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    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    College Admissions

    Jay Mathews writes about Lloyd Thacker's new book, College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy. An exerpt:

    "It used to be that Americans aspired to go to college; now they hire consultants, take expensive classes, and spend countless hours creating the perfect application to the right college. For many high school students today, gaining admission to college has been reduced to a game to be played, and education to a prize that must be won. Their parents, driven by a desire to do the very best by their children, have unwittingly joined the race.

    "On the other side of the admissions desk, deans struggle-- often with their own consciences -- to land the most desirable, though not necessarily the most qualified, students using strategies that rival those of corporate recruiters. College presidents, for their part, must balance the integrity of their academic community with the need to craft an image imposed by the 'ranksters.' As a result, what was once a rite of passage for American youth has become a high-stakes competition with too many players.

    "Leading this rapid commercialization of college admissions are the rankings of U.S. News & World Report, along with those of several newcomers to the field of college rankings, the billion-dollar marketing and consulting industry servicing students and colleges alike, certain members of the media, and the corporatization of the College Board (a non-profit organization that sponsors the SAT and now offers online test prep, application prep, scholarship services, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and enrollment management, among other things)."

    I have about a million things to add, but let me just say that I'm starting to think that colleges and universities should be district zoned like public elementary, junior high, and high schools. Not that that system doesn't have its inequities, but "creative and inclusive zoning", where lines are drawn to get the greatest cross-section of students, could be applied effectively both in secondary and post-secondary education.

    I think one of the things that most bothers me about college admissions is that people from most anywhere but the Northeast are often wait-listed, despite high SAT/ACT scores, straight As, and ridiculously varied extracurricular activities because their public schools simply can't compete with public schools in, say, Westchester, much less private schools up here.

    I also think that applicants who pass should be interviewed before being admitted. It makes it a lot easier to tell whether their application is the result of $15,000 of preparation or the students themselves.

    Finally, what if, like applicants to art school, applicants submitted portfolios which featured what they see as their best work: a video of their first place 100m dash, photos of the scale model they did of the White House, their three best calculus tests, their paper on The Scarlet Letter, a CD of their choir concert, a journal of their experience building houses for the homeless. It wouldn't take any more time to review than the stupid essays with the awful, nauseating questions, and the endless CVs full of padding and would show more accurately why they wanted to attend the school and how they would fit there.

    Anyway, check out the article.


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