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Interesting article in The New Yorker on college admissions


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The first part of the article is basically a review of the Varsity Blues documentary on Netflix, but it ends with a discussion of the wider impact of the college admissions race on the development of teens:

"In this competition, élite schools no longer want “well-rounded” grinders, cynically padding their résumés. They want “well-lopsided” kids, whose individuality stands out. They want one or two stellar activities that are “heartfelt” and “passionate.” They want quirky and likable admissions essays, not braggy ones. They want applicants to speak in their “true voice,” to be “vulnerable,” indeed, to reveal their “imperfections.” They want them to get to “know themselves” through their essays. They make their process sound like a branch of adolescent psychology, with admissions deans as gentle therapists conducting a careful search for “authentic” insight into “the real person behind the application.” It is hard to overstate how often admissions staff from the more selective schools say forms of the word “authentic.”

The idea that anxious kids who are competing with one another in a high-stakes contest to appear virtuous and likable to total strangers are going to speak in “true” rather than carefully practiced voices, present “authentic” rather than nervously curated selves, is obviously absurd. When college Web sites give examples of “essays that worked,” the writerly voices are so fussy and ingratiating that they make your teeth hurt. The lead essay on Hamilton College’s “Essays That Worked” page begins, “On the day my first novel was rejected, I was baking pies.” (Worry not, dear reader. By the end of the essay, the novelist has found a publisher, of course, and future applicants can soothe their nerves with the insight that one thing they can do to make their essays “stand out” is to be a published novelist.) Those essays are the result of weeks and months of calculation and revision, not to mention the editorial input of parents, high-school counsellors, and paid essay coaches, all of them straining to see these works in progress through the eyes of admissions deans.

But the young are impressionable. Their “true selves” are malleable and incomplete. When the stakes are high, and an earnest student is dead serious about college, and she’s been honing her application persona for years, the distinction between what’s contrived and what’s authentic will often collapse. What “holistic admissions” means is that colleges give a boost to the applicants they like more, as people. From the Internet and their essay coaches, high schoolers learn in more specific terms the traits and attitudes, the moral commitments and performative tics, that prestigious colleges are rewarding these days. Given the stakes, kids have a potent incentive not just to affect but to adopt the preferred traits, to perform the latest tics so sincerely it’s as if they’re not performing at all.

In the nineties, a rapidly growing population of eager, highly qualified, competitively savvy applicants created a headache for colleges, overwhelming their selection tools. But this headache was also an opportunity. The importance of admissions departments increased within schools, giving them a greater and more specific say in what campus life would look like. More important for American society as a whole, it gave them immense influence over the inner and outer lives of America’s teen-agers. With so many applicants and so few open slots, and such a sought-after benefit to hand out, admissions deans realized they could literally tell their teen-age applicants how to be a person.

The admissions process is bathed in a language of therapeutic concern, but its basic logic is bureaucratic. The best explanation for why colleges started disdaining the well-rounded generalist strivers whom they used to reward is that, in trying to outdo one another in their crude quantities of extracurricular activities, applicants began to look too much alike. The administrative problem that the redundant joining of clubs and indiscreet bragging over accomplishments once solved has only become worse. The cycle continues, on ever-tighter timescales. Thanks to social media, teen-agers learn as a cohort about the latest preference, such as starting a nonprofit, then scramble to satisfy it, and once again they look too much alike. (If you’re a parent with college-age children, you should probably know that this novel admissions hack is already losing its value.)

So admissions departments employ more intimate and mysterious standards for kids to authentically satisfy. They invite their unformed teen-age applicants to form themselves before their eyes, indeed for them, via ever more idiosyncratic and heroically virtuous extracurriculars and, especially, the quirky, confessional essays they require. It may sound like overstatement that admissions personnel consciously view their selection protocols as guiding—in a totally healthy and defensible way—the profound evolution by which human identities take shape during adolescence, but they say it themselves. They draw this link—“selection procedure” and “self-formation”—like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Turning the Tide,” a 2016 reform document generated at Harvard by admissions deans from around the country, speaks with conviction about why colleges should use their leverage as gatekeepers to mold kids’ characters into shapes that match the moral preferences of admissions departments. The 2019 update, “Turning the Tide II,” doubles down on this emphasis. Admissions deans seem to believe that the way for them to reform their process is to make themselves more powerful, and the process they run more invasive.

