Editorial: Compared to peers, Iowa State’s admissions standards seem lax

Editorial Board

@IowaStateU is the official Twitter account of Iowa State. If you follow the account, managed by the Office of University Relations, you are very aware that it retweets an enormous number of tweets from prospective students who are jazzed about having just applied for or received admission. If you don’t follow it, well, take a quick spin on their Twitter profile and you’ll see what we mean.

One retweet recently stood out. In the original, one prospective student stated that she “applyed” for Iowa State. And no, that’s not an ISD Copy Desk faux pas. It would be immensely critical of us to read too much into that tweet. First of all, it’s Twitter. Just like love and war, all’s fair in social media. Caesar may not have been above the grammarians, but Twitter is. Second, mistakes happen. Everyone — including us — has misspelled words when typing quickly. And third, University Relations probably has some policy that they ought to retweet as much positive outreach as possible rather than filtering for small mistakes.

However, such a mistake highlights the admissions criteria of this university. Perhaps admissions standards are the product of a former Director of Admissions’ interpretation of the land-grant mission to educate as many people as possible, perhaps they are the product of a (financial) need to bring in as many tuition-paying students as possible but, compared to Iowa State’s self-proclaimed peers, our admission standards seem low.

For a guaranteed offer of admission, applicants to Iowa State must have taken in high school: four years of language arts, three years each of math and science, and two years of social studies. They must also earn a Regents’ Admission Index of 245 or higher (a number calculated based on ACT score, high school rank, high school grade point average and the number of courses taken in core subject areas). The university will review applications that do not meet these criteria.

Iowa State considers 10 universities as its peers: the Universities of Arizona, California-Davis, Illinois-Urbana, Minnesota and Wisconsin-Madision, as well as Michigan State, North Carolina State, The Ohio State University, Purdue and Texas A&M.

For the most part, such universities admit students whose high school GPAs and ACT scores resemble those of Iowa State’s, although our 25th-75th percentile range is generally slightly lower. Their high school coursework expectations are similar, with the usually added expectation of two years of foreign language and one more year of social studies (although UC-Davis requires a 3.0 GPA for residents and a 3.4 GPA for nonresidents). Overall, they state that they consider many other factors in offering admission.

What separates “us” from “them,” however, is in what will automatically receive an offer of admission.

A few of our “peers” stand out. UC-Davis requires what to us might seem like a heady academic requirement: applicants must be in the top 9 percent of high school students, according to their equivalent of Iowa’s RAI, or in the top 9 percent of their graduating class. The University of Arizona offers automatic admission to applicants from Arizona who “attend a regionally accredited high school, rank in the top 25 percent of their graduating class,” and meet their Regents’ course requirements. To automatically get in at Texas A&M, applicants must adhere to one of two paths. In addition to meeting course requirements, they must either rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class in Texas, or they must rank in the top 25 percent and achieve at least a 30 on the ACT.

One reason Iowa State can be considered a peer of universities with such requirements is the quality of its graduate programs and research in agriculture, engineering, natural science and mathematics.

But if Iowa State truly is going to become a peer of those universities, enrolling 35,000 to 55,000 students who, on paper at least, are very smart, our admissions standards will have to rise. Graduate education and research alone cannot make Iowa State great. That greatness will come with a rigorous — and selective — undergraduate student body.