Colleges and universities like to brag about their incoming classes, and one of the ways we do it is by reporting test scores. Have you ever heard an institution claim “this is the strongest class ever” because the combined average SAT Critical Reasoning and Math score rose three points? Just as you might be wary of having a single score define you, we too are wary of defining our incoming class by one score alone. What do these aggregate statistics really tell us, after all? Is a three-point increase meaningful?
These questions are even more complicated because there are different ways of calculating average scores. To prove our point, earlier in the year we calculated average test scores for the Fall 2013 entering class in three different ways – all of them defensible methodologies – and came up with three different results.
Before we get to the results, here’s a bit of background. We require either the SAT or the ACT with writing and are glad to receive results from either test. When students submit both, we compare the SAT score (Critical Reading and Math combined) with the ACT Composite score, using the standard concordance table developed by the two testing services, and then use the test with the higher equivalent score. We use this method because we want to evaluate each individual student in light of his or her best results. (It’s worth noting that we also use the higher Writing score on either test.)
Now to the methods—focusing, for the sake of simplicity, on the SAT alone, and only on Critical Reading and Math (CR+M) combined.
- Method 1 – We calculated the middle 50% and average CR+M score for all reported SATs, regardless of whether these students also reported a higher equivalent score on the ACT. These figures were based on a subset of the incoming class because not all students submitted an SAT score; the middle 50% scores were 1210-1400, the average 1301.
- Method 2 – We calculated the middle 50% and average CR+M score using scores submitted by students who took the SAT exam only, or students who took both exams but whose SAT score was higher than or equal to their ACT score. This average is also based on a subset of the incoming class – again, because not all students report the SAT, and because we “throw out” the SAT score for students who report a higher ACT. The middle 50% scores were 1220-1400, the average 1308.
- Method 3 – We converted all ACT composite scores to the Critical Reasoning and Math scale, compared each to the SAT CR+M score if the student submitted both an SAT and ACT, and used only the higher of the two scores when calculating the middle 50% and average scores. Using this method, each enrolling student was represented by his or her highest score. The middle 50% scores were 1230-1420; the average 1323.
Each of the methods has its pluses and minuses. Method 1 is the simplest and accounts for all the SAT scores students submitted, but it doesn’t reflect the way we actually use test scores when we read applications. Method 2 comes closer to our method of reading, in that it only includes a student’s SAT if the SAT was higher than or equivalent to the highest ACT score that the student submitted. But this method doesn’t really represent the entire entering class, since it excludes students who only submitted the ACT, as well as those who scored higher on the ACT than the SAT. Method 3 comes closest to our method of reading, and it also represents the whole entering class, not just a subset. But it’s complicated and doesn’t allow us to report separate scores for each part of the exam.
Which method do you think is best? Let us know by taking this very brief survey.
The bottom line is that test scores are just one of many things we consider. We don’t define your success or our own success in such a narrow and, as this exercise demonstrates, ultimately arbitrary way. We’re proud of our incoming class for the people they are, and we celebrate them for the unique qualities they bring to Carolina each year. We would never try to represent these smart, kind and courageous young men and women by numbers alone.
And if you decide that Carolina is the kind of place you’d like to be one day and you’re one of the students who have already applied to us for Fall 2014 admission (or are considering applying), we thank you. We promise that we won’t focus on any single number, be it test score, GPA, or rank in class, for example. Instead, we’ll read every component of your application deeply and thoughtfully and do our very best to understand just what makes you so special.
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions
This year nearly 17,000 students chose to apply to Carolina under Early Action. We’re honored by the interest of these students and humbled by their achievements and potential. If you’re one of them, we’re grateful to you.
A lot happens between the time you hit the Submit button and the time you receive a decision. First we review what you sent us to make sure that everything came across intact. Then we match your application with the credentials – transcripts, school reports, recommendations, test scores – that others have sent us on your behalf. As we connect your credentials with your application, we check them off your to-do list.
All of this takes some time, not least because our applications, and the credentials that accompany them, tend to come to us all at once. The majority of applicants apply within a week or two of the deadline; their credentials came rushing right behind. The combined effect is sort of like a thousand owl-borne letters flying through the chimney of number four, Privet Drive.
This year, we made great progress assembling application materials and at this point, all but a few hundred applications are complete. (Not sure if your application is complete? Check this blog post for more info.) We’ve also made great progress reviewing applications; the admissions committee has been busy reading, re-reading, and discussing applications for many weeks now. We’ll finalize this work in the coming weeks, and we’ll also review finalists for merit scholarships, Honors Carolina, and Excel@Carolina.
We’re lucky to have great students at Carolina – and the interest of other great students who are thinking about joining us. I promise you we don’t take your interest for granted. And I promise we will give your application the careful and thorough review it deserves.
In the meantime, thank you for your patience, and thank you for choosing Carolina.
Application readers. They know a lot about you. But what do you know about them?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of the people who read applications in our office. In each post, we’ll feature a different reader and ask them about themselves and their experiences reading applications. We also threw in some silly, random facts too.
