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What do you think about the Texas Ten Percent Plan?

Would it be good to implement nationally?

Is it a good replacement for Affirmative Action?
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The Texas 10 has its good and bad points, ma'am. I personally don't think it's all that ... but, like AA, it's better than nothing, I guess!

The biggest problem with it is that while it gives many more Black children the opportunity for higher education, because the State is broke (mostly due to government-initiated reforms) tuition to these schools is still out of reach for many, many African American and poor families, and Bush's policies are making it harder to get student loans and making less money available.

So ... you make it harder to get a child out of high school (No Child Left Behind) ... you make it easier for them to get accepted into college (Texas 10th).... then make it impossible for them to be able to pay for it!! Eek Eek

I don't believe it's a plan ready yet to be implemented nationally, but the basic premise of it, I think, is generally a good idea.

And, no, I think Affirmative Action (appropriately implemented) would be a much more effective idea.
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/10/15/60minutes/main649704.shtml
quote:
Still, most of the kids entering under the Top 10 plan are white, because the guarantee applies to every high school in Texas.

But if every student entitled to come to the University of Texas actually came, would the university be able to handle it? "No, we couldn't come close to handling it," says Faulkner. "And in fact, that's where we are now."

Where they are right now is almost out of control: forced to accept more and more "Top 10" percenters. This year, they made up two-thirds of the freshman class.


quote:
"The current situation in Texas is that you can have a young man who is an Eagle Scout, who's president of his student council and captain of his football team. But because he's in the top 12 percent, he's not automatically admitted," says Wentworth. "But somebody else who's in the top 10 percent, who didn't even take the recommended curriculum for college work, who took the minimum curriculum, automatically goes to the University of Texas at Austin -- and that's not fair."


I originally didn't want to lend my opinion to this debate, but he's got a point: if I go to a really difficult school and take as many advanced courses as possible, and get relatively high SAT score (1300+), but still come out in the top 15% due to extreme academic competition, I have a to compete for admission than the person from a failing school whose curriculum included remedial courses and who garnered a 950 SAT--he's automatically admitted. Actually, that doesn't sound reasonable. There is likely some minimum standard that all 10 percenters have to achiece before being admitted. The plan has possible snags like that, but overall I think it's a good plan. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem the Texas university system has the room or money for so many students :-(
quote:
The Talented Tenth

Complaints arise against the top 10% law because it's working all too well

BY MICHAEL KING

There's a Texas legislative corollary to the old saw, "No good deed goes unpunished." It runs, "No good law goes unrepealed."
The latest unhappy target is 1997's HB 588, more popularly known as the "Top 10% Law." Under this nationally heralded response to the U.S. Supreme Court's limitations on racially based affirmative action, any student in a Texas high school who graduates in the top 10% of his or her high school class is automatically eligible for admission to any state college or university. The law was passed to broaden the opportunities for all Texas students, and more specifically to respond to the claim that "affirmative action" somehow undermines "meritocracy" by giving a nonacademic advantage to minority applicants.

How has HB 588 worked? Extremely well.

According to the latest self-analysis at UT-Austin, "The entire entering freshman class of 2003 was the most diverse in the university's history. The percentage of Hispanics reached an historic high (16%) and African-American representation equals an eight-year high (4%). The percentage of White students has fallen below 60% for the first time in the university's history." That's an odd way to put the latter statistic, but the historical context, of course, is that white Texans now (officially) represent only a slight majority of state residents. The Top 10% law has made the UT campus' demographic much more representative of the state as a whole.

Less well publicized are the geographical benefits of the law. There are roughly 1,500 high schools in Texas, yet under previous admissions standards, half of UT's entering classes were coming from just 64 schools – primarily large, upper-middle-class suburban schools. Another 800 schools provided the rest of the class – leaving students from more than 600 Texas schools on the outside looking in.

Now statewide representation is much broader, and students from small rural schools who never had a shot at UT are entering and doing well. A law primarily intended to benefit minority students is also lending opportunities to less-privileged white students in marginalized communities.

Who's on First?
So, what's the problem? Despite annual reports from the universities that amply demonstrate the effectiveness of the law, Gov. Rick Perry said recently, "I really don't see how it has worked the way people projected it would work." Not content to declare the limitations of his vision, Perry added, "And I think, across the board, Texans see it as a problem." By "Texans across the board" the governor generally means his major campaign contributors, chief of staff Mike "the Ax" Toomey, and anti-government fanatic Grover Norquist. So we may want to seek a broader sample.

