking,” Bishop said. “Notre Dame’s business school was always ranked in the top five and usually in the top three, but being number one has a cache that captures the imagination and the confidence of the public in a unique way.”
Bishop said national rankings are subjective and did not accurately represent the quality of a university since ratings are calculated according to an algorithm.
“Notre Dame has been consistently ranked in the top 20, but if you look at the academic profile of the freshman class, it’s actually higher than that,” he said. “If you look at the graduation rate we’re in the top three, if you look at the percentage of alumni giving we’re in the top three, if you look at our endowment for national private research universities we’re tenth … So actually top 20 is a lower rank than what our reality is, depending on what you value.”
Over the next few admissions cycles, Bishop said, Notre Dame will reach out more aggressively to top students across the country. He said this initiative is not a criticism of what Notre Dame has done so far, but there exists an opportunity to do more.
“Obviously, we’re doing a pretty good job,” he said. “We’re going to ambitiously think of how to [increase] that … I don’t think we’ve done enough yet as a University as successful as we have been.”
For many applicants, Notre Dame is set apart by its Catholic social teaching, sense of community and strength of its alumni network, he said.
“If students value our religious affiliation and our commitment to Catholic social teaching, what other school would rank with us? Notre Dame is considered by many as a unique choice,” Bishop said. “We are not generically a top-20 or top-10 highly selective school ⎯ we are more than that due to our focus as a Catholic University.”