TRANSCRIPT: What Does Unhooked Mean In Admissions?

Most of us understand the meaning of the term “hook” in the context of a catchy song or piece of writing, but when did we start using it for college applicants? Amy and Mike invited educational consultant Aly Beaumont to explain what “unhooked” means in admissions.

Find the audio file and show notes for this episode at

Amy Seeley 0:04
Welcome everyone. I’m Amy Seeley, president of Seeley Test Pros, helping students to succeed at all kinds of tests from eighth grade to grad school in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mike Bergin 0:12
And I’m Mike Bergin, president of Chariot Learning, helping students with tests, school, and life, based out of Rochester, New York.

Amy Seeley 0:18
Between the two of us today, we have over 55 years of experience at the highest levels of the test preparation and supplemental education industries.

Mike Bergin 0:26
We both love to talk and learn about the latest issues in education, testing and admissions. So let’s get down to Tests and the Rest. The fascinating topic we want to explore today is “What does unhooked mean in admissions?” But, first, let’s meet our special guest Aly Beaumont.

Amy Seeley 0:42
Aly Beaumont is the founder of Admissions Village, a family focused affordable one on one college guidance consultancy, she is deeply committed to making the college admissions process less stressful, and her success with a subjective can be measured by both the growing number of referrals she receives, as well as the repeat business of family siblings. Aly is also a founder and advisor to The College T, a website connecting high school students with college students and recent graduates so that firsthand information experiences can be shared. She is a member of IECA, and she has a certificate as an independent educational consultant from the University of California, Irvine. Welcome.

Aly Beaumont 1:20
Hi, Mike. Hi, Amy. Nice to see you guys.

Mike Bergin 1:23
Aly, it’s always great to see you. We’re really excited to dive into this topic because we get so many questions about it. But before we do, you’ve been on our show so many times. Aly, I don’t need to remind you, you came on to speak about PREPARATION FOR HIGHLY SELECTIVE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS, COURSE SELECTION FOR HIGHLY SELECTIVE ADMISSIONS, and we did a profile on you. For listeners that haven’t acquainted themselves with your recent work, what have you been up to?

Aly Beaumont 1:54
So first of all, I’m very lucky to have been on this podcast several times. I always enjoy being with you guys. I have been super busy. We had a really large class at Admissions Village here. We have 52 seniors, and a huge group of younger students as well. So we actually just brought on another consultant to help us in August. Her name is Meg Joyce, she’s phenomenal. And Kavita and I are so lucky and happy to have her helping us and I just applied for professional membership. I actually applied like a month ago but which was bad timing to ask colleagues to write me recommendations. So my last rec just went in on Sunday. And I’m excited to have that sort of behind me. It was a big thing, just getting the application done.

Amy Seeley 2:38
Any initial thoughts on this admission cycle that’s just gonna start to be in the books?

Aly Beaumont 2:46
Yeah, I’m not really sure it’s been. For some reason, this class seems to be particularly anxious. And I’ve heard that from many consultants, not just our own kids. So it was a lot. This was a really busy application.

Amy Seeley 3:01
Well, as a mother of a current senior, I think what you might be speaking to is, these are the kids that their freshman year was COVID impacted. So I think that idea of nervousness, anxiousness, and, like lack of connection, or like the typical connection that we see through high school, that’s impacted their high school experience. And I think that might be kind of what you’re seeing.

Aly Beaumont 3:23
Absolutely. I have several students who started their freshman year in high school, and then didn’t really return back to high school in person until junior year. They missed real critical social time period. And I think that a lot of kids miss some real crucial academics that they needed. I’ve seen kids behind in math, I’ve seen kids writing, which is really struggled this year. So we also just, in, you know, at Admissions Village, I have a particularly strong group of students this year of our class at 52. We have 20, who have scores above 1500. Wow. Yeah. And so we have a really, really strong group, which makes for more work just because those kids apply to more colleges and have more essays and, and just more stress around those really selective schools.

