Getting into college is no easy feat. In fact, it gets more complex all the time. The Common Application, designed to simplify the process, has resulted in many more students applying to many more schools. University of Oregon doesn’t accept the Common App; others add additional requirements. Regardless, the Common App has resulted in more applications all around and requires competitive schools like University of Oregon to rethink their acceptance strategy. The objective is always to have many top students choose UO, but not so many as to flood the freshman class.
Kirk Koenig, a 37-year veteran of college admissions; and Lorena Landeros, a recent addition to the University of Oregon Admissions Department; represent the breadth of background and skills required in college admissions. Kirk explains, “Admissions as a separate process didn’t really exist until the 1970’s. Registrars used to handle it. Now admissions has its own procedures and professional organizations.”
The University of Oregon receives about 35,000 applications a year: 22,000 for fall semester freshman; the rest spread over the other three quarters and graduate schools. Last year UO admitted about 16,000 students for 4,000 spots. Half of all Oregon residents admitted accept, 17% admitted from out-of-state accept. Only about five percent of UO’s budget comes from the state, so out-of-state students provide higher per-student revenue, but there’s a political imperative to accept in-state students.
Oregon has several incentives to make college more affordable for underrepresented students. The state waives out-of-state tuition for undocumented students, offers merit scholarships for academic achievers, and initiated Pathway Oregon, state grants that supplement Federal Pell grants for low-income students.
How does UO evaluate so many applications and calculate their hit rate? Kirk is responsible for creating each years master matrix; a system of key indicators that determine how to sort applications. Each application receives a ‘total rating’ according to an algorithm that includes GPA, test scores, essays, and experience. Students with a total rating above a prescribed threshold are automatically admitted. Students below that cutoff are individually evaluated or rejected. A second admissions counselor reviews all rejected applications. No one is rejected based on a single review.
Lorena, a Mexican-American UO graduate, focuses on admissions from predominant Mexican regions: central Oregon and metropolitan Seattle. She takes a broad view of her job as encouraging Mexican-American students to consider college as a viable option. She visits schools as early as eighth grade to help students be more college-aware and college-ready. Although Lorena believes the financial assistance programs are good, “There is no more affirmative action. All students need to be academically prepared to be accepted.”
I asked Kirk how college admissions will change. “In the past 37 years it’s changed completely; it’s driven by data and numbers. How it will change is for others to grapple.” Lorena added, “I’m young enough to have a good idea where students are at. UO is an option, but not everyone’s best option. My role is to help student’s find their right spot. If it’s not University of Oregon, I’m okay with that.”
How will we live tomorrow?