#102 Classic Rewind: College Admission by Major with Andy Borst Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 0:34

Many universities admit students by major This means your student’s choice of major when they apply will impact whether your child is admitted. Andy Borst, Director of admission at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, joins me to explain why many colleges admit by major and how admission by major works. He also explains why some majors are restricted to students who apply as 12th graders and are not open for future transfer. You’ll leave not only understanding the process for your teens admission, but knowing the right questions to ask during your college search. Hi, I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to another episode of College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation.


Well, I am so excited. This actually is a dream guest of mine, Andy Borst is and he’s chuckling as I say that but Andy it’s true. Andy Borst is the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. And his institution like many admits students by major and it is a concept that I found in my work is greatly misunderstood by families. And some people think there’s some gamification that might help their teen and that often backfires. And when certainly for at least one of the majors at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. So Andy, we want to talk about colleges that admit by major, you guys are experts at that at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, but other colleges do it too. Andy, welcome to the podcast.


Andy Borst 2:20

Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate the invitation to come and join you and specifically to talk about this issue of students applying to majors how it compares when you’re applying to one institution that have many different admission standards and how the flow of students once they’re on campus might be different at a large flagship institution than, say, a small private school.


Lisa Marker Robbins 2:38

That’s why we say there’s 1000s of colleges, everybody couldn’t find their fit. But I think sometimes families are feeling that, oh, those admissions officers, they’re ruthless, but you love making things possible for teenagers and young adults.


Andy Borst 2:54

It can be frustrating for students and parents to navigate the admissions process right now. It’s so complex, it’s different from institution institution. There’s information out there, there’s misinformation out there, and it’s hard to know what to trust. So I appreciate the opportunity to do something like this, where you can hear it from the horse’s mouth of this is what we’re trying to do. This is why we’re trying to do it. And trying to dispel some of the myths, your listeners may have heard about how admissions processes work at a large flagship institution. Let’s start with how the University of Illinois approaches admissions. And what we’re trying to do. So we are trying to enroll a class of roughly 8000 New first year students major emphasis on enrolling in state resident students of Illinois, augmented by non resident international students. So roughly we’re shooting for a target of 6000. And when we residents, 1000 non residents from domestic US and then another 1000 of students coming from international locations. We have students are applying to the institution to play in the university. And we ask them to apply for two majors so they can identify first choice major, and they can identify second choice major and we read those independently. So we’re doing one review for first choice. So say the first choice is computer science. And then say the second choice is industrial engineering. Some of our majors have become so competitive that we don’t list them as the second choice. So you can no longer apply to computer science as a second choice no longer applied to business psychology. And why we take those off of the second choice list is because we can fill a whole class with just first choice applicants that are really strong. One of the things that I like about working at the University of Illinois is that we have some programs that are super highly selective. So computer science adamant rate is now below 10%. It’s roughly about 7% across all residencies whereas we have other programs on campus that are more than happy to take students that are not in the range of those super highly selective institutions are looking for students that are probably in college ready, but that have genuine interest in that major. A lot of what dictates who gets into which program. First is the student identifying what program that they want to apply to what their academic credit chose and then explaining their interest in that major. Because we also don’t want students who are trying to come into one program. And then the first conversation that they have with their academic advisor is how do I switch over to this other program. There’s a reason that we do it this way. And it has to do with aligning our program capacity, seat capacity for classes, our ability to hire faculty to certain programs with what student demand, not all students want to have interest in, in certain programs versus right now computer science is just the hot major, that’s where a lot of the applications are floating to. So if we were to go just based off of who is the most qualified, who has the highest academic credentials, and even who writes the best essays, we could bring in first year class that has a lot of computer science students, it’s not necessarily about admin rate at that point. In fact, my faculty do not care about the admin rate, particularly in computer science. It’s about making sure that students that are in a particular program can get the classes that they need to graduate in a set amount of time. And then the question is, well, why don’t you expand the capacity, think of the level of competition of hiring talented computer science faculty, think of all of the things that those faculty can do in the world, and then making sure that we can provide a competitive compensation package to attract those faculty. And we’ve made major headway in expanding our faculty in high demand programs. But there’s still a lot of work to do, given the demand that certain students have for certain programs,


Lisa Marker Robbins 6:25

at some point is there like, we wouldn’t grow beyond a certain capacity, like, we’re just as an institution gonna say, Hey, this is as big as we want computer science or whatever the next hot major is to be.