The assumption that admissions officers should have this intimate influence over teen-age selves clearly informs the design of the Coalition Application, introduced, in 2015, by a consortium of eighty colleges and universities comprising the most prestigious schools in the country, including every member of the Ivy League. The Coalition App is supposed to serve as an alternative to the widely used Common Application, but where students typically fill out the Common App at the beginning of their senior year, the Coalition App allows them to open an account and start building an admissions “portfolio” in ninth grade, so they can spend the entirety of their high-school years as college applicants, watching themselves through the eyes of the admissions office. In an article that describes the process, a dean at the University of Chicago, modelling the ideal applicant who has embraced this extended timeline, distills the extreme presumption that suffuses the world of selective admissions: “Let’s think long term,” she says, “about my identity and what my application will look like.”

This blurred understanding of college applications and teen-age identities should help explain why the tormented seniors crying into their laptop cameras in “Operation Varsity Blues” have what seems like an existential investment in the process. The people who run this operation require such an investment as a condition of acceptance. What’s worse is that our default way of complaining about the system—that it’s fraught with injustices and irregularities that favor the rich—is shallow, self-defeating, and wrong in its moral assumptions. The system isn’t partially tainted; it’s entirely rotten. The colleges that it serves aren’t merely compromised. We, the parents who make the queasy bargain with them, are compromised, offering parts of our children’s souls for a marginally better chance that a college will grant us its big prize."

 
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I think this is one hot take on how this plays out for kids. And obviously, at the top where there's money and influence, this absolutely gets absurd with parents buying all kinds of pay for play and high end connections type experiences for kids to make them look more interesting - both by shelling out money to programs and by literally creating programs and organizations and buying their kids the ability to have time to speak at conferences and time to work with scientists and get their books published and so forth.

But I'll just toss out a counterpoint. If colleges shifted their algorithms and looked for different kids - for generalists or for a new test or whatever - those families would shift their approach too. And it would get just as crazy for them. 

Plus, it's not like generalist kids don't still have LOTS of great college options. Like, do these pointy kids often have an edge in elite Stanvard admissions? Um, sure. But your kid with half a dozen or more AP's across different areas, good test scores, a sport, a volunteering thing, and an instrument is not getting denied at most flagship state schools or at many top privates. This makes it sound like woe is the generalist. Um, nah.

And this approach does benefit many kids. Including a lot of boardie kids who get to do their own research and pursue their own interests and they really enjoy it. The alternative would be that colleges would preference AP's and classes like English 11 instead of your kid's yearlong exploration of fairy tales and their amazing local stream research project. Or whatever.

Also, there's a another issue here. If you've had a kid apply recently, then you know that at most large flagships and many large privates, you get accepted into a specific major. And then that's it. So... is comp sci not supposed to look for kids who are interested and have more experience with computers and math? Is an English program not supposed to preference kids who have written books? I would love to see more liberal arts programs make a greater comeback. And those programs are out there. But this is a big part of the landscape now - bigger than a few decades ago, before "impacted" majors were a widespread issue and kids could get to college and change their minds and the majors.

Basically, there are some big problems with the stress we put on kids in general and to choose their path really young and with the role that money plays. But the algorithm that lets kids explore their interests is not the primary issue here.

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Posted (edited)

It's not just gifted generalists but average kids who are disadvantaged by the preference for 'pointy' kids at top 100 schools tho (and there are many state flagships in that mix). Those kids are wonderful additions but they don't 'round out' a class. Everything we do in our professional lives, particularly at the top, is tempered by what the 'masses' think. The absence of those voices in top schools is a major detriment. I've already talked to DD about this and we've chosen, deliberately, not to chase APs and DE. Her processing speed issues make doing the busy work most APs require torturous and DE won't fit in her schedule. 

When I wrote REAL, not faux, confessional/confrontational essays in the 90s, they stood out b/c they were ahead of their time. I had flaws and owned them. Now, I'm encouraging my DD to own her 'flaws' but in a very different way. For her, it means championing the balance she needs to be emotionally hale and hearty at a time when so many top kids are an emotional/dependent mess and very single-minded. It means celebrating the ability to blend in, shift, change, and adapt to her environs (b/c 10 moves). It means selling a stereotypically popular kid that people love to hate at a time when quirky is in. We'll see how it works out but I am 110% not worried.