Mike Bergin 4:15
I think another element of this everything you’re both saying I agree with, but when it comes to the college admissions process, in particular, even for those students that we’re talking about, the lack of transparency, and heightened selectivity of every school you can think of means that those students who pre-COVID might have been a shoo in based on grades and test scores for selective schools. They’re now… I don’t know if either of you have seen this graphic making the rounds about the Harvard class. Harvard accepts 2000 students, they have 4000 applicants with perfect GPAs, they have 8000 applicants with , you know, SATs math scores higher than 700. It’s just the numbers don’t seem to work, even when the numbers are impeccable.

Aly Beaumont 5:09
First of all, Mike, I couldn’t agree more. But here’s the other thing. And Meg and Kavita and I have been talking about doing a blog post that talks about if we as counselors who do this day in and day out, find it all confusing and hard to decide sometimes with kids. And we’re constantly surprised by things or little things pop up. How are normal families supposed to do this?

Mike Bergin 5:30
Exactly, Aly. We don’t even know when we’re talking all the time, and shrugging our shoulders, and we don’t know what’s happening. How should a family that isn’t steeped in constantly tracking everything that colleges do, supposed to manage this process?

Aly Beaumont 5:50
The system is so broken. I mean, it’s just so broken, even things like you know, sending in the SRR report, I don’t know if you guys caught that Clemson tried to tell kids who didn’t have it in by October 15, that all of a sudden, they were getting pushed to regular decision. And they actually backed, you know, off on that one, because they knew they were in trouble. But it’s a problem. Like, there’s so many little ins and outs, like, oh, no, on this school’s application, you need to send official score reports on this one, you actually they’re going to suppress your score report. So you need to submit them in the portal, even though you’re allowed to self report. How is every person supposed to figure that stuff out?

Amy Seeley 6:28
So it’s funny that you’re talking to this idea of things that need to be figured out. And so, as all of us, kind of in this space today know, there are lots of other things that sometimes families haven’t figured out. And one of those, which Mike and I actually explored a little bit more of in the book of the girls with Bright Futures episode is hooks. Right? And I don’t know if that term hook is familiar to many of our audience, but can you tell us about our ally, what is a hook in sort of the college admissions sort of like lingo.

Aly Beaumont 7:02
So I actually don’t love that term hook. And I prefer to use the term institutional priority. But basically, an institutional priority is something that the college is trying to get done, or to build a class with. So first of all, when we use the term hooks, we’re really only talking about highly selective colleges, because colleges that are not highly selective, are not building a class, they’re trying to fill seats, it’s a very different thing.

Amy Seeley 7:29
When you talk about that highly selective, do you have a percentage of acceptance that you might attribute to that meaning? Like, where does it become more selective, less selective, or as we might even say, the high leverage,

Mike Bergin 7:43
it’ll be interesting to hear your number about where you think, We were having this conversation before about, at what acceptance rate, a college shifts from a buyer to a seller?

Aly Beaumont 7:55
Correct. So I personally think it’s somewhere around 50 or 60%.

Mike Bergin 8:00
I think that’s about right. So we sometimes speak about the open admit schools, or the schools that accept 75% of applicants, right, those are schools that most applicants with the qualifications to actually handle higher education should have no problem getting into. But then once you start taking now, I wonder if only we can happen the time machine and go back a few years and see what the number for a seller school was, then because I have, I believe that a lot more schools, it we have a growing divide, we have a very large number of schools that are eager to fill their classes and carry their finances. And then we have a whole other group of schools that have become more selective over the last four or five years.

Aly Beaumont 8:56
So Bari Norman, did this great podcast or webinar, where she actually compared admit rates from 1990 to now, admit rates now for some of the highly selective schools, and she went school by school. So for something like 1992, the acceptance rate at Harvard was 16%, which the today’s equivalent would be Boston University. And if you go to the University of Pennsylvania, the acceptance rate was 39%. The equivalent today would be roughly Union College,

Mike Bergin 9:33
Right? And the acceptance rate for UPenn right now is single digits.

Aly Beaumont 9:39
Well, we don’t know because they don’t actually tell us.