Andy Borst 6:37

It’s balancing as the total number in the subset so we could grow as an institution, probably another three and 400 students, but they have to be in programs that are currently lower demand. Right? That’s where we were matching what students are interested in with what do we have capacity to teach. But in general, with where applications are falling in the admissions offers that were going out, we have capacity for roughly about 8000 Students predicting enrollment during the pandemic was tough, and our freshman year class spiked. So we had to intentionally bring that back down to match what do we have capacity to house in our residence halls? What do we have capacity to teach in certain programs? What do we have capacity for parking on campus and all of the other limitations, but we’re trying to balance the competing priorities between what are students interested in studying and what can we teach them.


Lisa Marker Robbins 7:24

So this idea of there are certain universities like UI UC, and it’s sounding like the other ones that are like this are typically going to be your state flagships. You’re literally saying, what major Are you applying to? And that’s important that the teenager has insights into wide, you’ve got obviously a plethora of computer science applications. And it sounds like businesses psychology as well. How do you ascertain beyond the data that they’re a good fit.


Andy Borst 7:55

So the objective review and the subject of review, are not too far off. So we’re looking at really highly qualified students. And what’s going to distinguish who’s admitted and who’s not admitted is above that certain threshold for academic credentials. And it’s somewhat different depending on the high demand program that we’re talking about. But we give students approximately 150 words to say, What have you done in your past that has created your interest in this major and another 150 words to say, what are you going to do with this major after you’ve entered it, gotten the education and graduated with it. And the reason why we only get students 150 words to write the essay is that we found a lot of the preamble fluff in the longer essay, so we had to kind of skip down in this introduction, green say, like, just tell me why you want this major, because I’m reviewing 63,000 applications, and we’re reading every single one, multiple times. So we only have so much time to be able to get through the volume to be able to make admissions decisions. So a lot of who gets in and who doesn’t, is based off of student’s ability to articulate why do you want that major? And it’s not was your test score 30 points higher? Or did you get an A or an A minus in that calculus, BC class, like those distinctions are very marginal. And there are big differences in the decisions that we make based off of how concise an essay is, and the clarity in which the student wrote it.


Lisa Marker Robbins 9:15

So write a great essay and then evidence what you’ve been doing. So there’s like a backwards looking forwards look as to outside of just that GPA and perhaps test score if you submitted them. What action are you taking me? I love that because inside my college major career course, we have a whole module on let’s curate those experiences. It might be through classes that you take, but it’s extracurriculars, and it’s what you’re doing in the summers. What are you doing with your time outside of the classroom? And so it sounds like that’s coming into play and that they have made those important critical thinking connections to you.


Andy Borst 9:52

Parents will ask what are the activities that students should participate in? Is it summer camp at an Ivy League school? Will or is it should travel abroad? Or should they work during the summer or take a certain class? And we try not to put any certain weight on what dictates the privilege that certain students have to do those activities or not. And it’s not that we’re looking for types of activities. But what we see happen is those activities help the students to better define why they’re interested in that major. So yes, we want to see involvement. Yes, we want to see what students are doing outside of the classroom. But it’s really those activities that are engaged with over time over the course of four years and not resume box checking. Those are tend to be the students that have the better quality essays.


Lisa Marker Robbins 10:40

That totally makes sense. I heard a stat when you were speaking elsewhere, that you said 83% of the students who are admitted to their major stay within the division or the college inside the university, I think that sometimes that’s confusing their universities, they have colleges within the university. And some of them smaller schools might just have divisions. But you guys see an amazing lean, high number of students that stay with them in the same division, what do you attribute that to?


