The Ever-So-Slightly Endangered BYU Man

A recent leak revealed what appears to be an old scale for evaluating potential BYU students. Basically, you take 10*GPA + ACT and then add points for stuff, like being from outside the West or taking AP classes. The most one could possibly get is 100 points, but this would require being… rather unique. There was some excitement because, although this no longer is true, at the time BYU gave 1 point for being male, presumably to try and bring the gender balance closer to equality. If you haven’t been paying attention for a couple decades, it turns out women do better at college admissions, at BYU and most other places. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Another interesting feature was the seminary point system. You get 0.75 for each year completed. This seems kind of small compared to 100 possible points, much like the point for males, but it is important to keep in mind a few details. 1 point is like an extra point on the ACT or a .1 GPA bump (on a 4-point scale).  Which is not nothing. Four years seminary attendance plus a strong letter from the seminary teacher gives one a 3.75 boost. But that should not be considered in isolation, because those seminary attending kids are also more likely to get strong letters from the Stake President and Bishop, which combine for another 4.5 points. So a student with a strong package of recommendations and seminary attendance gets a boost of 8.25.

This is more than enough to move many marginal kids one way or another. For example, a student with a 3.4 GPA and a 26 ACT who had that boost would look like one with a 3.82 and a 30 ACT who did not have those things. I don’t know what the odds of getting in with a 3.4 GPA and 26 ACT are, but I would guess they are vastly worse than having a 3.82 and a 30 ACT score. 8.25 points is really a very large swing through the set of scores that could plausibly get you admitted.[1]

Which brings us back to that 1 point for males (or Easterners, for that matter). If 8.25 is huge, 1 point is an eighth of huge. There are lots of interesting things to argue about, but let me just make one factor from a fairly utilitarian point of view. As a potential student, I care both about (1) the probability of admission and (2) the quality of my experience while I am there.  Making it easier for men to get in is bad for women because it lowers (1), but at some point a gender imbalance in students is bad for women in (2). Thus there are two effects going in potentially opposite directions. At a roughly equal gender mix, I expect the decrease in the probability of admission, (1), is the most important for a woman, especially one who is close to the edge of acceptance. At some point of high inequality, though, (2) might be the stronger concern for most. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to think of why.


[1] Of course, the scale may not be the full story, as other filters may be applied before or after this scale is used.  It may be that students who get a no from the Bishop and Stake President are summarily removed from consideration.  Or not; I certainly don’t know.

21 comments for “The Ever-So-Slightly Endangered BYU Man

  1. We’ve heard rumors that there are also two important admissions piles: the yes they received their Eagle/YW recognition award, or no they didn’t. High preference for the yes pile. Not sure about the points available there… But it actually makes a lot of sense that teens who are motivated to succeed in a church environment (seminary, Scouts, YW) will be happier and a better fit at a church school than those who had those opportunities and didn’t, so it could be an important indicator.

  2. From what I hear, a lot of colleges have quietly been giving male students a little boost for years. If the gender ratio gets too unequal, nobody wants to go to the college any more. Women want guys to date and marry (and not just at BYU). So the tweaking happens.

  3. Having previously worked full time for BYU admissions, I can say a huge part of what goes into the process, which is not mentioned in this article, is the responsibility of admissions counselors who work incredibly hard reading student applications and making admissions decisions based on the full picture the application paints, not just a number here or a number there. Please don’t demean their hard work and effort by thinking erroneously that it all comes down just to a number.

  4. Sigh. All those times I had to defend my presence at BYU from other students who insisted I was only accepted because I was from the East. Even after we compared GPA and ACT scores and mine turned out to be better than theirs. It was consistently the worst aspect of my BYU experience and now all those people will somehow feel vindicated.

  5. Anyone know more about those Eagle Scout/YW rumors? If true, I’m also wondering if anyone thinks that might change with the church slowly, but not entirely, breaking away from Scouting.

  6. The social effects of having gender out of whack has been in the news a fair bit the past year or so. Particularly stories about how the imbalance incentivizes hook up culture, plastic surgery and other such things. Now some of these are almost certainly overstated. For instance the perception of more plastic surgery among Mormons is apparently false. However there does seem to be a case to make that when gender imbalance gets out of hand it changes behavior for perhaps obvious reasons.

  7. The worst part of service on the BYU Law School Admissions Committee is considering the 10 or 15 applications still left with plausible claims for admission for the two or three spots left in the class. One year one of my colleagues pulled out the file of an applicant from the deep South with marginal numbers (though good enough to indicate graduation and bar passage) who had converted to the Church as a young adult, and said, “I think this student deserves the BYU experience.” (No snickers about the last phrase, please.)

    I thought my colleague was right. I still do.

    So Becky, regardless of your numbers, you owed no one any apologies (and especially no one from Utah or southern Idaho).

  8. …Eagle Scout/YW rumors…I hope they are not true but nevertheless I wonder if the Church will put more emphasis on the Duty to God award (revamped in 2010) for the young men.

  9. Thank you for your derision affirmative action… Now be intellectually honest and apply it to race…

  10. Psychochemiker, while I don’t think they use race in the point system, I think they do pay attention to your background. They seem pretty concerned with giving people who don’t have a strong Mormon social background the opportunities of BYU. You don’t have to list your race when applying but apparently 16.6 self-identified themselves as non-white. I’d be shocked if they didn’t take it into consideration but I’d hope it’d be an important criteria. I don’t like quotas but I think it should count a lot towards admission.

