Monday, November 8, 2010

Are You Ready To Find the Love of Your Academic Life?

Everyone who has watched TV has seen commercials for websites like or which promise to use some-sort of scientific algorithm to help you find your ideal man or woman.  They show happy couples gushing about how perfect they are for each other and how they never would have found each other without this website's proven deep-compatibility matching.  My favorite fictional physicist, the great Sheldon Cooper, calls this "unsupportable mathematics designed to prey upon the gullible and the lonely".

Now unsupportable mathematics are being applied to something eerily similar to dating - college admissions.  The website claims to be "your personalized path to college" by using algorithms modeled on those of eHarmony to match prospective college students with colleges that match their academic, social, and career preferences.  One New York Times' writer called it "self-discovery through test taking".  Using a series of questionnaires designed to measure things like study skills, preferred social setting, desired level of independence, inclination towards religious institutions, and the relative importance of things like school- and class-size, WiseChoice computes a"match percentage" designed to measure how well you would fit in at each school.  Additionally, if you give them things like your high school GPA and test scores they will sort your top matches into three categories - "reach", "target", and "safety".

So I thought I'd try it.  I entered my data into the site as if I were today exactly as I was when I was applying for college 10 years ago. Here are my top matches from each category:

Reach Schools
My top reach schools were rated as Harvard and MIT, both 85% matches.  I applied to both for grad school and can confirm that they were a bit of a reach for me.

Target Schools
The schools I apparently should have been applying to were Notre Dame and College of the Ozarks.  College of the Ozarks, my highest overall match, was especially interesting as it is a non-denominational Christian private school that charges no tuition in exchange for all students working 15 hours per week on campus during the school year and two 40-hour weeks during either winter or summer break.  I never even considered applying to either of these schools, but it's starting to become apparent that WiseChoice picked up on my preference for a religious institution.

Safety Schools
My top safety school resulted in a three-way tie between College of the Holy Cross, Faulkner University, and Wake Forest.  All three of these are religious schools affiliated with the Catholic Church, Church of Christ, and Southeastern Baptist Conference, respectively.

So how does that compare with the colleges I actually considered as a high school senior?  Back then I was thinking about a lot of places but there were really four favorites.  BYU was the clear front-runner as I had been born in Provo while both of my parents were students there.  Stanford was my "reach" school.  The University of Oregon was my "safety" school. My last school was sort of an odd-ball pick that was mostly my feeble attempt at doing something no one expected me to do, and that was apply to Washington University in St. Louis.  Here's what WiseChoice thought of those 4 schools.
BYU was rated a safety school with an extremely high match percentage.  Stanford and Washington U. just missed the cut as reach schools as WiseChoice's lowest recommendation for a reach school was Dartmouth with 83%.  And the University of Oregon is apparently so far below my standards that it was rated "extreme safety".

So does this thing really work?  It picked up on my pro-religious school preference but not on which religion I preferred.  It really didn't pick up on my desire not to sell my internal organs to pay tuition as some of my top matches were extremely pricey.  It also had no qualms suggesting several small schools that I had never heard of before, even though I wanted a larger school.  So my final verdict is that while it's interesting to see the results, it really is based on "unsupportable mathematics".


  1. Nick,

    Interesting. It would have been fun having something like this when I was applying for college. Though I am very happy with the decision I made so maybe I was better off not to have it.

    The whole paradox of choice issue...

  2. That is interesting. I'd like to do it but it would probably tell me I should apply to Salt Lake Community College or Southern Utah University.

    When I finished High School, I wanted to go to BYU. They had showed little interest in me when they were recruiting at my high school so I figured I would go to Utah since I thought I might get a scholarship there. I was extremely surprised when the opposite happened - no scholarship at Utah, but a full tuition scholarship at BYU. So life worked out for me.

    Now my applications to grad school are an entirely different story, filled with lots of rejection and one seemingly super lucky break that got me where I am now.


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