Amy Seeley 9:43
And we worry about transparency…

Mike Bergin 9:46
All of this guessing and all the increase in selectivity in the schools that are selective, not even highly selective, right, because the selectivity scale goes from 60 or 50 percent accepted all the way to less than 4% accepted. And lots of students in the past their parents recognized that they needed certain numbers, certain test scores, certain grades. And now there’s a lot more elements to the application. And so students fear being unhooked. That’s the term I if you’re an unhooked student. So let’s explore first, this concept of why the institutional priorities matter so much, and then what a hook really is.

Aly Beaumont 10:31
Okay, so let me start first with what an institutional priority or a hook is. So I think of things that are beyond academics, test scores. There’s both inherent ones that are things like your ethnicity, which by the way, nine states currently banned affirmative action California, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Idaho. But I still think it comes into play to a certain extent because they don’t ban writing about your identity.

Some colleges want regional diversity, you know, geography certainly matters. So 50 states, multiple international locations…

They want a good gender balance between men and women.

They want a class that’s diversified in terms of sexual orientation, so some colleges might prioritize underrepresented groups like LGBTQ students.

Some colleges prioritize first gen students or students who are reentering college.

Some colleges, especially religious ones, may prioritize a certain percentage of their students from a specific denomination or church.

Some colleges prioritize students who are in the military.

Some colleges want more students who are full pay students.

Some colleges are prioritizing letting in Pell eligible students.

Some public colleges prioritize letting in in state students, and conversely, some public colleges need out-of-state students because they pay more in full tuition.

Some colleges prioritize certain groups like military families with things like Yellow Ribbon benefits or children of academic employees. With tuition exchange programs, some colleges will accept students who come who have some sort of VIP or development connections.

Some colleges will prioritize legacy students.

All colleges need to fill athletic teams, school bands, school choirs, debate teams, theater productions, so they prioritize students who have certain talents.

Other colleges might prioritize students who are in different majors that, you know, I always joke, everyone wants a classics major, but they also might prioritize certain genders or cultural groups for certain majors. For example, like a male student who wants to study the fine arts or fashion, or a black or Latina woman who wants to study STEM,.

Certain colleges will prioritize their relationships with certain high schools. The list is kind of broad.

Amy Seeley 13:00
And mentioning all of those. It’s not like every year, an institution will always have the same institutional priority, right? It’s kind of like you’re shooting at a moving target. If last year they were targeting a particular group, it’s possible this year, that is not the hook that it was in a prior year.

Aly Beaumont 13:21
Absolutely. Because maybe, you know, they don’t need an oboe player for their school band this year. Or maybe, you know, they’ve gotten three goalies for their soccer team. So they’re good for the next four years with that. There’s no way of tracking that. It gets very complicated. You can’t really sort of predict what is or is not. There are certainly things that you can know, like at UVM 75% of the kids come from out of state, so you can assume they want out-of-state students.

Mike Bergin 13:53
I admire your bracingly thorough list of hooks. And one obvious omission, and I think it might be intentional, is grades and test scores, the numbers. Do numbers qualify as hooks or are they just what you build your hook on?

Aly Beaumont 14:16
Okay, so that’s such a great question that I just argued with a colleague about before I got on this call. I would say that at a college like Harvard, grades and test scores just make you part of the party. They are not hooks. They do nothing for you.

Amy Seeley 14:31
I always say, they allow you to buy the lottery ticket. Yeah. And then the numbers are like they allow you to buy the ticket.

Mike Bergin 14:40
Right? Of course you get a foot in the door. You don’t even get to enter the conversation without those numbers.

Aly Beaumont 14:48
But at a high test score at a college like an Auburn, is that a hook? Yeah, it could be in my opinion. They don’t maybe see that many 36?

Mike Bergin 14:57
I wonder if submitter advantage is another way to say that, at test optional schools, great test scores are hooks.

Aly Beaumont 15:08
Okay, so wait, this begs the question, I would really say, do you need a test score to be your hook at if you have no other institutional priorities?

