“It’s not personal. It’s business.” While readers may recognize this quote from a renowned movie trilogy featuring Michael Corleone, it can often be used to describe the admissions process at competitive colleges. The fact that college admissions is not personal, and may actually be flawed, is the subject of Eric Hoover’s two articles in the Education Life section of the NY Times this week. In “What Colleges Want in an Applicant (Everything),” Hoover acknowledges that the system of college admissions may be flawed, if not outright broken. It comes down to numbers–GPAs, ACT/SAT scores, and finances–at some prestigious schools because colleges are, well, businesses. They have bottom lines they’re accountable for and have to juggle multiple demands. This makes the whole process a lot less personal.
While legacy connections and the ability to pay full tuition come into play at some institutions, there has been a movement to counter these as priorities in the admissions process. Harvard’s Graduate School of Education formed “Turning the Tide,” an initiative whose aim is to incorporate soft skills as part of admissions considerations. Curiosity, grit, perseverance, ability to recover from failure, and service to others should be part of the qualities to be considered when making an admissions decision, according to Turning the Tide, which has been signed by representatives of approximately 200 higher ed institutions. This struck me as ironic: approximately a third of Harvard’s freshman class has legacy ties, yet the same institution is calling for less of an emphasis on this. Other schools, such as Olin College, require applicants to complete a few hands-on projects on campus. Evaluators who rate the students on their ability to work with a group observe as prospective students complete the tasks. Olin, with fewer than 100 admitted as freshmen, can coordinate such tasks, but larger schools simply don’t have the resources to make this part of their process. So, the numbers–and business–of admissions win out.
The reality should not be surprising, although it may not be fair. And while admission is not fair or personal, neither is being rejected, which I hope brings peace to some of you. Yes, you may have straight As, seven AP courses, and a loaded resume, but perhaps a school needed a 100-meter sprinter or a bassoon player or someone from Wisconsin. There is another school for you. We often talk about finding a school that is the right fit and we equip our students with Plan A…through Z.
In Hoover’s shorter piece “10 Things To Know About Getting Into Your Dream College,” Hoover echoes much of what he discussed in the longer article, and reiterates that colleges are interested in applicants being their “authentic” selves. We see time and time again when students show their application essays to 13 different people-ranging from aunt to English teacher to admissions officer-and the essay gets whittled down to generic, but yes, polished sounding prose. We love it when a student sounds like a seventeen-year-old. We can (and we assume admissions officers can, too) sniff out when a student has had a parent or other adult help them polish their essays a bit too much. They start to sound like 45-year old marketing specialists or lawyers and we know that your children are not that…yet. And Hoover notes that more schools are trying to include these ethical characteristics in their admissions evaluations.
We were excited to read through Hoover’s pieces as they share philosophies we subscribe to. We hope that the movement towards evaluating students more holistically continues and becomes more equitable.