The Age of College Rejections
Few people know Rixford K Snyder today. He is a Californian man of longevity. His compliments go much more beyond. He went to Stanford in 1926, and acquired an AB in 1930, an AM in 1934, and a PhD in 1940 — all at the big farm. After courageously fighting the Japanese in early 1940s, he rejoined Stanford and had since taught history there. Beside a reading packet for college kids on western history, the most notable of Snyder's tenure was some 33,000 freshmen in 20 the classes he admitted when he was the director, then dean, of admissions.
But none of you should have known any of these. Neither do I before I googled him today. What prompted me to find about him is a half-a-century old essay crafted by one of the other 70,000 applicants that Snyder rejected during his 20-year reign.
One April afternoon in 1952, Joan Didion went to her room, locked the door, and cried to the letter from Snyder that read “The Committee on Admissions asks me to inform you that it is unable to take favorable action upon your application for admission to Stanford University.” That while, Joan grabbed a bottle of pills, counted them, and pictured herself on a hospital ER bed with Snyder hovering outside trying to find peace.
Thank God. Didion merely counted the pills but didn't swallow — she was bothered by how to take the news to Snyder. We are now happy that we’ve had another fantastic writer for more than half a century. Snyder must be too — he's probably enjoying an unexpected search popularity 12 years beyond his heavenly-being.
What would he say on that none of his 33,000 favorite kids contributed to such a lively reminiscence of him, but this girl among the 70,000 of his unfavorite ones did?
We wouldn't know.
Perhaps there is no better time than now to reread this essay from Didion in 1968. We see, as we read it, that we have been taken far into the age of college rejections as we have crammed ourselves to jostle each other every way we can. Covid-19, while it calamitously put every other aspect of life on halt for some time, is still hurling the college application far more rejective than ever.
Harvard has rejected 59266 applicants during this admission cycle, 20998 more than pre-pandemic — none the additional applications the college received has been admitted. For Yale, the total number may look slightly healthier, 14865 more rejections than pre-pandemic. But it is as ugly as at Harvard when we count it incrementally. Indeed, all of the extra labor that kids put up for the top 20 colleges since two falls ago is worth no more than a sorry.
Things will not get better. Even if kids from our neighbors become lazier, it can only decelerate the application hikes. Reason? Hasn't WFH thrust every moms and dads buggier since this pandemic?
It is better that we be readier than ever before another rejection season kicks in. And the best way is to read from Didion:
“The next year a friend at Stanford asked me to write him a paper on Conrad's Nostromo, and I did, and he got an A on it. I got a B- on the same paper at Berkeley, and the specter of Rixford K. Snyder was exorcised.”
I want to wish Professor Snyder and every crafters of those letters their joy and peace, certainly not for that they missed and will miss the best lucks at some point in their profession.
Year of 1983. Reagan Administration.
A report from US Department of Education dropped a bombshell on American public. The shock, if taken in retrospect, is worse than Gagarin’s space travel two decades ago. “For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.”
Ripples of education reforms were instigated combating the American education’s sliding trend. Riding in Reagan’s era of deregulation, charter school made into the state and national discussions. When the State of Minnesota became the first to allow charter schools, a national curriculum for K-12 was yet an awareness of Janet Napolitano, the recently resigned president of University of California system whose last action is to obsolete SAT in admission. Napolitano, chairing National Governors Association in 2009, incubated the Common Core State Standard that regulates today’s classrooms. One of her recruits for Common Core development, David Coleman, is now the CEO of a known education duopoly, the College Board.
Yet, one thing came along with the reforms was rather innovative. It is the first of all College Rankings that we are today indulged with, the US News & World Report Best Colleges. In 1983, Mel Elfin took the responses from 1300 colleges to his uniform questionnaire and scored them in respects such as academic, faculty, and student qualities. Questionnaire has since become de facto standard of obtaining information for rankings. Along become norms are the club of four elite colleges that have always occupied the top of the rankings, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. Others occasionally atop seem decorations to the Ranking’s claims on its fairness and diversity. Technology advances soon enabled Elfin to reproduce this bi-annual ranking yearly.
Since Education for Economic Security Act in 1984 was enacted, Americans have seen one major education law every two years. Like EES’1984, every of the new laws stressed on the vital improvement on math and science capacities, imperative equality of education among students, and satisfactory measurements of teaching and learning progress. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandated standard-based yearly results especially among the disadvantaged and disabled. Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 stepped forward in requiring periodic standardized tests, either proprietary designed or commonly adopted. Yes, the SAT is included.