Andy Borst 11:14

So this is where I get into the love hate relationship with our admissions process. So it helps us to align program capacity with student demand. But we’re asking a 17 and 18 year old to define what do they want to do with their career. And I would argue that that is somewhat of an unfair position to put the student knowing full well that many students across the higher education landscape, change their majors, we have data that tracks when a student comes in to a particular program, we are retaining approximately 93% of our first year class. And that’s about in the ballpark of what our inputs are for the student profile that we’re bringing in compared to our peer institutions. So that 93% is about where we’re at. And if we were to look at an upper threshold, we might be able to push it to 95%. But that’s probably the window of what we’re looking for. So in general, about five to seven 8% of our students are leaving the university. And then as you mentioned, 83% are staying within their college, they may change their major from electrical engineering to computer engineering, or mechanical engineering into systems engineering, or psychology into sociology, but they’re staying within the college. For the most part, there are 11% of our students that are moving from one college to the next. And we have another process that’s happening on campus called intercollegiate transfer, where a student is saying, I took these classes, I have these interest, I’m applying to move into engineering or applying to move into business or I’m applying to move into Liberal Arts and Sciences. That process has become so competitive for our high demand programs, just like our first year process. So what we have, unfortunately had to start to do, knowing that students say, Well, I’m going to game the system, I’m going to come in in a lower demand program. And then once I’m on campus, I’m going to switch over to this highly selective major, and that it really sets a student up to fail. We say to students right at the outset, like if you’re saying you want business, and we did not admit you into business, and you have another offer in business at another institution, you should go to that other school, because you don’t want to stick with us in the hope that you might be able to transfer in later, what that played out, like in computer sciences that we saw students getting a B in some of their entry level computer science classes, even though they weren’t a computer science student, they were hoping to move into that program, they can take a class required for intercollegiate transfer into that major, they’d earn a B and then retake a class to try and earn an A. And that is not productive for the students educational cycle, it’s not going to get them out on time. It just doesn’t lead to good outcomes. I’m not looking for the most competitive pool, I’m looking for future happy alumni that are able to get a degree program that they’re interested in and move on to talk about great things that they did at the University of Illinois. And so what we’ve had to do is close off computer science. So the only pathway into computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign is as a new freshman, or as an off campus transfer, typically at an Illinois Community College. So if you if the student goes to Purdue and wants to transfer to us later, while Purdue has computer science, so you need to stick at Purdue and shoot for that program versus if they’re going to an Illinois two year college for various reasons. That’s the only remaining path. But once they step foot on campus, because we saw students spinning their wheels and trying to get into this competitive program, it was just more fair, although not easy for some students and parents to hear that that door is shut and can’t go other programs that are in high demand or not far off that threshold. And so we still are discouraging students to say don’t come here. Don’t come to Illinois. If your path is to later transfer into that competitive program, and you have another viable option in front of you.


Lisa Marker Robbins 14:50

For sure. I would guess that even for those off campus transfers into computer science, there’s very few seats and it’s highly highly competitive. Am I right?


Andy Borst 14:59

You Yes, and high expectations for math and physics, it’s just as competitive of what we see as the first year pool looks like. And we’re turning away very talented students that have, in some cases perfect GPAs. Because that’s how strong the pool is, you know,


Lisa Marker Robbins 15:14

I’m calling those restricted majors and you guys are not alone in this, you know, I don’t want everybody hard listeners to go like, Oh, that University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, shame on them. If you guys are not alone on this, I had John Reiss, who is at the University of San Francisco on the podcast to talk about nursing admissions and nursing there is same thing what I would call a what the word did catch on restricted major, where if you don’t apply as a 12th grader that doors closed, if you’ve been admitted, and the Creighton’s the same thing for nursing, I think biomedical engineering is the same thing at Johns Hopkins. So you all are not alone in this at all. So you know, don’t get upset with with Andy Borst and or others. Do you foresee a time where you mentioned some of those other popular majors like business in psychology engineering, where you may have to move to restricting those majors,


