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When did P "catch up" to H and Y?

borodinoborodino Posts: 8Registered User New Member
edited December 2011 in Princeton University
I have been a teacher and college guidance counselor in schools in New England since the early 80s. I remember when I was first starting out in the "biz", I was told by a much older and experienced mentor that Princeton tended to target a certain "type" and that its academic requirements weren't really as high as Harvard and Yale -- it looked for other things, including a real demonstration of interest in Princeton. Obviously, I am not sure if that was ever true, and certainly over the past 20 years or so, the student bodies -- in terms of statistics, at least -- are practically interchangeable. All three schools today are infernally and equally hard to get into.

Interestingly enough, while kicking around the storage room of our school's library I came across some dusty old hard and soft-cover college guides, including Peterson's and Barron's from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The kind of things we had to use in the benighted period that preceded the world wide web. I have been perusing them for kicks and I really was surprised by how much lower the median SAT scores were for Princeton 30 to 40 years ago compared to H and Y. Some examples from random years:

Year, School, Average Math/Verbal SAT

1965 H 655/640 Y 650/632 P 635/590

1968 H 675/670 Y 680/665 P 630/600

1972 H 690/665 Y 670/660 P 638/620

1977 H 685/675 Y 675/675 P 640/630

When did Princeton close this "gap"? Did Princeton just get more popular, or was there an active effort to increase SATs? Obviously, Princeton scores in this period were not bad -- but they were actually below Dartmouth's scores and around Cornell's scores, and places like Bucknell and Union College. I didn't have too many kids apply to Princeton from my neck of the woods until about 1990 -- they were much more H and Y and New England LAC focused.
Post edited by borodino on

Replies to: When did P "catch up" to H and Y?

  • semaphore12semaphore12 Posts: 513Registered User Member
    I think that some of their professors receiving the Nobel prize (relatively recent) took a part in closing the gap.
  • JHSJHS Posts: 14,987Registered User Senior Member
    If I were speculating, I would look at five things, two of them occurring in the mid-70s, and the other three about a decade ago.

    1. Admitting women. Princeton's first classes of women had much better "stats" than the men, because they wanted to make certain the women were up to the intellectual challenges of Princeton, and no one cared about women's sports (yet). Eventually, that created pressure to admit men with better academic credentials, too.

    2. Ending the Jewish quota. In the early 70s, Princeton was still admitting only about 15% Jews, while Harvard and Yale then were close to 33% Jewish. People noticed that the first classes of women at Princeton had about the same percentage of Jews as Harvard or Yale. The quota went away.

    3. Rinse and repeat. Just as the huge influx of Jewish students in the 50s-70s increased the academic qualifications of Ivy undergraduates, the huge influx of ethnic Asian students over the past two decades has continued that process. There are lots of complaints about what look like Asian quotas, but that doesn't change the fact that there are probably 10 times more ethnic Asians in all of these colleges now than 20 years ago. In terms of the gap between Princeton and H/Y, if they all had the same percentage of Asian students (and didn't select different ones systematically), that would tend to reduce the gap.

    4. Closely related to the foregoing is the perfect storm of factors over the past decade or so that has made admission to elite schools that much more competitive everywhere: the echo baby boom, real wealth in Asia creating a demand for US university education, huge immigration to the US, much more publicity about the benefits of elite education and more information available. Everyone, including Princeton, got a lot more picky. If you want to see some even more impressive gap closings, look at the gaps between Northwestern, Duke, or WashU and Harvard in the 60s vs. now.

    5. Fred Hargadon retired as Princeton's Dean of Admissions 8 years ago. He was widely regarded as someone who valued factors like sports and community involvement above grades and test scores.
  • randombetchrandombetch Posts: 1,079Registered User Senior Member
    I think the single most important factor to college prestige is endowment (and endowment per student). At some point, Princeton's endowment caught up to H & Y and endowment per student far exceeded H & Y, allowing Pton to hire some badass professors and build some solid departments.
  • OldScarecrowOldScarecrow Posts: 112Registered User Junior Member
    A Revealed Preference Ranking of U.S. Colleges and Universities by Christopher Avery, Mark Glickman, Caroline Hoxby, Andrew Metrick :: SSRN

    On page 7 of the paper, it shows that Princeton practiced a 'strategic admission' process, intentionally rejecting top students because few top students choose Princeton over other schools.
  • PtonGrad2000PtonGrad2000 Posts: 1,368Registered User Senior Member
    As a former poster here on CC used to say in beginning his responses to wild misrepresentations:

    . . . it shows that Princeton practiced a 'strategic admission' process, intentionally rejecting top students because few top students choose Princeton over other schools.

    This is the problem with the internet. Bad and outdated information is eternally circulated as factual and current. The study OldScarecrow references is based on data that are now over a decade old. It is also regularly misinterpreted and misrepresented by those with a particular point of view they wish to push. I am sure, however, that we will continue to see it here on CC for the next two decades or more!