As popularity of college rankings grew, the mechanism evolved. Elfin’s scoring seems too subjective. Robert Morse brought a new way that sorts and weighs information in a more sophisticated framework. Forging the algorithm into quantitative fashion, Morse has since presided the US News’ ranking team. Data sourcing diversifies too. Unlike a dozen of agencies that replicated US News, College Prowler emerged in 2002 with user generated content and a layered algorithm. Originally developed as a class project at Carnegie Mellon, it expanded into a household name known as Niche in just a few years, which today ranks and rates in as many areas as US News does.
Reform after reform, Americans only see their children’s academic performance lowered than many other countries. PISA, a well-known tri-annual cross-national tests on reading, mathematical and scientific literacy among 15-year-olds in some 70 developed and developing countries, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the OECD that sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. The well-intentioned politically-crafted reforms have not saved the American children.
The year that a college appear on the ranking correlates with its positions. Duke ignored Elfin’s call in 1983 and attended him two years later. John Hopkins followed suit even later, in 1988. The two southern colleges have averaged at 7th and 14th respectively. UCLA commenced in the questionnaire in 1989, and was locked between 20th and 30th. Its sister school, Berkeley, instead, boarded since inception, and made steadily 3-6 spots better.
Our rankings dictate a world of colleges, so do our colleges dominate the world. According to US Department of Education’s Open-Door Report, America is the most wanted place for study abroad, housing over 1 million foreign students. Domestically, when recruiting letters from Harvard, Duke, and Berkeley keep flooding our mail boxes, we fantasize that our kids matriculate to the colleges that a whole world wants.
Despite reforms on state and federal curriculums, assessments, and budgeting, our struggles at K-12 have never lessened. Lowered student competence in math, science, and even reading is now multiplied by lacking of teachers as well as draining on public education investment. Metropolitan schools are closed, and suburban schools are consolidated. No doubt that a third of American high school seniors every year graduate unable to score a minimum of 25% questions in a four-choice standardized test. In other words, they are beaten by a rolling dice.
A global dominance of American colleges, though, has been buttressed by floods of intellectual and financial resources, thanking to their reputations casted in the fantasy of college rankings. Nearly 40 years passed the creation of college ranking, the interest to rank colleges has expanded to everywhere in the global market. Times, Newsweek, Quacquarelli Symonds, and dozens of others populate the game field. Yet, US News Best Colleges remains the most known, and HYPS go on most wanted.
Lacking of mathematical and scientific delicacy throughout their childhoods, will Americans in 21st century made into Mars as we, their parents and grandparents are wishing?
America has the best and worse education system in the world.
On one hand, we are endowed with a college education that produces the best scientists, engineers, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs in the world. I should have said there is only a few Gates and Zuckerbergs. The colleges that fulfill our American dreams are also leading us enroute for broader social equality. They balance the demographics and socioeconomics with academics among their applicants.
On the other hand, our K-12 education has been struggling for at least 40 years as we’ve known it, since A Nation At Risk was published by the Reagan administration. The standardized tests that let us see the problem are now demonized as something not designed to tell what kids are taught in classrooms, but what money is about. These tests, which originated from America, are only able to assess Finnish, Japanese, Singaporean, and even Chinese students.
Putting both pictures together, it is clear that our education system is out of synch.
The results? America is running short of engineers and scientists around its workplaces. According to Smithsonian, there are 2 and half million STEM jobs left unfilled yearly. In every college, contrarily, 1 to 2 thirds of students who enter as engineering majors drop out simply because they are unable to maintain the required academics.
We are also missing out STEM teachers in K-12 classrooms. In U.S. public schools, demands for new teachers, especially in math and science, outpace the supply by more than 100,000. Schools simply cannot find willing and qualified American candidates, but merely 3,500 foreign teachers are hired to teach in America each year. This’s because visa is another big issue to get foreign teachers quickly on board. It’s not only Trump who has not made this problem easier.
So, American students are under-taught in STEM subjects. The famine on math and science teachers is even growing at a growing rate. That is the fundamental cause of supply deficiency in engineers in our economy.
Many highly ranked colleges in America denote their education as the inequality solvers. Admissions have been increasingly tilted towards equality measures for well beyond a decade. Top students are often guided to pour their extra-curricular hours into Rwanda, Myanmar, and Nepal on funded philanthropic projects. Holistic evaluations take into account of candidates’ local and racial backgrounds. It seems the Harvards and Princetons alike have been socially more equal than anywhere else.
Along with inequity in colleges appearing to soften, the lack of teachers and student deficiencies in math and science are still widened. American education is still suffering inequity. But it seems more obvious that we have lowered our education quality while making it more socially equal. It is now both a quality and an equality problem that is troubling us all.