Last week before the Senate Higher Education Committee, a handful of complainants insisted that the law is "unfair" because some students from "elite" state high schools can no longer expect automatically to attend UT-Austin, and therefore the school isn't "attracting the best student body." Recently a Houston lawyer whose privately educated son was rejected by UT, and sentenced instead to exile at the University of Colorado, complained to The New York Times that the students matriculating under the 10% law "are not prepared."

That, too, is demonstrably false. Since the Top 10% law took effect, students admitted under the law have consistently earned higher grade point averages at UT than their non-Top 10 counterparts, even when their classmates' SAT scores were 200 or 300 points higher. This would suggest that four years of accomplishment in high school says more about a student's potential than one number on a standardized test. (The TAKS is a subject for another day, but the analogy certainly bears pondering.)

And as the joint testimony of the Texas NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens pointed out last week, students at wealthy suburban schools often have a structural advantage the official numbers conceal: There are more resources for "advanced placement" and "honors" courses at those schools, delivering a GPA bonus (generally a full point) in their schoolwide averages. The Top 10% law, to use the favorite cliché of the 1997 Lege, "levels the playing field."

The Line Forms Here
No doubt it causes dismay in some white Texas households that the Divine Right of Darlin' Trey to attend the McCombs School of Business is now to be shared with the traditionally Lesser Orders of Texas. But to call it "unfair" – after 150 years of structural discrimination against minority applicants – is a real stretch. As LULAC's Ana Yáñez-Correa bluntly put it to reporters last week, "Join the club." "Some of my friends said, 'Oh, Ana, you shouldn't say that,' but I say, the truth hurts," she said later. "People who no longer have automatic advantages that put them at the head of the line are suddenly discovering what it's like for the rest of students in Texas. And it's about time."

Indeed, the real culprits in this story – one of diminishing educational resources for all Texans – are the politicians who would rather spend money on highways and prisons than on schools, and the administrators who determined that only Austin and College Station should be the seats of "top-tier" state universities. Even UT, now lobbying for a cap in its Top 10% admissions, acknowledges that more students have been turned away because of the overall enrollment cap – 52,000 in one place is quite enough, thank you – than from the effects of the 10% law.

If there's an argument to be made for tweaking the law, it's for more affirmative action, not less – those minority proportions, in relation to the state's actual population, remain far too low. And if that also means pouring more resources into state campuses as well as hundreds of neglected high schools so that more than the handful who win the 10% lottery can aspire to Texas university educations, so be it. If Perry and his colleagues at the Lege want more top-flight Texas high school students to stay home to attend college, they should be willing and eager to spend more money on education.

If not, they should put a cork in it.


link
Good find, ma'am! Now I want to do more research on how accurately SAT scores reflect college achievement. Funny, how some people can complain that this is unfair, yet don't open their mouths against legacy admisisons that directly benefit. *coughGeorgeWBushcough*

The program seems to be great, except there may be a very real problem with the state college system handling so many students.
I don't know that much about it since i'm not from Texas, but as we say on the Street, "it's a trick-bag thing", designed to keep Blacks, and some other minorities further behind educationally.

Here's my understanding of the 10% Plan: The top 10% of the Students in all Texas High Schools would be guaranteed entry to a "State Supported" College/University.

The Fault lies in the idea that entry is to a State Supported College/University, but most of the "Top" Schools in the State and in the Country are not considered "State Supported".

Many are classified as private institutions, and the 10% Program would not have an effect on those Schools admission policies, but keep in mind, most of the Future Leaders of this Country, both in Government and Private Business/Industry are usually Graduates of these top Schools. The Yale's, the Harvard's, the Standford's, the USC's, The Rice's, etc.

So if your intent is on the "Brass Ring", this program will put you on the outside looking in, and your goal for greatness or leadership in your chosen profession might leave you just a little bit short when you have to compete with the "Big" Boys/Girls from the top rated private schools.

Also, they are usually the ones who make up the Test for those Employment Exams, and Professional License that you will need to move up the ladder in your chosen field.

So the 10% Rule was just a calculated move to try and pull the wool over the eyes of the Blacks in the same manner that they have done in the past.

The Statement I just made is just on the Surface, there are also other disadvantages to the 10% Rule. Like, if 90% of the 10% decide not to go, and those in the 11% or 12% would like to go in their place, but can't get in.

leart

quote:
Originally posted by ma'am:
What do you think about the Texas Ten Percent Plan?