I agree with Farrar about the problems with having to be accepted into specific majors tho, especially the math/science ones. The inability to change course is a big problem. Our solution, right now, is to have DD apply to the most rigid major she might like and dropping back to a less rigid one if needed/desired.

Edited by Sneezyone
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I looked through my PMs and I still have a thread where quark and I were writing back and forth about this topic for a very long time.  This article and this video were part of our conversation:

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/making-caring-common-in-college-admissions/3197142.html

Quote

Admissions officers should look for examples of students working in their communities for long periods of time, the reports says. Applications should also include questions about why students feel diversity and community service are important.

Moving attention away from academic ability will make the process less about competition, the report says. Students will feel less stress about meeting higher and higher expectations.

Also, poorer students will have the same chances as students who can pay for test preparation classes. The report also says students whose schools do not offer high-level classes need the chance to show their abilities.

Thacker says it is important to show students that caring about others is just as important as personal success.

"As adults we need to do a better job of making sure kids are hearing better signals about what really matters."

 

 

 

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What “holistic admissions” means is that colleges give a boost to the applicants they like more, as people. 
 

this is heartbreaking. I am Ok telling my kid he didn’t make a grade or his exam score just didn’t cut it, but telling kids they as people are just not cool enough for cool kids.
I do agree with this article 100%. It breaks my heart that we turned this admissions process into a personality contest. 
The entire thing makes me want to 🤢

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46 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

I looked through my PMs and I still have a thread where quark and I were writing back and forth about this topic for a very long time.  This article and this video were part of our conversation:

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/making-caring-common-in-college-admissions/3197142.html

 

 

 

See, that's a really interesting quote to me. Because that's essentially saying that a process that de-emphasizes GPA, test scores, etc. and emphasizes things like continued involvement and thoughtful responses and so forth will make the process less stressful and competitive. But what the New Yorker piece is saying is that opposite has been true.

I think spinning it as a personality contest is pretty off the mark, honestly. I think there are elements that can feel that way, but again, there are a lot of schools where a high test score, high GPA, a couple of traditional EC's, and a decent essay will go a long way. And that includes some really competitive schools. It's pretty ironic that on this board, where most of us are tailoring our kids' educations in all kinds of interesting ways, that people are bemoaning the fact that having an interesting education helps you in the admissions process.

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No, I am bemoaning the fact that academic institutions weigh non academic things so much and the reality of most high schoolers just doesn’t allow for out of box education. 

And since homeschoolers make up a tiny percentage of admits, how exactly are PS kids supposed to make themselves interesting? Our high school doesn’t allow any choices to freshmen and sophomores. And then it’s basically just APs. And these kids are all taking these APs because the alternative courses aren’t good. And then they are playing sports and doing homework and now somehow they are expected to develop interesting personalities to go with it? Please spare me the “interesting education” sales pitch. 
So now capable parents will beautifully paper package their kids who couldn’t hack it otherwise (and the sick part is all of this is being done in the name of poor kids). 🙄

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Posted (edited)

@Farrar  My POV is more along the lines of it is really more of a shell game.  They keep the "magic bean" a moving target that can't really be deciphered.  You can make a fair estimation, and when it comes to certain individuals, it can be easy to predetermine yes or no.  But for others it is an unknown until the answer arrives in their inbox.

I think the healthiest approach, for our family anyway, is to simply do what we do.  We don't do anything for admissions.  I match my kids to schools, not design my kids to fit some profile.  I guess my pt was more along the lines that this was discussed yrs ago.  Does the fact that it didn't reduce the stress of competitive admissions really surprise anyone?  4% admissions, if it is all you focus on, is going to lead to extremes regardless.

Edited by 8filltheheart
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5 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

No, I am bemoaning the fact that academic institutions weigh non academic things so much and the reality of most high schoolers just doesn’t allow for out of box education. 

And since homeschoolers make up a tiny percentage of admits, how exactly are PS kids supposed to make themselves interesting? Our high school doesn’t allow any choices to freshmen and sophomores. And then it’s basically just APs. And these kids are all taking these APs because the alternative courses aren’t good. And then they are playing sports and doing homework and now somehow they are expected to develop interesting personalities to go with it? Please spare me the “interesting education” sales pitch. 
So now capable parents will beautifully paper package their kids who couldn’t hack it otherwise (and the sick part is all of this is being done in the name of poor kids). 🙄

What's your alternative proposal? Because study after study has shown that relying strongly on test scores alone strongly disadvantages poor kids. And that holistic admissions helps them.

