Ryan Lytle

Some students are using prediction tools to determine their future admissions prospects

As a high school senior in New York City, Taylor Florio was set on his future college destination. "I always knew that I wanted to go to a California school," he says. "That was the main factor in what schools I looked at."

Florio's guidance counselor suggested he use a college predictor tool to gauge admissions chances for each school. What he came to realize was that the majority of universities he was considering were deemed reach schools. Now a rising senior at Chapman University in California -- one of his reach schools according to the admissions chances calculator -- Florio says that, while it did not impact his application decisions, this tool affected many of his friends' college plans.

"I think that I'm someone who stands out who didn't let these predictors hinder my decisions," he notes. "[But] a lot of my friends didn't even apply to schools outside of New York because of them."

It is one of the most important-and stressful -- decisions for a student, and narrowing a list of potential colleges is often a daunting process. Many families, confused and overwhelmed by the challenge, rely on outside assistance to ease the burden.

A Google search for "chances I get into this college" garners 252 million results, including MyChances.net, which claims its prediction tool will "correctly predict college admission over 90% of the time." AdmissionSplash, an app built for use on Facebook, determines a student's chances, offering ranges from "very poor" to "very good." Both programs use basic information including test scores, addresses, and extracurricular activities to determine a student's likelihood of getting into a particular college.

While these tools may be one way to start a college search, they can't determine a student's chances on a case-by-case basis as precisely as admissions professionals can, says Tom Delahunt, vice president of admission and financial aid at Drake University .

"How data is collected [for these tools] is sometimes an issue and schools change from year to year," Delahunt says. "They don't know what schools are looking for any specific year."

Matt Munson, the founder and CEO of the college admissions consulting site Acceptly, says that many of the college predictor tools available to the public create a disservice because they do not look at all aspects of the student. Instead of helping them improve their candidate profiles and inspiring them to be ambitious with their college search, Munson states that some prediction tools may return results for just a few schools -- and those may not be good fits for the student.

"They're looking at so few elements of a student's profile that there's no way that they are providing informed decisions for students," he says. "In our view, that's very dangerous."

It is important for a site to be honest with its users when a tool does not have enough data from the school or student to make a confident calculation, says Chris Long, president of the college matching service Cappex.com, whose site features a college admissions chances calculator. "If we don't have a lot of data, we specifically will tell the student that our confidence in that prediction is lower than if we had a lot of data on the college and on the student," Long says.

The goal of these tools is not to deter students from applying to particular schools when providing admissions predictions, but to "set their expectations properly," Long acknowledges.

"We never communicate to a student that you shouldn't bother applying," he says. "But, rather, when you make that application you need to understand that there are certain aspects of your background that may not be as competitive at that school."

While Drake's Delahunt sees benefits in admissions prediction tools, he firmly believes that making a physical visit to campus and meeting with faculty is the best way to make a decision about where to apply. "[College] is too big an investment to depend on a data model."

Although rising college senior Florio may not agree with the use of predictor tools as a means to determine which colleges to consider, he sees the potential utility. "A lot of guidance counselors use them to prepare students," Florio says. "When you get rejected from a college, it's pretty heartbreaking. So I think [these tools] are there to give us a realistic point of view."

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Prediction Tools Gauge College Admissions Chances