Predicting College Acceptance with AI

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Tagged: ['machine-learning', 'medium', 'college'] 10/12/17 || 7:43PM

This article first appeared in "Towards Data Science," a Medium publication on data science, machine learning and AI. See the original article with over 6 thousand claps here.

Around this time last year, I was busy rattling away on my keyboard, applying to colleges around the globe. As I filled out the seemingly endless application in front of me, it occurred to me that this was wholly inefficient and risky.

Each year, over 2 million college applications are filed, and each of them comes with a certain element of chance. Even students of the highest academic caliber apply with an element of randomness, and often face difficult situations as a result — the intended meritocracy inherent in college admissions gives way to uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety.

Of course, many factors influence admission, but it’s no secret that two factors heavily weigh in on determining acceptance: GPA and SAT/ACT scores. While other factors are certainly taken into consideration, it is statistically and practically undeniable that these two metrics hold incredible importance to a student’s application — although no one truly knows how these are judged and filtered by colleges.

But at the end of the day, these two metrics are metrics: numbers that can be easily assessed using data science to analyze trends and relationships. And so, being extremely impatient and as anxious as I am, I decided to attempt to predict college acceptance rather than wait for decisions to roll out. And while there are thousands of statistical methods to analyze the trends between GPA/test scores and application outcome, I chose a recently popular predictive method: Machine Learning.

Machine Learning is a broad field with many solutions and applications, but I honed in particularly on Artificial Neural Networks. Seeing as my inputs were entirely numeric and my output could be one-hot encoded into a binary value (0 for rejected, 1 for accepted), an ANN worked out quite nicely.

After implementing an architecture in Tensorflow, I trained my network on a dataset gathered for Carnegie Mellon in particular (just an example, with some 90 datapoints). After approximately 150,000 iterations (~1 minute on a GeForce 1060 GPU), I was able to reach an accuracy between 75–80%. While this may not seem that accurate, it is significant enough to draw some conclusions, and definitely functions better than arbitrary linear models.

Loss over 150k iterations

From the commandline I was able to gather some pretty decent results on college acceptance:


(Beautiful logging courtesy of console-logging built from source)

After that I made a GUI using bootstrap (sorry):

bootstrap sucks

All in all, it proved somewhat useful in not only calming my anxiety but filtering my applications to limit them to which schools I was likely to get into. Ironically, it even predicted my rejection from Carnegie Mellon!

The full source of the project is available on Github in this repo.