There's no magic formula these days and it is like a shell game as 8fillstheheart mentioned. But there are enough paths to college for every single kid. College is incredibly accessible now. The stress is being generated and will keep being generated no matter where the colleges put the shell. That's the piece that I think we lose sight of. We don't have to buy into this rhetoric or play that game that it's so incredibly hard and more stressful than ever before. That's just not really true. Public school kids don't have to either. It's a choice that some are going to make no matter what approach admissions is using.

Colleges don't determine a kid's worth as a person. The attitude that they do is a huge part of the problem, as is the attitude that if a kid does certain things to play whatever game colleges are pitching that they deserve a spot.

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Posted (edited)
21 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

@Farrar  My POV is more along the lines of it is really more of a shell game.  They keep the "magic bean" a moving target that can't really be deciphered.  You can make a fair estimation and when it comes to certain individuals it can be easy to predetermine yes or no.  But for others it is an unknown until the answer arrives in their inbox.

I think the healthiest approach, for our family anyway, is to simply do what we do.  We don't do anything for admissions.  I match my kids to schools, not design my kids to fit some profile.  I guess my pt was more along the lines that this was discussed yrs ago.  Does the fact that it didn't reduce the stress of competitive admissions really surprise anyone?  4% admissions if it is all you focus on is going to lead to extremes regardless.

Absolutely agree. I read a quote recently from someone in enrollment management, whatever the hell it is, saying how actually random the final end game is. But there is an entire industry, completely unregulated, naturally, trying to sell that they can sort where the “magic bean” has landed this year or the last. And you can tell it’s random because they all give conflicting advice, and with such authority 🤣

I’m a big fan of grad school admissions personally. 

Edited by madteaparty
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My proposal is to have some measurable academic achievement relevant to the course of study kids are attempting to pursue. Sort of like A levels in Britain.

Honestly beyond that they could just pull it out of the hat as a lottery, which it often is anyway. At least the kids won’t feel bad about themselves.

 

and I really don’t think holistic admissions is a leg up for poor kids. It’s much cheaper and easier and understandable to study for exams than spend $$$$$ on extracurriculars. And it requires a know how to really “build” a student into an “interesting” candidate, a skill few farm workers around us process. 

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And yes, rich kids might do better in exams, but this was already reflected in admissions. If you were rich and of certain race, you were already admitted with higher scores than others, so nuance isn’t always lost with exams. 

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

My proposal is to have some measurable academic achievement relevant to the course of study kids are attempting to pursue. Sort of like A levels in Britain.

Honestly beyond that they could just pull it out of the hat as a lottery, which it often is anyway. At least the kids won’t feel bad about themselves.

 

and I really don’t think holistic admissions is a leg up for poor kids. It’s much cheaper and easier and understandable to study for exams than spend $$$$$ on extracurriculars. And it requires a know how to really “build” a student into an “interesting” candidate, a skill few farm workers around us process. 

It is a lottery. They just don’t want to say it is. Because what would then happen to the yield? Holistic admissions is a ruse to make kids think they have a chance and apply. Why else are schools with single digit acceptance rates sending brochures round? Suffering for candidates? Name recognition a big problem?

Edited by madteaparty
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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, madteaparty said:

It is a lottery. They just don’t want to say it is. Because what would then happen to the yield? Holistic admissions is a ruse to make kids think they have a chance and apply. Why else are schools will single digit acceptance rates sending brochures round? Suffering for candidates? Name recognition a big problem?

It's also a $$ game.   They are not going to accept 100% of a class that is high-need.   They need that top 60% of applicants to be in the top 1% income bracket to pay full sticker price. They are also "name" aware.  Anyone think that big name politicians/personalities' kids are treated equally to John Doe in terms of admissions review?  (Can you imagine the headlines of  certain US president's children being denied? (Press darlings is probably a better qualifier.  🙂 ) Really??)

There is no equity in admissions in high stakes' schools.  It is a completely false narrative.   

