Preparing for College

College Confidential Chronicled

There has been a nice convergence of circumstances. First, this is my 500th Admit This! post. A milestone of sorts for me. Second, Eric Hoover of The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted a long, informative, and sometimes amusing article, profile really, about the history, development, and state of the art of College Confidential. In “College Confidential: a Field Guide,” Hoover covers much of the college-angst specter that is so prevalent among high schoolers and families today and how that has fed CC’s wild popularity. He also reveals some CC backstory, of which I’m proud to be a part. Perhaps the most impressive information he reveals is this:Nevertheless, College Confidential is more popular than ever among prospective students and their parents. In March the number of visitors was up 31 percent from the year before. From April 2012 to this March, it attracted nearly 44 million visitors, receiving more than 281 million page views. Its hundreds of active forums are testaments to the appeal of crowdsourcing and citizen-experts. Year after year, the site informs how families all over the world talk about college admissions.

Speaking of those hundreds of forums, I just posted this thread on the CC forum: The CC Forum: 1,221,385 Topics (And Counting). That’s a true number, one that has probably risen since my posting. It seems unlikely that with so many topics discussed, posters could come up with new ones. They do, though, and you can see examples of that in the comments in that thread’s comments.


As The New York Times once said about CC, it contains “A wealth of information!” Our original goal back in 2001 (I was a co-founder) was to provide the Web’s best and most comprehensive source of free information about the oftentimes intimidating and confusing college admissions process. I’m not sure if there are adjudication services that could quantify CC’s subjective rank in that regard, but those 1.2 million forum topics might offer a clue as to how successful CC has been over the past dozen years. If you’ve never perused CC, check out its home page. The cool box over on the left scrolls hot forum topics for your edification. There’s also a plethora of articles, interviews, and book reviews, among other enlightenment, to help you get started on or refine your (or your child’s) college process. Check out Ask the Dean, a treasure chest of expertise that I’ve highlighted here before. If you’re in the hunt for prospective colleges, look no further than SuperMatch(TM), the Web’s most comprehensive and easy-to-use college search tool. Even all this just scratches the surface of what you can discover about the college process. And I haven’t even detailed the CC forum the way Eric Hoover has. Let’s sample some of his findings.

Probably the most impressive statistics Hoover proffers are these:

Nevertheless, College Confidential is more popular than ever among prospective students and their parents. In March the number of visitors was up 31 percent from the year before. From April 2012 to this March, it attracted nearly 44 million visitors, receiving more than 281 million page views. Its hundreds of active forums are testaments to the appeal of crowdsourcing and citizen-experts. Year after year, the site informs how families all over the world talk about college admissions.

CC has had to go through an ongoing evolution of server capacity to keep up with this level of activity. The big crushes happen in mid-December, when Early Action and Early Decision results emerge and late March through early April for the Regular Decision crowds. I’ve been through a ton of these periods and sometimes the load on CC servers is amazing. It seems like all of New York City shows up at your door asking for a cold drink.

The forum has grown from humble roots. For a little nostalgia, take a look at what the forum looked like a mere 30 days after we went live with CC back in August 2001 (most of the links are still live). The “community” back then was far more intimate and the tone was rather Waltons-like, with almost universal courtesy and a close-knit, first-name friendliness. These days, however, with the tremendous number of forum members relentlessly adding their opinions, things can become edgy sometimes, as Hoover notes:

Day and night the locals chatter. They counsel and console, bicker and rant. Their questions are endless. Though often hopeful, they never stop pounding the drums of worry.

“Do I have a shot at my dream school?” pacgirl4101 wants to know.

“So sick of asians whining about affirmative action,” macmill writes, “get over it.”

“How much debt is too much,” Jay520 asks, “for a computer science graduate?”

“A party school and you will always be just a number there,” AZseniorchick writes of Arizona State University. Northern Arizona University, she adds, is “for hippies and ugly people.”

This is College Confidential, a vast virtual realm where visitors can find the best and worst of human nature. Here, in moderated discussion forums, people help strangers. They also belittle strangers, question their intelligence, and mock their chosen colleges or alma maters.

Mr. Hoover (I can hear Dean Wormer intoning that name now, so mellifluously) seems impressed with the CC forum’s “What Are My Chances?” section. With 615,736 posts in response to 85,257 topics (as of this writing), there’s ample opportunity for excitement:

Two blocks of salt are recommended for anyone venturing into the “College Chances” forum. Here, members engage in the age-old art of fortune telling. Hour after hour, students post their academic vital statistics and ask others to predict their odds of admission to specific colleges. “Chance me,” they write, as if engaging a crystal ball.

Recently, for instance, Flamengo2009 wrote a thread with this title: “Chance me for NYU, U. of Illinois, UMich, etc. … ” The student listed the following credentials: a 3.1 unweighted grade-point average, with all honors or AP courses, a 2200 on the SAT, “first generation Latino/Hispanic,” and “not that many ECS,” though he or she did “have charity work in South American countries.”

Less than an hour later, Brown 2011 responded: “Chances are good at U of M, U of I and great at Northeastern. … the unweighted GPA might hurt your chances at UC Berkeley and Stanford.”

Later billscho chimed in: “Chance is not good at UMich at all. … Note the average GPA for admission is around 3.7 at UMich.” ParceledTongue then wrote: “Your SAT and URM status will help, but for Berkeley and Stanford in particular, it’s going to be almost impossible to overcome that GPA.” …

… The popularity of the “chance me” exercise also reflects the ambiguity of the admissions process, especially at selective colleges (aka the “lottery schools”) that conduct “holistic” reviews of applicants. With no hard-and-fast formulas for getting in, students grasp for the semblance of science. They rate their own essays and teacher recommendations on 1-10 scales, and they handicap their peers’ odds of being admitted to, say, Vanderbilt University at 60 percent. In “decision threads” each spring, applicants post their credentials in standardized templates, as if the data tell the whole story about why a particular student was accepted, denied, or put on the wait list.

So, how to wrap up this combo 500th Admit This! post and my comments on Eric’s epic CC profile? I’ll give him dibs with his words:

And so College Confidential, with its many facets, is also a metaphor for the admissions process, in which families have many choices. To freak out or stay calm. To sweat prestige or not. To crank up the big amplifiers or don the noise-canceling headphones.

I’ll just say that being associated with College Confidential over the years has changed my life for the better in numerous ways. If you can spare a few minutes to check out CC, you’ll be enriched too. Try it; you’ll like it!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.