    If readers wish to get a current and far more accurate assessment of the actual (as opposed to the theoretical) ‘preferences’ the authors of the study discussed, they need go no further than this link which is based on the actual decisions made by tens of thousands of students offering details on over 120,000 college acceptances and is being regularly updated as more responses are gathered:

    2012 Updated College Preference Rankings

    The “Revealed Preference” study, on the other hand, is based on a very small data set, never received enough peer academic support to get it accepted into a leading scientific journal and has been both discredited and mostly forgotten by scholars of higher education since its publication nearly ten years ago. From the critiques I have read, I understand that there was a glaring oversight in the study that brought into question the entire notion of yield protection as an explanation for what the authors observed.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the study (and because I’m enjoying a nice glass of wine on a lovely holiday weekend) I’ll take the time to review the details.

    In the “Revealed Preference” study, the authors were attempting to construct a theoretical framework based on game theory to rank schools using ‘win-loss’ ratios over multiple student matriculation decisions. They were working with a statistically-limited data set (far smaller than the data set I linked to above) and were more concerned with the mathematical model than the actual results.

    One of the minor questions they examined had to do with the admission curves of students plotted over SAT ranges for leading schools. They showed via graphs that MIT had an almost perfect correlation between SAT scores and likelihood of admission. It was a smoothly upward sloping curve. Harvard's curve flattened in the SAT ranges from the 93rd to the 98th percentiles and then moved upward from the 98th to the 100th percentiles. Yale (which the authors also suggested practiced some "yield protection") showed a dip in the SAT ranges from the 93rd to the 98th percentiles and then a steep upward slope into the highest ranges. Princeton (which the authors suggested practiced more yield protection than Yale) showed a slightly deeper trough in the SAT ranges from the 93rd to the 98th percentiles and then, like both Harvard and Yale, a steep rise from the 98th to the 100th percentiles.

    The theory proposed by the authors was that the dip for Yale and Princeton in this SAT range from the 93rd to the 98th percentiles was the result of a conscious policy of avoiding accepting the students who were less likely to matriculate. The theory was that these students (i.e. those in the 93rd to the 98th percentiles) were more likely to matriculate at Harvard and by accepting fewer of them, yield would be protected.

    On the face of it this never made much sense since it never really explained why all of the schools would show a very large increase in the probability of admission in the 98th and 99th percentiles. If the authors' theory was correct, wouldn't these students have been even more desired and thus even less likely to matriculate at Princeton and Yale (which would lose them to Harvard) than those in the 93rd to 98th percentiles? The authors gave a not-too-convincing explanation that the schools accepted these highest range students because not to do so would make their devious admissions strategies even more obvious.

    This is just poor social science.

    The most devastating critique has come from others (I'm sorry that I can't find the articles to link now) who pointed out that this interpretation of the data left MIT's curve totally unexplained. Was MIT less concerned about its yield and why was Harvard's curve flat in the 93rd to 98th percentile SAT ranges unlike MIT's that showed no such thing? Was Harvard practicing 'yield protection' against MIT?

    What these critics have pointed out (and in the course of doing so have completely undermined the study) is that the authors failed to take two other related and critically important elements into account. Specifically, Hoxby and the others failed to consider the effect of overall student body size and the percentage of each student population made up of varsity athletes.

    A higher percentage of varsity athletes in the student population will cause more of a dip in this 'high' but not 'highest' range of SAT scores. MIT has by far the lowest percentage of varsity athletes, and there is an unbroken upward sloping relationship between SAT scores and the probability of admission. Harvard, Princeton and Yale, all committed to the same range of athletic programs, each have approximately the same total number of varsity athletes and far more of them than MIT. However, the same total number of athletes at Harvard will constitute a lower percentage of the total student body than will be the case at the significantly smaller Yale and a far lower percentage than at Princeton where, at that time, the student population was dramatically smaller than at the other two schools.

    The effect of these differences should have been clear.

    Though all three schools admit varsity athletes who are strong students, many of whom have the highest SAT scores, it is a fact that, on average, the varsity student admits have an SAT range much closer to the 90th than to the 98th percentile range. If a higher percentage of the student body consists of this group, then there must necessarily be correspondingly fewer offers of admission just above this group. Each of these schools, if forced to choose, will be more likely to accept the California all-state quarterback with a 4.0 GPA and an SAT score in the 90th percentile range, than a very good student without significant extracurricular accomplishments who has an SAT score in the 90th to 98th percentile range. There are far more applicants in that latter group and very few of the star quarterbacks. In the very highest ranges of the SAT, all three schools showed increases in the probability of admission in part because these students, like the star athletes, are a much rarer breed and, like those athletes, highly recruited.

    This is not my theory, but one detailed by critics of the Hoxby study. I suspect that their criticisms are well-founded as the authors of that study have been unsuccessful in getting the original paper accepted by leading scholarly journals. Given how old it is now, it's probably a moot point. I would also guess that if similar curves were drawn for small LACs we would see even more pronounced 'dips' in the relationship of SAT ranges to probability of admission. At these smallest schools, varsity athletes tend to constitute even larger percentages of the student body. Williams and Amherst, in particular, are in this situation. They have some of the brightest students in the country with astronomical SAT scores but I would predict that the likelihood of admission for the high (but not 'highest') SAT scorer who is 'unhooked' dips considerably.

