As many of you know, during July Jill and I hit the road for a week or so to visit colleges that are on our radar as interesting options for my students (high quality and personalized educations at institutions with demonstrated commitments to affordability).

This year we’re barnstorming through North Carolina (with one quick detour to Pennsylvania).  And while summer may not be the ideal time for prospective students, since regular classes are typically not in session, it’s perfect timing for us.  Not only do we get to tour some great campuses, we also get the benefit of spending real quality time with the admissions staff when they are free to meet personally with us.

Yesterday we had a chance to sit down with Yolanda Coleman, the Assistant Director of Admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill for an impromptu, and incredibly forthright discussion about how one of the most generous and competitive public universities (outside of the military institutions) evaluates applicants.  Here are some of the highlights and takeaways from that discussion.

– UNC-Chapel Hill is a beautiful school with a fantastic national reputation.  A big-time ACC public university with a private school feel… whose students have access to unique and exceptional programs in business, journalism, and the sciences. UNC has something for almost anyone… including two very unique programs, one in Peace, War and Defense, and the other – Writing for the Screen and Stage.  Many students land amazing internships all over the country, in addition to the impressively high-tech Research Triangle located in nearby Raleigh.  It’s no surprise that more than 90% of graduates are gainfully employed (in their field) or enrolled in graduate school within three months of commencement.

– If you can get in (which is pretty difficult for out of state applicants – more on this later), Chapel Hill will meet 100% of your family’s demonstrated financial need, i.e., the college will bridge the gap with grants between your family’s Expected Contribution (EFC) and the Cost of Attendance (sticker price).  Not only is this their stated policy, but I’ve seen this in my practice with my own students.   UNC is the real deal.  Meeting 100% of financial need is common among elite private universities, but rare for public colleges.  Note that UNC is one of just six public instittutions that provides this level of need-based support (the other five:  Westpoint, The Naval Academy, The Airforce Academy, The Coast Guard, and University of Virginia).

– What’s more, UNC remains completely need-blind; meaning that an applicant’s financial need is not a consideration during the Admissions evaluation.  This is significant in that fewer and fewer schools are maintaining this ‘firewall’.

– As I mentioned earlier, it’s not easy to get into Chapel Hill, particularly if you’re an out of state applicant.  By state law, UNC is only able to matriiculate a first-year class that is comprised of no more than 18% out of state students.  Consider that of the 31,000 applicants, they admitted about 8,200 students.  3,900 matriculated, but LESS THAN 800 were from outside of No. Carolina.  Now consider that of the 30,800 that applied, 20,000 were applicants from out of state… which means that the ADMIT RATE for OUT OF STATE STUDENTS is less than 5% (which is equivalent to that of Stanford)… however…

–  The Admissions office is holistically organized — there are no region-specific recruiters.  Anybody and Everybody reads anybody and everybody’s applications… which is one reason why … wait for it… Ms. Coleman wanted to make sure I let my readers know that neither GPA nor class rank is considered during the evaluation process.  Why?  There’s too little context. too many opportunities to ‘manipulate’ the system, and hardly any parity in how either is calculated within each high school.  And thus UNC (like many other schools not named Wake Forest — more on that in our next installation) has made a conscious effort to focus on rigor and grades (and test scores).  In my discussions with parents and students, I often hear an over-emphasis (panic) regarding GPA and class rank.  Like my colleague, good friend and author David Altshuler always says: grades and course selection are far and away the most important components of the student’s application.  Students who jockey for a GPA boost by taking classes at the local community college do little to impress the admissions committee.

– Ms. Coleman shared quite a bit more, includiing how and when they’re looking to engage a prospective student (earlier than you think), how and how much they consider teacher recommendations, how they perceive APs, IBs, whether/how they use social media to communicate with prospective applicants, legacy considerations, early action applicants, when to apply to maximize scholarship opportunities, transfer opportunities, and how our out of state students can vastly increase their chances at becoming one of the 5% admitted.

I will offer a few more valuable nuggets at my upcoming Thick Envelope Boot Camp for rising 12th graders on July 26.  If you have a rising 12th grader who needs a jump start to his college applications (by the way, Wake Forest has already begun ADMITTING students for next Fall, but more on that in the next installment), then click here to get more info and to register.  We are nearly full – space is limited to only 3 more students.

We visited two more schools today: Wake Forest  (which I’ve already alluded to) and High Point University (which just might be the best college you’ve never heard of.  I can’t wait to share our impressions and lessons learned from each.  Really, really cutting edge stuff going at some of these schools, and at High Point in particular.

Tomorrow it’s off to Elon University.  Please stay tuned in the coming days for our download on all the schools and meetings we’re having.  And finally, I’ll be expanding on my findings and particularly on how the funding process, financial aid and admissions are evolving — especially for middle class parents who want to afford a great and meaningful education for their student without burning through their retirement or taking on onerous student loan debt  — in my upcoming class on How to Pay for College in This Economy.   Click here to register – there is no cost to attend, but missing this info can set you back thousands.

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