Would it be good to implement nationally?

Is it a good replacement for Affirmative Action?
quote:
Originally posted by leart:
Here's my understanding of the 10% Plan: The top 10% of the Students in all Texas High Schools would be guaranteed entry to a "State Supported" College/University.


There is no "guaranteed" entry into any school, leart. The top 10% are only "guaranteed" to be eligible for admission. That only means the can go ... not that they will.
Uppity:

It's imperative that we have to have a certain number of "Slots" available at top Universities for top African American Students who were decendents of Slaves and that entire discriminatory process. Other Blacks can enter lower ranking Schools through the normal channels. African Americans should be able to get in just like "Legacy" Students.

leart
Ebony:

Maybe so, but does that mean that if the first 10% (or portion thereof) decide not to attend, they will drop down to the next 10% group? But that is just one of the minor flaws that I noticed in the Program, the main one is what I mentioned before, and that was, it only gives this 10% an option (Guarantee) to attend "State Supported Schools", and I wont get any deeper into that classification at this stage, because that will open up a whole other "can of worms" that Blacks haven't even considered. Anyway, this Program doesn't include the higher rated "Private Institutions" where the Cream of the Crop, or future Leaders usually attend.

What that really means is that fewer and fewer Black Students will have an opportunity to attend and compete at these higher rated Schools. Consequently there will be fewer Blacks available to compete for Leadership Positions in Business, Education, and Government in the future. It won't be discrimination in the future, the System just wont have many Blacks in the selection mix where these Leaders will come from.

leart
quote:
Originally posted by leart:
Ebony:

Maybe so, but does that mean that if the first 10% (or portion thereof) decide not to attend, they will drop down to the next 10% group?

leart


No. It only means that there will be more classroom space and that then other's (like those Whites complaining about their children not being "automatically" admitted) can fill up those empty spaces as available.

The legacy issue, esepcially at UT schools is a big thing here in Texas. Many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps ... and many children want to do so. The article above didn't state it, but the guy whose son was banished to the University of Colorado ... his kid probably didn't have the grades to get into UT, but would have gotten in anyway ... as some kind of "rite of passage" thing.
Ma'am":

I didn't understand your Statement about Clinton, so you should re-state it. Anyway, Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, wasn't he!, and where did he meet Hillary orginally? Was it Yale, my memory is a little shakey right now.

Powell was one of the few gifted Leaders who was lucky to get to the higher levels of government when top Politicians were looking for a Black to use as an example. Both Democratic's and Republicans were able to benefit from having Colin in their group.

To comment on your "suspected" statement a bit further, why don't you total up the Leaders in Business, Education, and government and see how many "don't" have degree's at one of the high rated institutions. That would be the easy thing to do to comfirm your suspicions.

Most of your Military Leaders come from the Military Academies, most of your Cabinet Secretaries came from either an Ivy league Institution, a Stanford, A Northwestern, a Duke, etc.. The ones who got their Bachelors from a lower rated University, has an advanced Degree from a Major University.

Anyway to extend your comment a bit further, the University of Texas at Austin, which I think is a State Supported School, is rated high among State Supported in the Country.

Anyway, in a 10% System many of the 10%'ers would apply to UT at Austin, but I doubt if UT would have the Space for any significant number of those 10%'ers. And I think the Institution has the final word on "Selection Criteria".

leart
Ebony:

That's part of the "Can of Worms" I was referring to. When they get past that initial 10% group, the process of picking Students becomes murky. Plus the fact that the drop-out/failue rate among Blacks is higher in many cases, so that in itself creates more open slots, but members of this group would only be evident after the initial selection has been made, and would not necessarily affect the current year's selection process, but after a while that will have to be factored in, in some way.

But keep one thing in mind, i'm just fanning a lot of hot air, I don't know anything about the 10% Plan, nor do I live in Texas, so my comments are mostly worthless anyway.

All I do from time to time is comment, in general, about programs that "White" Folks design to improve the education of Black Children, and this is just another example.

So when the results are tabulated, in a few years, the only place Blacks will be able to have an option/guarantee of enrollment are the HBCU like Southern, Prairy(sp) View, etc., where they could have enrolled without any trouble from the start. Blacks just keep getting played.

leart
I wrote a piece about this on mt blog back in 2004. Here it is...