Andy Borst 16:11

I do in higher education in general, we’re starting to see a stratification and institution type. And so you’re seeing the haves and have nots are getting further and further apart. The same thing is happening on campus between programs that are in high demand and less demand. And as certain programs shift to becoming more and more competitive, that creates greater pressures on the system. And that’s why I think that opportunities for Lisa you and I to talk and to be able to give a peek behind the curtain to students and parents is for them to understand a little bit more of the why we are trying to build a class that is representative that will find a major that will be a fit once they’re on our campus. And we see this happening more and more at flagship institutions, but also at smaller schools, as you mentioned that if you think about what is that school known for good chance that that’s probably going to be the program that follows down this path. Now, I can’t sit here and give you a prediction of are they really going to close off on campus movement into those programs, especially smaller schools, I think that they have a little bit more variance where they can play around the edges of having, you know, 10 or 20 students move into a program. But if you’re enrolling a class of 7000 8000 9000, some larger flagship institutions have gone above 10,000. I can’t have 200 300 students trying to get into a program, but they don’t have capacity.


Lisa Marker Robbins 17:26

We’re just trying to set kids up for success and the university up for success. I mean, you’re balancing both of those. And on my side of the equation where he with families, I just want kids that are set up for success for what comes after graduation. And I totally agree with you. If you’ve done the work, you’ve identified the right major that leads to the right first step into a career we know careers evolve, then you should go where you get into the program. That’s direct entry without messing around and taking your chances because there’s a lot of heartache in that for sure. So as families are navigating this obviously there are schools that admit by major schools that don’t admit by major which that group of schools would be a little friendlier to say a student who’s like, Man, I’m completely undecided. Or they’re stuck between two majors that are in completely different divisions or colleges within the university. What questions would you advise our families who they’re going out or getting on campuses or doing virtual visits, to try to have a really healthy and balanced college list? How do they know if a major is restricted? What questions should they be asking to get discernment?


Andy Borst 18:35

I think that those are good questions to ask from someone who has expertise. So whether it’s someone who has expertise in helping guide students through the process of applying by college or applying by major, but it’s also during the campus visit asking questions about the admissions process, and also being pointed, not just what’s my chances of admission to the university, but What are my chances of admission and graduating from that particular program? Colleges are becoming better and better about understanding our own data and understanding how students move through our pipeline. I don’t believe that colleges are trying to be vague in their description of what that process looks like. I think we’re just starting to have a better ability to articulate this is what that path looks like in your chance in getting admitted into that nursing program. It’s hard to say well cure your chances. Because if you say to a student or a parent, well, you only have a 10% chance. What they hear is so you’re saying there’s a chance Yeah, I got I’m gonna be that one out of 10, the one that gets in versus the nine that doesn’t. But I think we communicate those chances in a way that is digestible and that people can understand what are the odds so that they understand if they have an expectation of getting into institution and getting into a major that doesn’t happen? Yep.


Lisa Marker Robbins 19:46

When I’m in the common app, and I’m in my counselor practice account. You know, there are colleges that I know don’t necessarily admit by major but they asked for a first choice major or a second choice major. So that’s not all. Always an indicator that the school is admitting my major. Right?


Andy Borst 20:03

Right. That’s how I understand it as well. And there are other schools in the big 10 that are asking questions just like us. But they’re doing it to try and fill seat capacity, but just not as restrictive. As you had mentioned before. It’s not as restrictive major, but they’re trying to match what are your general interest areas, because they know their data is probably also telling them that there’s not going to be a lot of movement from music into computer science or into math, there is some, but they can account for that variance versus larger numbers of students that may be applying in the perception that something is less selective with the intent to move into a higher demand program later on.


Lisa Marker Robbins 20:37

Yeah, I’m in Cincinnati and Ohio State who would probably be a football rivalry. So they have some majors that are admit by major in some that aren’t.


Andy Borst 20:48

Yeah, the football rivalry gets a lot of attention. But we’re have definite academic rivalry with Ohio State. And we see a lot of crossover of students that might be interested,


Lisa Marker Robbins 20:56

that big cross out University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign is going to admit everyone by major, there are some schools that are going to be direct admit, like Ohio State would be an example of that. Some majors direct other majors not? And then we’ve got those that really it’s not at all my major,


Andy Borst 21:18

right, yeah. And I don’t really have a good sense for directing families into knowing what’s going to be a direct entry program at a particular college and what’s not, I think that they’re going to have to lean on you for that


Lisa Marker Robbins 21:27

lean on experts that you’re working with. Do your homework, ask the right questions at the university. Right. So fantastic advice.


