Data-Driven Admissions Approach to Elite Colleges

Source: Bloomberg, Sep 2014

Ma guarantees that his students will get into a top school or their parents get their money back—provided the applicant achieves a certain GPA and other metrics.

Ma, a former hedge fund analyst, makes bets on student admissions the way a trader plays the commodities markets. Using 12 variables from a student’s profile—from grades and test scores to extracurricular activities and immigration status—Ma’s software crunches the odds of admission to a range of top-shelf colleges. His proprietary algorithm assigns varying weights to different parameters, derived from his analysis of the successes and failures of thousands of students he’s coached over the years.

Ma’s algorithm, for example, predicts that a U.S.-born high school senior with a 3.8 GPA, an SAT score of 2,000 (out of 2,400), moderate leadership credentials, and 800 hours of extracurricular activities, has a 20.4 percent chance of admission to New York University and a 28.1 percent shot at the University of Southern California. Those odds determine the fee ThinkTank charges that student for its guaranteed consulting package: $25,931 to apply to NYU and $18,826 for USC. “Of course we set limits on who we’ll guarantee,” says Ma.

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