Is the presence of Naviance a success or distress?

By Sammie Levin
Published: March 2010

Though it is only March, Newton South juniors have already begun to embark on the dark, daunting journey known as the college application process. In the past several weeks, juniors have connected to Naviance, a program that allows students to access college admissions information from the past few graduating classes at South, enabling them to compare their academic credentials with past applicants.

The information that the program offers has generated a wide range of responses from students; some find Naviance to be a useful, beneficial tool, where as others run away in fear at the mere mention of it. This controversy has sparked a debate about whether Naviance is a success or a distress to students, and in either case, how it can be used to its fullest potential.

Naviance is accessed through a registration code and its features are used by students, parents, teachers, counselors, and office staff. One convenient feature is College Search, which allows students to search over 6,000 colleges based on qualities such as location, size, majors, and cost. Scattergrams, another feature, offer graphs that anonymously show the SAT/ACT scores and GPAs of applicants and display whether the student was admitted, waitlisted, or denied. The Career Planner feature gives students insight into their personality type and how their interests and characteristics correlate with different occupations.

The Scattergram feature has created the greatest stir, as it forces people to compare their academic performance with other students, provoking anxiety, stress, and competition. Currently, there is a graph for every college that students from South have applied to from 2007-2009. The applicants are plotted on the graph based on their GPA, SAT/ACT score, and whether or not they were accepted. Then, a line is drawn at the accepted averages and students can see how they match up.

These graphs cause uneasiness within many college-bound juniors and seniors because it is unnerving to see how past students with very high scores have gotten rejected from colleges that current students, perhaps with lower scores, want to apply to.

“The scattergrams make me feel like I can’t get into the schools that I want to, junior Jenny Gerstner said. Junior Anna Lanoue agreed, “they are depressing, she said

The reason for this anxiety is in part attributed to the overwhelming number of highly qualified students at South, a reality that makes the application process all the more strenuous and competitive. “The averages on Naviance do not always correspond to the averages that specific colleges list on their websites and in college books and that can be a bit confusing, parent Susan Davidson said.

South college and career counselor Barbara Brown explains the reason for this phenomenon. “Newton South’s SAT scores are consistently higher than the average national SAT scores. If you’re looking at GPA’s in the reference books ours tend to be lower because the majority of high schools in the country have grade inflation. A’s are hard to earn here, Brown said.

Senior Mollie McSherry, already having completed the college application process, finds both positive and negative aspects to the nature and use of the scattergrams.

“The information gives kids their first reality check about what schools are reasonable for them, McSherry said. “It makes kids feel like they can’t into schools that they have a chance at, and may discourage them from applying.

What can be done about the misconception and anxiety caused by the program? The website for Naviance advises that the scattergrams are best used “in consultation with your counselor and Mrs. Brown in the College & Career Resource Center to create a well-balanced college list.

Brown supports this advice, explaining that the information on the scattergrams “can cause anxiety and need to be interpreted correctly.

“The scattergrams give only numbers – they give a flat profile of what the students are like. For the best interpretation and assessment of what your chances might be please see me and/or your guidance counselor, Brown said.

So, to all juniors and seniors worried about Naviance, before deleting your account know that the statistics are not everything, but simply a tool to use in addition to many other sources. Happy Scattergramming.

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