Our eyeballs and respects, both as citizens and parents, have made up the ranks of elite colleges so that they attract more and more our talented sons and daughters even in this pandemic. As colleges expand their fame, wealth and applications in decades, our kids suffer more in schools on things they are supposed to learn and enjoy. Did any of these colleges tell us that the leadership, the altruism and the creativity they touted through admission won’t help slow, stop or reverse the American K-12 deteriorating?
One thing always correlates with students’ math and science performances, and predicts their potentials in STEM fields is the standardized tests. To those education professionals who doubt the integrity of tests, here is a question for you. Why are these tests measuring students in all other countries well, but not on the American students as you deemed? Are you surely able to teach American students into Martians that shouldn’t be evaluated by an Earthly assessment?
Throughout 2020-21, we expect that the SAT tests shall remain in "good' curves. Below is the curve and index update after the test on March 13, 2021.
Since 2016, SAT has gone through several curve period. March 2016 - June 2018 is the establishment period. During this time, the new SAT curve was initialized based on large scale real test results. The curve in each test synchronized with our curve index.
Beginning in June 2018, SAT curve fluctuated and was generally lower than its initial level. Students were punished by the test and often protested online. During this time, curve moves against our curve index. This is the beginning that our curve index was composed. We suspected there was artificial driver behind the lower curve in this period.
Curve in 2019-20 seemed coming up trend, but generally lower than in 2016-2018. Pandemic put a six month break to the test industry during March - July, 2020. Since its reopen, the curve has been rather stable and friendly.
Congratulations to class 2020!
I am amazed and amused to say that a tremendous progress has been made by this class of students at mind2learn, including those in our winter and summer SAT classes in Shanghai and the August SAT camp in Chicago.
On average, this wonderful cohort of students improved their total scores by +120 points (+80 in reading and +40 in math). Almost 50% of the students moved up to 1500+, and the rest are in their final dash to claim that score that they deserve. I confirm that all of them deserve a 1500 — hear this, College Board!
Here are the breakdowns in each category:
Notably within the 4th category, more than 40% were individuals who had been locked around 1450 after trying other SAT programs. They were attracted to mind2learn because we understood their problems in the subconscious level. Most of them came to us in the summer 2019. We diagnosed their issues, broke their deadlocks, and instructed their practices. Not surprisingly, they reached their potential.
It was the 5Vs model that helped the students. It is as simple and clear as the wave-particle duality. Once you understand it, you are guaranteed to be on the 700+ level in each section of the SAT. For most of the students in America, it is 1400+. For those in Asia, it means 1500+.
Two lessons you may learn from the graph.
Most people experience a bottleneck at around 650. Other programs can help you to reach 650, while mind2learn helps you to reach it faster. Other programs can’t help you further, but mind2learn can with a certainty.
Once you take a mind2learn course, please don’t go to any other test prep course. They will take away what you build through our course, since knowledge mutes subconscious. Knowledge is good to have, but it drags you out of the right instance and instinct that you are only allowed in the test.
2019-08-24 SAT Curve
August SAT was a recycled form of the June test. Some reported NAPA1030, others NAPA301. It was coded NAPA 1030 in June and recoded as NAPA301 in August.
How did the curve look like? User data showed R-8/34, W-3/36;-4/35, and M-1/770;-2/750;-6/680. Here is my prediction of the curve through an extrapolation of the user reported data. It may not be accurate, but as much approximate as it can be. Scores with yellow background are extrapolated data.
Going forward, what curve would it be in October? Let’s look at an updated curve-index chart. The purple line is the actual composite curve, while the black line is the mind2learn Curve Index.
Harsh punitive curves were introduced in 2018-19 school year, leaving students of that year a 25% chance to like their tests. Beyond 2019, College Board has no form in stock that matches a good curve in terms of composite scores. Looked at this way, SAT will not present us any friendly curve and students shall plan not to take the test more than twice. If you have to take twice, your entire plan has to be adjusted to aiming at a super score but not a single one.
Fast readers read and think with their intuitions. What is your language intuition, English in particular? This graph explains it well.
sSitting on top is the meaning of the text that is to be read off. To get it is to understand it (the left arch on the graph). For you to understand something, you'll have to process the text information input into your conscious. This process requires a set of neurological functions performed in your cortices. These are the biochemical processes that happen in and between the neurons facilitated by a number of substances among which are neurotransmitters such as dopamine, GABA, and endorphin.
You need a basic level of such substances to understand the easy texts whose structure is simple and meaning explicit, but it will take you a lot more if text structure becomes complex and meaning in-explicit. The question is not how much neurotransmitters you should prepare for yourself — you can by no means manage the exact amount. The question is how you prepare (or produce) more when you need them?