Could it be true? Are white folk that once opposed affirmative Action in Texas now in favor of it? What would make a group of white folk change so drastically after fighting so hard to remove Affirmative Action? The history of Affirmative Action in Texas goes something like this; In 1996 Cheryl Hopwood, a white woman sued the University of Texas on the grounds that she was rejected solely on the basis of her race. As with most Affirmative Action cases, she did not sue the school for letting other white folk in with inferior test scores and so on, she went after those who got in because of Affirmative Action because she know damn well not one of those Black and Latino students deserve to be in the school more than her. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor thus ending Affirmative Action in Texas.

After the end of Affirmative Action in Texas the state legislature went to work to devise an alternative plan that would give Black and Latino students a better chance at getting into Texas Colleges and Universities. The state legislature came up with the Top Ten percent plan. This plan stated that the top ten percent of every graduating High School class was guaranteed admission into any public Texas College or University of their choice. In 1997 the Governor of the state of Texas, George Bush signed this plan into law. In the beginning there was much criticism of this law; various studies were done to prove the law was not doing what affirmative action had done and that Black and Latino student enrollment had failed in comparison to pre Hopwood days. The studies were correct, enrollment had failed in comparison to pre Hopwood, but as the years went by things changed and by 2001 Black and Latino student enrolment was not only back up to pre-Hopwood days, it had surpassed them, and here lies the problem.

The top ten percent plan is working so well now that white folks are now petitioning to have it reduced or capped and some are petitioning to have it out right revoked, even though more white students are benefiting from it than Black and Latino. Here is the burner; some of them are espousing using pre-Hopwood standards, meaning using Affirmative Action as it once was in order to get rid of the top ten percent plan. (We can not win for loosing with white folk in Texas.) The reason why these particular white folk want to get rid of the Top Ten Percent plan is they have spent all their money buying homes in affluent communities so that their children can go to the best schools but what they are finding out is their children while graduating with a 3.9 GPA, taking Advance Placement courses and scoring decent on the SAT are not in the top ten percent of their class, thus they do not get a guaranteed seat in any of the Public Colleges or Universities in Texas. However, down in the city where all the Black and Latino students attend School, students are graduating with a 3.4 GPA, no advance placement courses and low SAT scores but still graduate in the top ten percent of their class and get a guaranteed seat in any Public College or University.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth is leading the fight to repeal the top ten percent plan. During his interview on 60 minutes he espoused many preconceived notions about Black and Latino students being accepted to state Colleges and University under plans like the one in Texas and Affirmative Action. Senator Wentworth stated without checking his facts that "some of the students who get into the state Flagship University are not prepared academically for the rigorous training they get at that higher educational institution and some of them don't last, they wine up quitting very frustrated because they were not prepared." However the statistics at the University of Texas contradict the Senator. Larry Faulkner the president of the University of Texas was confronted with the Senators statements and President Faulkner stated, "The students from the "minority" schools do well at the University of Texas" he then went on to say "if you reach the top ten percent of your H.S. class, you know how to work, you know how to organize your time and those two things count a lot in an institutions like the University of Texas". Mr. Faulkner was then asked does the top ten percent law dumb down the University of Texas, he said "he do not believe it dumb downs the University of Texas, We have the highest graduation rate in the history of the University, we have the highest four year graduation rate in the history of the university, we have the highest freshman retention rate in the history of the University." The white reporter then commented that none of that says anything about the quality of the students, (you see how evil these people are). President Faulkner said in response to her dismissal and degrading of the quality of students being admitted, that "We have the highest SAT scores in the history of the University, and we have the highest class rank in the history of the University". The reporter said even with the top ten percentage plan and President Faulkner said even with it.

One of the most ironic things said in the interview by Senator Jeff Wentworth is that he receive letters from affluent white folk who children can not compete with the other affluent students thus these white folk are trying to transfer their students to "inferior" (his word, not mine) schools so that they can be in the top ten percentile and get a guaranteed seat. What we have here is a plan that was supported in lieu of Affirmative Action and now it appears to be working better than Affirmative Action thus white folk want things back to how they use to be, even with empirical evidence that white students benefit from the top ten Percent Plan more than Black and Latino. It all comes down to some white folk believing they are more deserving of an education that Black and Latino students.
Faheem: I can almost empathize with the kids who go to competetive schools and are thus potentially shafted when it comes to college admissions, if for no other reason than I was in a similar situation. Almost empathize. Artciles like this make me laugh my ass off. Can you say "self-serving hypocrites"? It reminds me of some newspaper article a few months back. White parents were pulling their children out of the public schools around San Francisco because the Asian kids were handing them their asses, academically speaking. Some of the quotes were just too funny, just parents whining that the work is too difficult, it's unfair that their kids have to compete with students who spend all their time studying, and that their kids were smart but developing low self-esteem issues from an inability to compete. The absolute funniest part is that some of the articles (more than one, in different papers), hinted that many of the same parents moved into certain neighborhoods or placed their children into particular schools where they wouldn't have to deal with the "low standards" of minority schools. You can bet just years before the same people were complaining that it wasn't racist to want their kids to get a better education and go to a more competitive school. Now that the Asians are wiping the floor with them, they're complaining that it isn't fair their kids actually have to...*gasp*...work hard! People are funny sometimes.
http://www.realestatejournal.com/buysell/markettrends/20051123-hwang.html