    The other part of their study dealt with the likely preferences of students. As the authors themselves noted, their study did not lead to the creation of any kind of reliable ranking, or league table, but instead, suggested a method for creating such a table if more data (and more reliable data) were available. Not being a mathematician, I’ll take no stand on the accuracy of their model in predicting these outcomes. I would, however, question some of their conclusions resulting from the model. In fact, the outcomes they suggest in their model seem improbable. They predicted, for instance, that students interested in engineering, math, computer science and the physical sciences were more likely to matriculate at Yale than at M.I.T. when given the choice. This may be true, but it runs counter to general wisdom and to what is regularly reported by students here on CC.

    What has changed at Princeton (and is about to change at Yale with the expansion of the undergraduate student body) is a significant increase in class size and a concomitant decrease in the percentage of varsity athletes in the overall student population. Were the same curves to be drawn today for Princeton and Yale, they would almost certainly look more like Harvard's.

    This entire thread seems a bit silly to me but I couldn’t let the previous poster’s misrepresentations stand uncorrected.
  • Wildwood11Wildwood11 Posts: 831Registered User Member
    Thanks for that excellent explanatory post, PtonGrad. Happy holidays!
  • sbjdorlosbjdorlo Posts: 4,182Registered User Senior Member
    I'm kind of curious. Is there any data that would show if most students who apply to Princeton also apply to Harvard?
  • Cue7Cue7 Posts: 1,679Registered User Senior Member
    Do the updated college preferences rankings posted by PtonGrad2000 seem a little strange?

    On a recent check, I did a "head to head" comparison between UPenn and a bunch of its peer schools. According to the website, 53% of students pick Penn over Yale, Penn gets about a 50/50 split with Stanford, Penn takes 71% of cross-admits from Brown, Penn wins 62% of cross admits from Columbia, and Penn takes 72% of cross admits from Dartmouth. Moreover, Penn takes 88% of cross admits from Cornell, and 72% of cross-admits choose Penn over Duke. Penn also takes 60% of cross-admits from MIT.

    Do these numbers seem off? It doesn't seem accurate that Penn has a 50/50 split with Yale and Stanford, even accounting for Wharton arguably being Penn's most competitive undergraduate school.

    Similarly, in other brief head-to-heads, Columbia apparently takes 70% of the cross admits from Brown, and 65% of the cross-admits with Dartmouth.

    Again, these numbers just seem a bit strange. Perhaps they are accurate, but if so, they are certainly surprising.
  • GrudeMonkGrudeMonk Posts: 157Registered User Junior Member
    Cue7 - I agree those numbers look strange. Perhaps some students who were admitted to UPenn ED also applied to other top schools and didn't let those schools know of their ED admittance right away just to see what other schools they could have gotten into. I don't know how often that happens, but that could skew the results some.
  • Cue7Cue7 Posts: 1,679Registered User Senior Member
    GrudeMonk - maybe, but I doubt that many students applying ED actively apply to other schools if they've been accepted ED. Some do, sure, but I doubt it could skew the numbers that much.

    Again, I'm just not sure what to make of this website. In many of these head to heads, the numbers just seem off. Perhaps my perception is way off, but it seems strange that Penn can get the lionshare of students from MIT, or that 70% of cross-admits pick Columbia over Brown.

    I'm just not sure what's going on here.
  • GrudeMonkGrudeMonk Posts: 157Registered User Junior Member
    I agree. Take all those numbers with a few grains of salt.
  • goldenboy8784goldenboy8784 Posts: 1,698Registered User Senior Member
    It seems pretty accurate to me. Penn has been consistently ranked in the top 5-6 in USNWR for the past couple of years and Wharton is basically on its own tier when it comes to placement in elite investment banks, consultancies and hedge funds. Penn also has a reputation of being a more fun school than Columbia.

    If the numbers appear in color, then that means that the data is statistically significant.
  • JHSJHS Posts: 14,987Registered User Senior Member
    As I understand it, those numbers are based on self-reporting by users of the website. So it's kind of interesting but not even in the ballpark of statistically valid.
  • SheepGetKilledSheepGetKilled Posts: 1,103Registered User Senior Member
    On a recent check, I did a "head to head" comparison between UPenn and a bunch of its peer schools. According to the website, 53% of students pick Penn over Yale, Penn gets about a 50/50 split with Stanford, Penn takes 71% of cross-admits from Brown, Penn wins 62% of cross admits from Columbia, and Penn takes 72% of cross admits from Dartmouth. Moreover, Penn takes 88% of cross admits from Cornell, and 72% of cross-admits choose Penn over Duke. Penn also takes 60% of cross-admits from MIT.

    11% choose Penn over Yale (not surprising)
    15% choose Penn over Stanford (not surprising)
    35% choose Penn over Brown (I was surprised Brown did so well)
    41% choose Penn over Columbia
    46% choose Penn over Dartmouth (surprised Dart beat Penn)
    63% choose Penn over Cornell (lol)
    66% choose Penn over Duke
    15% choose Penn over MIT

    In short, Penn did not fare well.
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