So be at ease, applicants; the people who read your applications are, in fact, human.
This week, we start with Melissa Kotacka, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions. Here’s what Melissa had to say:
How long have you worked in admissions at UNC? ~5 1/2
Hometown: Ft. Lauderdale, FL / Davenport, IA
If you didn’t work in Admissions, what would you be doing?
I’m pretty sure I’d still be working in the realm of education policy and access, but my run-away-and-join-the-circus equivalent is to be a professional travel writer/photographer.
If you could go back to undergrad, what would you major in and why?
I’d definitely pick linguistics for one major – it’s just SO DARN INTERESTING! Would that I had discovered it soon enough when I was in undergrad and could have done the full major. The second major might be public policy or sociology (educational access and the like). I’d probably stick with Russian as my foreign language of choice; it clicked for me and the literature is so incredibly rich.
In five words or less, what makes an outstanding application? One that tells YOUR story.
If you had to answer one of the essay prompts, what would you write about? I’d probably go with the time/space travel question: my answer is a tie between 1968 America and a Parasaurolophus hatchery in the late Cretaceous period.
Which do you prefer:
Cats or dogs? Love them both, but #tarheeltabby is my world.
Cold weather or hot weather? Hot
Rams or Lenoir? Lenoir (Sitar and Med Deli 4-EVAH)
Starbucks or Caribou? Starbucks
Small town or big city? Small town next to a big city. You know, Chapel Hill.
You can follow Melissa on Twitter @makunc. She is a prolific twitterer and is always happy to answer questions from prospective students. Thanks Melissa!
Suzanna Treske, a sophomore from Waxhaw, N.C., is no ordinary Tar Heel.
When she’s not in class for her two majors, Economics and History, she’s either commuting 2.5 hours to her home barn in Waxhaw or spending time at her local barn with the UNC Equestrian Team. Becoming a professional equestrian is hard work, but Suzanna says she doesn’t mind. “When you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.”
Suzanna started showing at the age of seven. Ever since, she’s loved the sport. “Jumping is the greatest rush that you could imagine. It’s just like flying.” Balancing her time at the barn with time in the classroom is a challenge, but an important one for her dreams. She hopes to become a professional equestrian and manage her own barn one day; her Economics degree from UNC is an important contributor towards making those dreams a reality. “The fact that UNC provides an opportunity to ride in college is awesome. I feel like equestrians choose at the end of high school: will I prioritize my education or my riding? Most people end up compromising between the two, but I feel like I don’t have to with UNC. Carolina provides me the opportunity to pursue both my goals.”
Another talented young Tar Heel, Morgan Noelle Smith, recently featured Suzanna in a photojournalism essay. Morgan and Suzanna have two things in common: they are both pursuing their dreams- photojournalism and professional riding – and they both found that UNC is the best place for their dreams to come true. Their advice for prospective students? Apply, enroll, and most importantly, explore. “After deciding to come to Carolina and joining my older brother on campus, I thought I mostly knew what it would be like. I’d been here so many times since I’m the third of my siblings to go here. Once I was a student though? There really is so much more than I ever thought, from the Equestrian Team to campus life to my classes. The professors are accessible, helpful and insanely accomplished. They really want their students to succeed. I can’t even pick a favorite professor – it’s too hard! Can I give you my top five?”
Learn more about all that UNC has to offer by exploring our site, visiting campus and following us on social media.
This afternoon, we’re sending a second email to students whose early action applications remain incomplete. We’re not able to review your application until all the parts are received and linked to your record. Check out this recent blog post for more details about how to check if your application is complete, and what to do if we’re missing materials.
December is flying by, and we’re working hard on reviewing applications to get Early Action applicants their decisions by the end of January. If your application is missing materials, help us out by taking action and following up with us. We really do want to read your application!
Carolina students are burrowing into their books and study spots to finish the semester strong. Today is a Reading Day, sandwiched between LDOC (Last Day of Classes) and the first day of exams (…FDOE? No?); across campus, various offices are hosting stress-relieving events to keep the Tar Heel spirit up (though it’s pretty high after last night’s win over top-ranked Michigan State).
Every semester, UNC Libraries and Academic Advising bring therapy dogs in on Reading Days. Students can swing by and pet, scratch, and play with pups whose whole job is to make people feel good – a pretty good gig to have around a college campus during finals! Today, Academic Advising is hosting Exam Paws in the lobby of the Great Hall of the Union – I swung by on a quick break from my own reading day to say hello to some furry friends:
You can follow the “puppy luv” on Twitter at #exampawed. The J-School is hosting pups in the Park Library, too, so you can check out #jomcdogs to keep up with them (FYI: Park always livestreams kittens, even when it’s not exam season!). There are even more pups over at SILS, too – basically, it is a festival of scritches and snuggles here in Chapel Hill.
Good luck on exams, Heels – and good luck on any exams and assignments YOU have coming up, Future Heels!
–Melissa Kotacka, Assistant Director of Admissions