quote:
At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers.
On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.


KARMA!


quote:
Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.


WTF!??!?! Did I just step into the twilight zone?
quote:
Originally posted by UppityNegress:
http://www.realestatejournal.com/buysell/markettrends/20051123-hwang.html

quote:
At Cupertino's top schools, administrators, parents and students say white students end up in the stereotyped role often applied to other minority groups: the underachievers.
On the second floor, in advanced-placement chemistry, only a couple of the 32 students are white and the rest are Asian. Some white parents, and even some students, say they suspect teachers don't take white kids as seriously as Asians.

"Many of my Asian friends were convinced that if you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it," says Arar Han, a Monta Vista graduate who recently co-edited "Asian American X," a book of coming-of-age essays by young Asian-Americans.

Ms. Gatley, the Monta Vista PTA president, is more blunt: "White kids are thought of as the dumb kids," she says.


KARMA!


quote:
Some whites fear that by avoiding schools with large Asian populations parents are short-changing their own children, giving them the idea that they can't compete with Asian kids. "My parents never let me think that because I'm Caucasian, I'm not going to succeed," says Jessie Hogin, a white Monta Vista graduate.


WTF!??!?! Did I just step into the twilight zone?



bwhahahaha I love it.... White folk running back to the poor performing schools that they ran from in the first place just so their child can get into College. Imagine these white folk thinking white teachers are not taking their white children serious, haha, a Black Child must be the invisible child in such a place. There was a great piece in the Wall Journal Street last week about "Who got in College this year". I will post it below as it is relevant to the discussion.
This is the second most e-mailed and read article on the WSJ website this month,


Who Got Into College?
In an Unusually Competitive Year,
Some Schools Sought Passion;
Others Went for Tuba Players
By ANNE MARIE CHAKER
April 13, 2006; Page D1

Who did get in this year?

The question is haunting thousands of high-school seniors who are reeling from rejections in recent weeks. In one of the most competitive admissions seasons ever, Stanford, Brown and other top schools faced record numbers of applicants and accepted a smaller share of students than ever before.

Facing an applicant pool of unprecedented strength as well as size, admissions officers sorted through the applications with a more critical eye than ever. Recognizing that a growing number of students are paying for outside help with their applications, they stepped up efforts to identify the overly coached. They even spent more time trying to gauge applicants' sincerity to determine, say, when a high school student pursued volunteer activities just to build a résumé.

In addition, admissions officers sought to fill particular gaps in the student body. Swarthmore in Pennsylvania has been particularly interested in applicants who are potential majors in classics, as well as modern languages such as German and Russian. Brown continued its efforts to lure science and engineering students. And the University of Pennsylvania this year was looking for a few more tuba players for its marching band.

Adam Hoffman, a student at Parkway North High School in St. Louis, was admitted to all eight of the schools to which he applied. Among them were Stanford and Brown.

On Mr. Hoffman's application: A flawless score of 800 on the critical-reading portion of his SAT (and a near-perfect 780 on the math section) and a first-place award in the Greater St. Louis Area Science Fair, on top of awards from myriad math competitions.

But his application showed more than just a math expert. It also made clear his deep interest in animal rights. He wrote a essay about the intolerance he faced as a vegetarian at a New Mexico ranch with his Boy Scout troop. He co-founded a "vegetarian club" at his school and has volunteered with the St. Louis Animal Rights Team.

That extra something -- a passion or commitment communicated in a clear voice -- is what many admissions counselors at top schools say they are looking for. "I think we're all looking for kids who are committed to something, extracurricularly, intellectually, and hopefully both," says Jim Miller, the new admissions dean at Brown.