Andy Borst 21:37

I do want to highlight a tool that we developed because we’ve received feedback from students, school counselors in particular that were saying, Give me a little bit of advice, or how do I talk to students about a particular program in our College of aces, agricultural, consumer economic sciences, versus a student that may be interested in more of a liberal arts and sciences. And so we developed a tool where we’re outlining every single major. And so we tell the faculty, what’s your elevator speech? In two very small paragraphs, really, it’s less than 150? Words? How is your program different? Because many institutions, everybody is going to give personal attention. Everybody has highly qualified faculty, everybody’s going to have experiential learning. But how are you different from your competing institutions for that major, because the overlap in programs is very different from program to program and institution institution. And so we’ve developed that tool, not from here’s how you find your fit at Illinois. But here’s how you might be able to find certain programs. And so it’s program Explorer, you IUC it would be the easiest way to throw a


Lisa Marker Robbins 22:36

link to that in the show notes for sure. I really love that tool. I’ve used it before. And I feel like this is one of the reasons why there’s lots of people, I could have invited on the podcast to talk about admission by major. But what I love about the work that you’re doing, Andy is you’re really working towards transparency and arming the consumer, the family with the right information to be informed and make the right choices throughout their college bound journey.


Andy Borst 23:02

Thank you for saying that we put a lot of effort into developing. Thank you. So we put what’s the elevator pitch for that program. But we also put a lot of outcome data in there. What’s the starting salary? What are the typical employers? What are the most popular employers that those graduates are going on to? What’s the four year graduation rate? What’s the six year graduation rate? What’s the typical average debt for that program? It’s a lot of outcome data. And I would argue that it’s not that different for similar institutions. So it can help you get an idea of what that major might be at an institution, say another big 10 institution, but at least it’s a good starting point of how a student might be able to say, well, what am I interested in? What do I want to major?


Lisa Marker Robbins 23:40

You know, another thing that you have on that tool that I’m a fan of as students are navigating course selection at the high school level, I’ve seen on there like important classes to think about taking while you’re in high school that will either like a you maybe need to be successful in this talk, you know, can you handle this rigor of curriculum a or this will give you exposure to the field. I’ve often pointed whether they’re interested in UI UC or not, this is just great information to have, period.


Andy Borst 24:09

Yeah, of course, election is such a big part of how decisions actually get made at competitive institutions. And right now the narrative is students have to take calculus in order to be competitive for selective institutions. And there is some truth to that. But what I’m trying to do is provide more nuance to that question, because it is important for students that want to do engineering or other STEM related fields, the faculty and engineering one question like how important is calculus to students that were admitting that I remember one faculty member said, well, that’s kind of what we do around here is calculus and physics. So yeah, we’re wanting to see that at the high school level, which is true to a certain extent, as long as students have the opportunity to take those classes in high school. Then their decision points along the high school path, say they took PreCalculus in their junior year and then they have the option do I take statistics in my senior year or calculus in my senior year and What is happening across institutions, not just Illinois is that in the wake of test optional, as colleges looked for other metrics to lean on, lots of times, there was a default to using calculus as an indicator of who’s most likely to succeed at certain types of institutions. And what we’ve found is that that is true for some of our curriculum, but not all, particularly business, which is becoming just as selective as engineering. In that we had a wonderful associate dean who really looked at their curriculum and said, which classes require calculus, and he heard crickets, like there really wasn’t any class that required calculus in order to be successful. So we were using it as a filtering mechanism on the front end. And there are systemic differences in who takes calculus in high school who has the opportunity to take calculus in high school. And so what we’ve done is that we are considering statistics and calculus for our business program on equal footing, because the outcomes of those students, regardless if they took statistics or calculus in their senior year, they’re just as likely to get a 3.0 after the first year. So we shouldn’t be using that particular class as the filtering mechanism of who should get in who isn’t. That’s going to play out in social sciences, humanities, fine arts, versus STEM fields. And so I think you’ll start to see not just Illinois, but colleges like us, de emphasize calculus, depending on the program that students are interested in. And then we’ll start to investigate other curriculum areas, what was the role of number of years of language other than English? Yeah, that’s right, where I was going those AP classes, so it’s gonna take us a little bit more time to dig into each component, but we use something called a, I’m gonna go further down the rabbit hole with you, in our admissions process, we’re collecting self reported academic record, it takes students approximately 40 minutes to fill that out. But the benefit of what that data does is allows us to segment out what courses students are taking, and to connect, who’s most likely to take a certain course set, and then who’s most likely to succeed. Languages Other Than English, we may only require two years, but we recommend four years. And the reason that we do that is that dictates who has to take more language other than English once they’re here. And then students who tend to take what’s recommended, or as required, also tend to do better in our curriculums. There’s a whole psychology lay