Mike Bergin 15:18
I still think that I stay well on the side that grades and test scores are still the foundation and the hooks, which is to say, I think we know this, traditionally, even back in 1992, when, you know, the Ivy League schools accepted a mere 30% of applicants, they would turn away students who had perfect grades and perfect test scores, if that’s all there was to the application. Isn’t that right? Which means, they were, in modern terms, unhooked

Aly Beaumont 15:57
Right, I agree with you. And I really think that if you are unhooked, it is more important to have a test score, I do.

Amy Seeley 16:06
Well, one of the challenges we have now in a test optional environment is this piece of test, optional, has driven the number of applications. So it makes it more important, if you know, to stand out, because if people aren’t sending scores, then you have to have a hook. It’s sort of, you know, we needed less of the hooks probably in a non test optional universe. But I think for some kids, the problem is now they’re finding, I don’t have a hook, like what’s my lead?

Aly Beaumont 16:41
But first of all, we all have to keep reminding ourselves, this is a very small percentage of colleges in this country. This is the very first statement. The second statement is, and I often repeat, college admissions are all about just getting your kid into X school. To me, this is a journey and a process of kids figuring out what they want in life becoming successful and building confidence and growing better adults, which has little to do with exactly where they’re getting in. So I will tell you, if I have a kid who worked really hard to get a 1200 score, and I know that score still might be low for a college, I might let that kid submit that score anyway. Because I think it’s more important than maybe necessarily getting in or whatever the situation is. I think we all lose sight. And yes, the whole point now of test optional admissions is that the college score ranges have gone through the roof. Not every college can have a score range that’s 1500 or above. We can’t be telling every student, “you now need to be perfect or near perfect to get in anywhere.” It’s gotten crazy.

Mike Bergin 17:44
Selling schools beg to differ. At least this year.

Aly Beaumont 17:48
It’s gotten crazy. I mean, Northeastern, like coming right out during school tours, and you know, college tours are telling kids don’t submit scores if they’re under 1500.

Mike Bergin 17:57
Amy, why do we always talk about Northeastern? 😉

Amy Seeley 18:02
Honestly, probably five years or more ago, I never… Actually it’s more than that. But I would say like 10 years ago, they weren’t on a radar anywhere near me, you know, so interesting.

Mike Bergin 18:16
Can I throw another piece of jargon into the conversation? Well-rounded versus oblong or angular? Where do we find hooks or lack thereof in that spectrum of extracurricular activity?

Aly Beaumont 18:33
So that’s actually a really good question. And I’m gonna go with the argument that most kids are going to change their mind about what they want to study and what they want to do. And I actually bemoan the lack of undecided students. I don’t believe kids when they tell me that they’ve known since they were three what exactly they wanted to do, because every adult I know has had multiple careers and changed their mind. Most college students don’t change their mind once or twice: they change their mind three times. So I really think it’s okay for the well-rounded student to apply. I don’t think you have to specialize. I try not to push kids into boxes.

Mike Bergin 19:10
No, no, but that’s obvious from a mental health and wellness perspective. We want our students to be well rounded if that means that they’re exploring all of their interests. But from the perspective of the more insane parties here for very selective schools, they care about well-rounded or they want students to show that specialization?

Aly Beaumont 19:37
Yes and no, I think now they want kids to do everything well.

Mike Bergin 19:44
So you need to be angular like a starfish!

Amy Seeley 19:50
Many points, many points on that starfish! Wow. But I would totally agree with that. Like I mean, when I look at the students that I work with that end up at those really selective schools, they sure they sure weren’t angular. They had a lot of different things. I mean, Aly, are you aware of students that only had one thing? And that one thing was what?

Aly Beaumont 20:17
No, no, my top students are taking APS at every level and above. They are brilliant writers, even though they want to be computer science majors. They speak not one language, often three. I mean, no, it’s gotten crazy. No, you can’t be angular anymore.

Mike Bergin 20:35
So alright, so we’re describing a really challenging state of affairs. And we’re all hoping that the fever will break eventually. But if we’re speaking to students, and parents and educators today, at the end of 2022, and they’re looking at a student application, and that student doesn’t seem to have a conventional hook— the student is not necessarily sorting into any specific institutional priorities–is the chance of admission at a selective school hopeless?

