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How Colleges Secretly Decide Who Gets In / Sunday N.Y. Post 1 month 6 days ago #398024

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How Colleges Secretly Decide Who Gets In / Sunday N.Y. Post 1 month 4 days ago #398227

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‘Who Gets In and Why’ and ‘The College Conversation’ Review: The Price of Admission

Applicants are assigned numbers for their test scores, activities, levels of hardship, race, gender and much else. The calculation is complicated.

Naomi Schaefer Riley / Wall Street Journal

It was an amusing headline—“A Grim Future Beckons: The Pandemic Will Bring Capitalism to the Heart of Academe.” The article, in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, reported that colleges may be forced to consider market pressures, given their high tuitions and the curtailed instruction caused by Covid-19. The truth, though, is that capitalism came to the “heart of academe” a long time ago, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of admissions, where competition and a pricing mechanism (although one distorted by the government) have long been in place. As Jeffrey Selingo expertly documents in “Who Gets In and Why,” the admissions market is getting ever more competitive, driven by forces that make it both more transparent and more complex.


WHO GETS IN AND WHY

By Jeffrey Selingo
(Scribner, 306 pages, $28)

THE COLLEGE CONVERSATION

By Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg
(Viking, 249 pages, $28)

Mr. Selingo, a former editor of the Chronicle, starts with two benchmarks that play a big role in admissions, in part because they affect college rankings so much: “selectivity” and “yield.” As the ratio of accepted applicants gets smaller, the prestige of a school rises; so adding to the number of applicants is a perennial admissions-office goal. Relatedly, if more students, once accepted, choose to attend rather than refuse in favor of a “better” school, the yield ratio will rise and push up a school’s rank. Admissions offices use direct mail and data analytics to improve both. By way of contrast, Mr. Selingo, who has an ear for dialogue and an eye for detail, describes a Boston College admissions secretary explaining 50 years ago to her boss why she didn’t bother to keep the names of students who called for information about the school. “If they’re interested, they’ll apply and then we’ll have a record.”

In the 1990s, Mr. Selingo tell us, a man named Bill Royall, whose firm had helped politicians and nonprofits to raise money, revolutionized the admissions industry. Among much else, he encouraged colleges to send out letters to juniors (not just seniors) and to offer students free admissions “tips” if they returned an enclosed reply card. In our era, when students get bins of glossy catalogs and constant electronic notices from schools, these strategies seem quaint, but they pointed the way. In 2010, the College Board sold the names and contact information of more than 80 million students a year. To gauge student interest (and improve yield), colleges track how often applicants visit their websites and even how quickly they open the schools’ emails.


As compelling as “Who Gets In and Why” is for disinterested observers, parents of high-school students will especially value (or desperately flip to) the sections where Mr. Selingo offers an inside view of the admissions process at Emory University, Davidson College and the University of Washington. Will a student with a 34 on his ACT (putting him in the top 1% of test takers) and several AP classes, including Chinese and physics, get admitted to Emory? Theseveral B’s on his transcripts will make his entry into the pre-med program unlikely, but his courses in painting and ceramics are unusual for someone with a scientific bent and may put him over the top. Mr. Selingo describes the thought process of an admissions officer: “He pictures the applicant as an Emory student. . . . What would he major in? What kind of campus community member might he be?”



In one conversation after another, Mr. Selingo documents the “holistic” admissions process, in which students are assigned numbers not only for their test scores and GPAs but also for their extracurricular activities, levels of hardship and degree of intellectual curiosity. Gender, race, legacy status,athletics and geographical region are also in the mix. Still, as Mr. Selingo writes, colleges use a system “analogous to the one used in judging Olympic figure skaters—it gives an aura of precision to what is largely abstract.” It’s easier now for students to predict their chances of getting into a school—given the statistics that are published—but many aspects of the system are hard to pin down. As Mr. Selingo notes, Royall, together with other marketers, “didn’t just expand the horizons for students, he also expanded our collective anxiety.”

Mr. Selingo’s counsel to families that they can reduce their anxiety and their debt by going to a nonelite school will likely fall on deaf ears. While he is right that many schools with lesser reputations offer equally good if not better educations, the imprimatur of a selective, high-prestige school seems to matter more to students and parents alike, and their preferences drive the whole process.

“The College Conversation” is a combination self-help guide and parenting manual from Eric Furda, the retiring dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jacques Steinberg, a former New York Times education writer. A family new to the process will be glad for the book’s detailed timeline and instructions for essay writing, test taking and applying for financial aid. Recognizing the value of a range of options, the authors discuss the wisdom of starting at a community college, entering the military first, or, if freshman year isn’t working out, transferring from one college to another. Such discussions are rare in books of this kind and thus particularly welcome.


That being said, it seems a bit silly to advise parents, as the authors do, to engage in free-association games to figure out what is really important to their child. And readers may tire of high-minded metaphors—say, about how an application is a “mosaic” and a “work of art,” or how letters of recommendation, seen through the “stained glass” of a child’s experience, are “bright shafts of light streaming through a range of colors.” Messrs. Furda and Steinberg do suggest that students bring water bottles, umbrellas and comfortable shoes to college tours—a rare piece of college-admissions advice that is both indisputably wise and easy to follow.

Ms. Riley, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “The Faculty Lounges” and “God on the Quad.”
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How Colleges Secretly Decide Who Gets In / Sunday N.Y. Post 1 month 4 days ago #398232

  • Mike Zaun
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One thing about recent college admissions changes that really gets me going is the elimination of SAT/ACT and GRE requirements. GRE is the SAT for grad schools. I had to take both multiple times to make sure I was submitting my best scores possible. Countless hours of studying, prep courses, money, and of course the stress of taking these crazy long, potentially life-altering exams. And to see it all dropped makes me annoyed. It seems we are throwing out standards as a society instead of getting people to make them. SJ required the GRE and often made/encouraged students applying to grad programs re-take them. Those I know who went to grad schools like Adelphi, LIU, etc. did not require it. Kind of gave St. John's grad programs more prestige, because the standards were much higher. High stakes testing is very stressful and does not totally represent students' abilities, however I know many guys I went to HS with who got into very prestigious colleges like Boston College and Michigan because of their high SAT scores and not their GPA (did not take school seriously but great test takers).

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