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Using Naviance: How to Interpret the Scattergrams

Mary Sue Youn

Written by Mary Sue Younon February 25th, 2020

I joined College Coach after working at Barnard College of Columbia University, where I served as the senior associate director of admissions. As the senior manager of the admissions staff, I coordinated all admissions recruitment travel, and directed the application review process. I chaired the admissions committee and personally reviewed many applications from both first-year and transfer admissions applicants. Prior to my tenure at Barnard, I was an admissions counselor at Whittier College and directed the merit scholarship process for the college. My admissions career began as an alumna admissions volunteer for Cornell University while completing my graduate work in psychology at Claremont Graduate University.
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In a previous blog post, Using Naviance: How to Get Organized, we discussed how to get started with Naviance. This installment focuses on how to best utilize the program. One of the features we find ourselves using regularly in Naviance is the scattergram generated for each college. Scattergrams give data points for each student from your high school who has applied to a particular college in the past few years. The data points represent the student’s standardized test scores and GPA based on your school’s scale. The points also indicate whether the student was admitted, waitlisted, or denied at a particular school. No other identifying information about the student is given, but just knowing how your GPA and SAT or ACT stacks up at a college of interest can be very helpful. Via a box drawn on the graph, the scattergram also indicates the average GPA and average SAT/ACT that was accepted at that college. The further outside the box your particular data point is, the higher your chance of being a strong applicant for that school. The scattergrams work particularly well for showing you a trend line for colleges that are more numbers-driven in their admissions decisions. In general (and there are exceptions!), larger public universities tend to base most of their admissions decisions on the numbers—as in, the applicant’s GPA and standardized test scores. If you are looking at mostly larger schools that are very popular in your area, Naviance might be an excellent way to predict whether you are in range for admission at that school. But when doesn’t Naviance work as well? There are a few types of schools where the data you see on the plot may not give you the best predictor of your admissions chances. Colleges that take a holistic admissions approach: For lots of small liberal arts colleges and highly selective colleges, the numbers only begin to tell the story. Yes, the numbers may indicate that you are in the right range generally, but they don’t take into account your fit with the institution, the strength of your essay, or any recommendation letters. As an exercise, take a look at the scattergram for a highly selective Ivy League university. You’ll notice that there is some trending towards admitting applicants with higher GPA and SAT/ACT scores (as you would expect), but you’ll also notice that there are plenty of “high numbers” candidates who were waitlisted or denied. Because those colleges read holistically and value all parts of the applications, it’s harder to pinpoint an exact formula of numbers for acceptance (because there isn’t one), and therefore harder to predict a precise outcome of the admissions application. Colleges that are beyond the box for your high school: Naviance can probably show you a pretty good trend line for schools where a lot of your peers apply. For example, I work in New Jersey, and have many students focused exclusively on colleges in the Boston-DC corridor. But what about those of you who might be thinking outside the box, and are considering applying to an unconventional school? Maybe you are looking at a college in the Pacific Northwest that only two people from your high school have ever applied to. Maybe you are interested in universities in Canada or in the United Kingdom. In those cases, the scattergrams won’t contain enough prior applicants’ data to give you a sense of where the trend line falls and what your true chances of admissions might be. Test optional/flexible schools: The basic premise for the scattergram is that admissions ranges can be predicted by knowing the applicant’s GPA and test scores. But what about test optional schools? A growing number (over 1000 at last count) of colleges have become test optional in their admissions policies and are therefore missing a crucial piece of that data. Naviance may still give you a general sense about whether your GPA is in range, but it may not be the best predictor for those test optional schools. In short, if you have Naviance access, take a look at the scattergrams. The data can be fascinating, particularly to learn about acceptance trends and can help shape your college list. But don’t obsess about predicting your admissions results with 100% accuracy. The computer generated scattergrams are interesting, but there are real humans actually making those admissions decisions. You know you are more than what can be represented by a dot on a scattergram and, with a thorough and thoughtful application, the admissions officers will see that too. Common App Resources CTA


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