  11. I teach at an HBCU in the South where nearly 75% of the students are female. I have been told that virtually every male applicant is accepted.

  12. Cherylyn, I appreciate your experiential input. You don’t need my validation, but perhaps it is too easy for us outside BYU to oversimplify a rather complex admissons process that really isn’t that different from other universities, and any biases suspected in the decision-making process may be individual and not systemic.

    To all: Personally, I’m a so-called native of BYU’s home state, and even being LDS, an Eagle scout, and serving an LDS mission I did not feel impelled to attend BYU. I figured I’d leave BYU to students who felt their own situation and lack of quality, affordable college/university warranted attending BYU. I do not have anything against BYU, I think I understand its value to a pre-internet global church. I just don’t feel that it is anything particularly special compared to any other private university, espescially compared with Westminster in Salt Lake City.

    Put the pitchforks down please, y’all, I’m sure we can work this out. :)

  13. I do not think the Personal Progress/Eagle rumors are true because when my son applied 2 years, the application never asked about those things. It only asked about seminary. You could mention those things but you also didn’t have to.

  14. A somewhat related note: the BYU application also no longer permits a bishop or stake president to provide a letter. The leader simply clicks the boxes and endorses or not. They can still write a letter but only in the instance if the student requests that he be one of the official letter of recommendation providers. I understand that some bishops/stake presidents didn’t take the comment portion of the endorsement seriously and wrote some lame letters, but I enjoyed that opportunity to provide some real insight about the applicant.

  15. I live along the Wasatch front where graduating seniors and their families wildly speculate what factors leverage an invitation to matriculate at BYU. The mythology makes my head spin. “Your odds of acceptance are higher if you live outside of Utah because if you grow up here you don’t need a BYU experience to stay active.” “Your gpa doesn’t matter as much as long as you have a high ACT score” (despite the two usually positively correlating). “Seminary graduation is a tie breaker if you are on the line.” I have even heard some parents wonder if their kids shouldn’t take AP classes because doing so might inadvertently lower their student’s gpa, despite the course providing a richer learning experience. Some of what was leaked affirms these myths while invalidating others. (I understand the criteria has changed.)

    My favorite myth is if you apply for a spring/summer enrollment instead of fall, your odds of acceptance are higher. I know families who have used this tactic. Their students were accepted and in my neighborhood it affirmed the myth driving more households to conjecture this approach might be the way to go.

    When acceptance / non-acceptance letters are mailed, wild speculation starts all over again for why or why not. It’s an intense process and experience. In fact, I can’t believe the emotional calorie burn I see around me as families with high school seniors start the application process each fall.

    My question is this: Why isn’t the church simply transparent so the process and past statistics are known? Aside from the church still being a black box by tradition and mindset, is there a strategic disadvantage to publishing the admittance evaluation process and prior years’ data?

  16. BigSky, perhaps it’s in apposite to compare BYU to non-LDS schools as we like to think BYU should be held to a higher standard, but do other universities provide such transparency in their admission procedures? I checked my alma mater (a very large and highly competitive state school not in the Mormon Belt), and could find nothing about the formula or weighting of criteria used for admission. Universities have a big incentive to stay mum on exactly how they admit students as the more information they provide, the more likely it is that disappointed applicants will attempt to litigate their way into the school of their choice (I believe the overall number of lawsuits would be small, but not insignificant – especially for schools without the protection of a state’s sovereign immunity).

    Opaque admission procedures also provide cover to admit students who otherwise might not get in. Think children of donors (our knee-jerk reaction is to hate such admission, but all of us who attended college benefited greatly from the largess of wealthy and not-so-wealthy donors), athletes (I’m in no way denigrating all athletes, but, especially in revenue sports, the average SAT/ACT score and GPA for athletes tends to be lower than the average for the matriculating class – my college experience was greatly enriched by student athletes), and non-traditional students (their experiences don’t easily break down into neat numbers like grades and test scores, but I benefited greatly from studying alongside them).

  17. Regarding sports, it’s interesting since the debate in the media the past week has been whether the school should allocate more resources to athletes. The argument is that other universities will have tutors and ways of getting athletes admitted and provide resources to help them be successful in college. The complaint is that BYU doesn’t do that and won’t make exceptions to allow recruiting of say athletes from junior colleges who might be successful at BYU with help getting through admissions and tutoring for classes. That in turn makes it difficult to get the quality and depth of players in the basketball and football programs.

    I think the assumption by many, especially those not interested in sports and critical of sports is that athletes get much more of a special treatment than they do. And the perception of many sports boosters is that BYU falls down precisely because they won’t do more the way other Universities do.

  18. Another problem with a transparent admission process is that it instantly develops into an arms race. If extracurriculars are weighted, then pretty soon you have kids with 6 or more. Do they like service? Trips to African orphanages will boom. But wait, that privileges the rich, so maybe they should weight after-school jobs more. The colleges wind up shifting tactics as everyone rushes to excel at the favored activities and the kids get burned out from the pressure. An opaque process slows this down a little bit and allows more flexibility.

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