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Understanding the Academic Index

By: Dr. Michele Hernandez

During the four years I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College, I was mystified as to why we were not allowed to speak about the “secret formula” when we printed it on the front of every application folder. Yet when parents asked us if we used a formula, we were instructed to say no. One of the reasons I decided to write A is for Admission was that in my opinion, there were MANY things that Ivy offices kept secret and admissions is NOT supposed to be the CIA. There is no reason why the admissions process shouldn’t be open and honest at every turn. Though the AI is mostly used for recruited athletes, it’s very useful for students to know how to compute their AI to get a rough idea of their admissions odds at top colleges. Though of course it’s not the only factor, academics make up 75% or so of the admissions decision the formula contains mostly academic measures that when combined with recommendations and school endorsements can give students a good idea of where they stand.

Although the Ivy League schools spent many years denying they used any kind of formula, they in fact have been using a ranking formula since the 1950’s called the Academic Index, AI for short. Though it has traditionally been used for sports purposes (maintaining some kind of academic standard on the various athletic teams), every Ivy League school still calculates an AI for every student. Why? Because the average AI of the athletic teams cannot be more than one standard deviation away from the average AI of the entire class, but the only way to know that is to calculate an AI for every student. Naturally since the number was so easy to generate, many schools began to print the number right on the front of every student’s folder and used it to help them rank a student academically. Please understand that the AI is just a statistical tool – it does not take into account a student’s essays, teacher recommendations, outside achievements or awards. It merely chronicles the objective side of the equation, namely high school rank in class and standardized test scores. In short, the AI is a formula that combines the averages of student test scores (both SAT I’s and SAT II’s) and high school rank in class (represented by an Ivy League invention, the converted rank score or CRS). The AI is represented on a scale of 1-240, with 240 being the highest. The approximate average of Ivy applicants is around 200 while the average AI of accepted students is closer to the 211 range.

Every school has a different method of computing rank so figuring out your own CRS may be hard. The most accurate way (and the preferred method) is to have an exact weighted rank. If your school provides rank, use the first part of the CRS input field. Next the formula turns to decile rankings (top 10%, top 20%), but be aware that the formula only approximates the MIDPOINT of the range, so anyone who enters only “top 10%” effectively gets counted as exactly 5% in the class hierarchy. Finally, if neither rank nor decile is available, the formula will take into account a GPA, but often that inflates the CRS and the ranking appears higher.

Obviously admissions offices that use the AI use it along with all the subjective information and make informed decisions about how to understand the most complex part of the formula, the CRS. Why then does the AI matter? Most importantly, it will help you gage your chances for admission since there is a very high correlation between high AI’s and high acceptance rates.

On to the calculator!

One reply on “Understanding the Academic Index”

I just bought and read the book “A Is For Admission”. I find it the best book I read about college admissions. I just have a question about applying early action. Dr. Hernandez mentioned in that book that “the only informaion that is shared among all highly selective colleges is a list of those students accepted early decision or early action” (p.230). Does this mean that if my daughter got accepted at Yale’s early action program, she can be rejected at Harvard or Princeton for simply being accepted in the early action program? Would colleges reject an applicant simply because she’s already in the list of those accepted early action? What if she changed her mind and wants to go to Harvard instead?

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