Your hypothalamus knows how to and produces them for you, and you just need to tell the hypo to bring it up at times especially when facing hard, in-explicit text. This message is constructed in the form of an complex emotion that is typically a product of your subjective feeling of your own success rate in understanding that text. When you feel positive of your efforts, a complacency emotion tells your hypo to bring up the neurotransmitters. The more the neurotransmitters, the faster you are to understand the text. On the contrary, any negative feeling of yourself tells the hypo not to produce more neurotransmitters. Moving on, as the transmitters are consumed, you have diminishing chances to understand the text.
This complacent emotion, is your language intuition (the element sitting on bottom of the graph). It is generally built through years of reading experience, ideally on a variety of subjects and genres. That is the case for a natural good reader. However, you are not doomed if you are not already one of them. Intuition can also be built through systematic but quick training. This generally consists a number of ways to reproduce texts (right arch on the graph) from good sources. One of most effective technique I use is to read loud and fast, some times to recite the entire passage by memory. Being able to reproduce the text drives the intuition, thus creates a complacency before even understanding the text. In reality of reading, text reproduction indeed happens unnoticeably in your cortices and signals the hypo for more neurotransmitters.
Thus, reproduction, intuition, understanding, and meaning forms a full cycle of neurological process of reading. The key in building or breaking this cycle, a factor that can be proactively controlled by yourself, lies in the ability to reproduce the text.
Unified Models of mind2learn
Subconscious is not a de novo subject. Sigmund Freud first described it as the part of human mind that is not in focal awareness. Although Freud switched to “unconscious” not long after, others kept referring to it as one of most important psychological terms. For the purpose of this blog, I still prefer to use subconscious, since it seems there must be a divide within the so called “unconscious” mind. One part is hardly accessible once it is developed, and the other is linked to the conscious mind and teachable if a proper pedagogy is applied.
Subconscious demonstrates many properties that conscious doesn’t. Most striking feature of it lies in the neurological capacity. Scientists estimate that subconscious makes about 70-95% of the neurological mind (averaging 90%), and conscious is only 10%. The famous notion that Einstein uses 12% of his brain while everyone else 10% is probably true because Einstein was able to access his subconscious.
Subconscious not only takes a larger capacity in our brain, it is also loaded with a multi-core system. It can simultaneously run more than one neurological processing and direct different body parts to work. For example, we eat and talk when we have dinner with a friend. While our conscious is on the talk and fun, our hands in picking food up and mouth in biting food can both take place without the focal awareness.
Subconscious are also chaos-based, ideologically unbiased, emotionally activated, flexibly inputted, etc. All these features lead to a much desirable one for the sake of timed tasks such as SAT—subconscious is much faster and unambiguous than conscious. Think of the choices you experienced in the SAT. An easy one took you an instant to figure out the truthfulness so that you don’t seem have given it noticeable thought process. The hard ones, you might have spent a minute or two to come to conclusion. While the latter is a conscious one, the former may be a subconscious driven process that other prep guides tend to note as obvious.
What if you can make the hard one as obvious as the easy one? This is what all the prep guides have been trying to do in past 70 years and failed in most of us. Their coaching process works only in your conscious. So you are trained to analysis the questions, but with a much slower speed than SAT requires. Unified Models of mind2learn does it differently for you. We take you through a thinking model that only requires and trains you innate logical capabilities (to compare and to contrast) so that you can touch down your own subconscious. Eventually, you will be able to think more efficiently and accurately on the reading, writing and math questions.
When the right choices should look to you much friendly and wrong ones much hostile, how can you not make that score point?
It is time to update the annual SAT:PSAT conversion for 2018. All students took PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of 2018 should have received their test report from College Board. Taking this test as a warm up, you must have been trying to understand what is your chance for the school day SAT test that happen in the mid of next spring. Much of your performance on that day will determine your college desires.
According to data published by College Board’s 2018 annual SAT Suite Assessment Report, I have computed the 2018 conversion from PSAT to SAT. Hope this will help you get a fair expectation for next spring.
SAT = PSAT + [80 : 120 : 80 / 1400 : 1000]
How to work on this conversion formula?
Please note a few things about the formula. First, the formula is made to be simple and approximate. So, don’t take it as an exact estimate. Second, it doesn’t consider the practice and training that you may take between your PSAT and SAT. I encourage every one to plan for practice on SAT heading to the spring. Last, the formula assumes that you can at least maintain your test proficiency between PSAT and SAT tests. So, if you just sit and relax before the next spring, you still have a fair chance to lose some score points.