Aly Beaumont 21:17
So good question. Let’s talk about Harvard for a minute, because Harvard is always my favorite example. It’s everyone’s, you know, Nirvana, so to speak. So there was, if you figure it out, Harvard has a class that’s roughly 1/3 of students who are white. So let’s take away the hook of any ethnicity at this point. So that means roughly 666 spots, their yield rate, which means the rate at which kids accept their spots at Harvard is around 85%. So practically, everyone they offer a spot two says they want it.

So let’s assume they accept 700 students for those 666 spots, I’m really just breaking things down, you know, whole numbers. So they said that 43% of students at Harvard, of white students at Harvard, were admitted to Harvard as either legacies, the children of Harvard faculty and staff members, recruited athletes, or those on a Dean’s interest lists, which generally includes big donors. Right. So now we’re saying roughly half of that 700 350 300. And, you know, our so have gotten in for that institutional priority?

Well, they still have more institutional priorities they’re trying to fill, right, like they’re trying to get kids from all 50 states, they’re trying to have an even number of men and women, they need kids from places like North Dakota, or who play some obscure instrument or first generation or Pell eligible, or the dying breed of classics majors. Right? So how many spots do we really think are left for kids that are unhooked?

Mike Bergin 23:52
I don’t like the math here.

Amy Seeley 23:54
Yeah, the math just doesn’t add up.

Aly Beaumont 22:57
The math just doesn’t add up. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. So but then you look at things, you know, I think it’s got to go beyond just a highly selective school, you know. Listen to everything happening in the Supreme Court with the cases right now with Harvard and UNC. And, you know, they say, “Can you get in as an Asian student to a Harvard?” No, but you know, that’s because… no, I’m sorry. But if you can–and you can, but it is hard–but I think then kids have to think about where else they’re looking.

Mike Bergin 23:27
Right? So what you’re saying is, what I’m hearing, is that these hooks that we’re describing, the more ways you can hook into an institution’s priorities, the more likely it is you’re going to gain purchase. Because, even when you’re doing the math, you’re saying that two thirds of accepted students may not be white, but a lot of them fit other institutional priorities as well, like every student seems to be double, triple, quadruple dipping on what the organizations want.

Aly Beaumont 24:01
Yes, I always say it’s not when you fit one institutional priority, but when you fit many, that that’s usually the golden ticket.

Amy Seeley 24:08
Well, there’s versatility there, because they can check whichever box they want. For you. That’s the difference.

Mike Bergin 24:15
You know, Aly, I feel like we could talk about this all day. What we’re coming around to is the question, “do you need to be hooked? Do you need to fit institutional priorities?” I know that this is a challenging admissions environment, and sometimes just having a definitive answer is helpful. And the answer is pretty much yes. Right?

Aly Beaumont 24:37
I don’t want to say it’s pretty much yes, but very few unhooked students are getting into those super highly selective colleges. The answer that I would like to give instead is those kids should be looking elsewhere. Like if you’re an Asian student, and it might be very hard for you to get into Harvard if you don’t have other institutional priorities that you fit. But, but guess what, you could go to Kenyon where 4% of Students are Asian, and they’re probably looking for Asian students or St. Lawrence, where there’s 2% are Asian, and they’re probably looking for you. There are a lot of amazing places, open your eyes, people look beyond, you know, just the few.

Mike Bergin 25:13
That is a beautiful note to end on. Aly, as ever. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Aly Beaumont 25:20
by you guys. Thank you so much for having me again. It’s always so much fun.

Mike Bergin 25:24
If listeners would like to get in touch with you. What’s the best way for them to do that?

Aly Beaumont 25:28
Our website, which is

Amy Seeley 25:32
Awesome. We hope you enjoyed this discussion as much as we did. Be sure to join us for another fascinating topic and guest on the next Tests and the Rest!

Remember, you can find the audio file and show notes for this episode at

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