Swarthmore admissions dean Jim Bock recalls a recently admitted applicant who took a year off after high school to work with AIDS-infected drug addicts. "How many high-school seniors would take a year off to do that?" he says. As an admissions dean, he says, "you don't forget it."

"Sometimes you do question, 'Is this for real?' " says Mr. Bock. He believes the AIDS worker is; he said she is a middle-class youth who attended a Southwestern public school and showed a sense of service.

Questions of credibility arise because in the current pressure-filled environment, some parents pay thousands of dollars for extra attention from private advisers. A growing industry surrounds the college frenzy -- including test-prep tutors and independent college counselors whose advice comes for a fee. For admissions officers, it can be more difficult than ever to distinguish students who are genuinely committed from those who are merely groomed. These officials warn that the voices of many of the groomed applicants sound similar: The essays all start to sound like tear-jerkers. And hours spent in community service can appear disingenuous.

"Some more than others are artificially packaged, and you can see that. If they are well-coached ... it's hard to find the nature of that individual and what their passions are," says Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania.

Private schools continue to play an important role in college admissions. In a speech at the National Association of Independent Schools' annual meeting this winter, Yale President Richard C. Levin said that independent schools provide between one-fourth to one-third of the matriculants at highly selective universities.

But that doesn't mean public-school students are necessarily at a disadvantage. Indeed, many guidance counselors from public schools work extra hard to develop relationships with college admissions officers, who may not have heard of their school. The admissions officer relies on getting good information on students from counselors he feels he can trust. Breaching that trust by offering exaggerated claims or descriptions could cost the high-school counselor an important relationship.

This year, "the level of advocacy for students and the relationship developed with admissions counselors played a much larger role than I anticipated," says David Ford, counselor at Queensbury High School in upstate New York.

Mr. Ford made an effort to get to know one of the admissions officers at Columbia, a top choice for one of his students. In July, he made the initial phone call. He was told that while his student ranked among the top 10 students in the graduating class of about 300 kids, the student would benefit from demonstrating "a high level of intellectual curiosity that doesn't necessarily come out in the numbers."

Over the course of several months, Mr. Ford stayed in touch with his Columbia contact. He called or sent an email about a half-dozen times to ask questions and offer updates. Perhaps the most important call he made was to let Columbia (and other colleges) know his student had won a national award in an Oprah Winfrey-sponsored essay contest -- which came at the end of February, as applications were being reviewed. What followed was "almost a quasi-interview" in which the Columbia admissions officer asked Mr. Ford about the student's personality and ambitions.

While the student was wait-listed at Williams College in Massachusetts and rejected from Yale, he was admitted to Columbia. After that experience, Mr. Ford believes he will make contact with more college admissions officers earlier on in the admissions season.

There are other strategies that are now widely accepted as giving students an edge. One of them is applying "early decision" -- generally in the fall. The pool of early-decision applicants is generally smaller than the pool of students who apply later. Top colleges sometimes fill as much as half of their incoming class with early-decision students. "Our data showed that applying early decision is the equivalent of adding about 100 points to your SAT score," says Andrew Fairbanks, a former associate dean of admission at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and co-author of a book called The Early Admissions Game.

The catch is that the applicant is committed to attend if accepted. Early decision has been criticized for benefiting privileged students who don't need to compare financial-aid offers that would come later in the spring.

Other factors that can help include being the child of an alum, donor, or employee of the school. Offering racial, ethnic or geographic diversity or being a first-generation American may also be a plus. "A student from Montana is more attractive than a student from New York City," says Mr. Fairbanks, because "schools like to boast they have all 50 states."

Amy Seymour is near the top of her class at the Pennington School, a private school in New Jersey. Besides her straight A's, her interests in video and film production took her to Brown University for a three-week program last summer. She also co-founded a mock-ESPN video program featuring her school's sports teams.

Her applications to both Stanford and Cornell were turned away. But she was admitted to Princeton, and both she and her mother believe that her father's job as a math professor there may have played some role. Princeton this year took only 17% of the 1,886 valedictorians who applied.

Some valedictorians weren't so fortunate. Brooke Epstein, who ranked No. 1 in her class at Brimmer and May School, a private day school in Chestnut Hill, Mass., didn't get into her top choice, the University of Pennsylvania. Cornell and Northwestern are among the schools where she has been placed on the "wait list" -- neither admitted nor rejected. "You work so hard for four years and you spend a lot of your life preparing for this, and it's hard when someone doesn't think that's good enough," she says.

Write to Anne Marie Chaker at anne-marie.chaker@wsj.com

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