Lisa Marker Robbins 27:18

the two most hotly debated, you know, among the independent Educational Consultants world, it’s the debate on calculus, and people just we all have different views, I tend to subscribe to what you’re saying, like it depends on the major because I’m in the weeds of the major in the career piece, right?


Andy Borst 27:37

I think that you’re right, and that those independent counselors that arguing like, yes, you must have calculus, because that’s who they see being admitted. I think they’re right. I’m looking at the data at the University of Illinois. And I hear I’m in those conversations with our academic leaders. And they’re starting to question what is keeping certain students out. And that may change over the course of the next 10 years.


Lisa Marker Robbins 27:59

And let’s get more colleges to dig into their data. And maybe they are, some are, some aren’t probably, this just goes back to the heart of transparency. And when I knew I wanted this as a topic, I wanted you as my guests. That’s why I said you were a dream guest. Because Andy, you do bring a level of transparency, you’re developing the tools, you’re looking for the data, you’re on the side of the student, not just the university, and families need to hear that.


Andy Borst 28:26

I don’t like denying students, I want to find students who are most likely to do well on our campus and who are most likely to be impacted by admission to our institution. And so I do you think that colleges and universities are looking at their data, their level of comfort and sharing that data, they’ll come around, they have hope that they will come around to sharing it because with the price that institutions of higher education are charging, there is greater demand for transparency, there’s an increase in savvy consumers, they’re going to ask questions. And I don’t know or I don’t want to tell you are not acceptable answers.


Lisa Marker Robbins 29:00

I agree. So let’s, let’s urge them all they can do better. Let’s get transparent. Well, Andy, thank you so much. This has been fantastic. My listeners, go ask the right questions, everyone and he directed you at exactly what you need to do. Thank you, Andy.


Andy Borst 29:18

Thanks for having me. I’m Lisa.


Lisa Marker Robbins 29:22

Andy was a dream guest of mine. And here’s why. Over my nearly a quarter century of working as a college counselor, I’ve seen far too many students make the mistake of not doing the work during high school to make an informed decision on their future career and college major. And what I’ve witnessed is heartache from limited options, extended time in college that students just don’t want to do an extra expense for the family, all of which could have likely been avoided with a little time and intention during high school. My hope is And these explanation will inspire you in supporting your team to do the work now, for a flourishing future where options aren’t limited or eliminated once they are out of high school. Your college bound homework of the week is for your family to consider joining me in my next live cohort of my launch Career Clarity course, if you are listening to this episode in February 2023 When it went live, the doors are opening again soon for a limited time enrollment to join me in March for your team to get clear on their major and future career. Go to florist coaching co.com forward slash course. To learn more, I’ll also put this in the show notes. This is the last time this school year all offer the course. So don’t delay. And if you’re catching this, after the doors to launch of clothes, you can still sign up to get notified about the next live cohort. You likely have a friend whose family could benefit from the course to forward this episode so they understand the importance of college major selection and what you both join me in launch this next time. After all, it’s always more fun when we’re in it together. Thank you once again for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast where I help your family move from overwhelmed, confused to motivated, clear and competent about your teens future. And that is exactly what we do inside launch Career Clarity. I hope you’ll join me.