Edited by 8filltheheart
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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

It's also a $$ game.   They are not going to accept 100% of a class that is high-need.   They need that top 60% of applicants to be in the top 1% income bracket to pay full sticker price. They are also "name" aware.  Anyone think that big name politicians/personalities' kids are treated equally to John Doe in terms of admissions review?  (Yes.  Can you imagine the headlines of  certain US president's children being denied? (Press darlings, is probably a better qualifier.  🙂 ) Really??)

There is no equity in admissions in high stakes' schools.  It is a completely false narrative.   

Edited by madteaparty
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I found this article extremely interesting and am going to read this guy's book.   I don't have particularly strong feelings on how highly-desirable colleges should choose their students, but this:

"When the stakes are high, and an earnest student is dead serious about college, and she’s been honing her application persona for years, the distinction between what’s contrived and what’s authentic will often collapse. "

articulates an inchoate idea that -- in retrospect -- was one of the reasons that DH and decided to homeschool our kids so many years ago.

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1 hour ago, Roadrunner said:

What “holistic admissions” means is that colleges give a boost to the applicants they like more, as people. 
 

this is heartbreaking. I am Ok telling my kid he didn’t make a grade or his exam score just didn’t cut it, but telling kids they as people are just not cool enough for cool kids.
I do agree with this article 100%. It breaks my heart that we turned this admissions process into a personality contest. 
The entire thing makes me want to 🤢

My teen got turned down from a dream middle/high school (applying at age 11) because it “wasn’t the optimal fit”. In looking at the report, it truly came down to the school not liking the kid’s participation in discussion. Said kid had just had a pet put to sleep days before-an animal that had been part of the family since before the kid was born. 
 

This school had done an admirable job of painting themselves as the only place an extremely gifted kid could possibly fit in and be happy, as truly “Geek Hogwarts”. And being turned down at age 11 did a number on my kid’s confidence that took years to recover from.  
 

In 20/20 hindsight, I think it ended up better that my kid wasn’t accepted. But the way it was handled really puts a bad taste in my mouth. 
 

Ironically, the same kid did pick the school that was the most holistic of the schools applied to for college-but approached it, from the first contact, with an attitude of looking for the joker in the deck and deciding if they were a good fit, not the other way around. And there were a lot of schools on the list where acceptance was close to 100% given grades and test scores, and which already seemed like pretty good fits. 

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2 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

What “holistic admissions” means is that colleges give a boost to the applicants they like more, as people. 
 

this is heartbreaking. I am Ok telling my kid he didn’t make a grade or his exam score just didn’t cut it, but telling kids they as people are just not cool enough for cool kids.
I do agree with this article 100%. It breaks my heart that we turned this admissions process into a personality contest. 
The entire thing makes me want to 🤢

Agreed.  Why is "likability" even an issue in college admissions?  Should people on the autism spectrum be judged on the basis of likability or because they are capable of high academic achievement?  We have already seen likability used as a racist dog whistle.      

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4 minutes ago, daijobu said:

Is this the appropriate thread to let on that Stanford reversed its decision to eliminate a bunch of weird unpopular sports in which mostly rich white students participate?  And this was after supporters of these sports vandalized the sandstone walls of the office of the president of the university.   

White privilege anyone?  

🤦🏻‍♀️

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1 hour ago, Farrar said:

There's no magic formula these days and it is like a shell game as 8fillstheheart mentioned. But there are enough paths to college for every single kid. College is incredibly accessible now.

And this is a big part of the problem. "College" isn't good enough to ensure your economic future anymore. Now you need "selectivity" and "prestige" to ensure your place in the middle class, especially if you plan to major in something that is not an immediate professional qualification and you're taking out student loans to do it. That's why people freak out about getting into "name" schools.  

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17 minutes ago, chiguirre said:

And this is a big part of the problem. "College" isn't good enough to ensure your economic future anymore. Now you need "selectivity" and "prestige" to ensure your place in the middle class, especially if you plan to major in something that is not an immediate professional qualification and you're taking out student loans to do it. That's why people freak out about getting into "name" schools.  

It's all incorrect assumptions though. Those selective schools rarely get you so much farther in and of themselves. It's the connections, which you have anyway if you have the cash. The whole thing is so self-reinforcing.

I really think the real villain here is the system as a whole, not the particular methods of college admissions being demonized by the article.

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Posted (edited)

I struggle with this topic, I really do. Obviously, my son is in one of these elite colleges. I don't know about HPY, but if you go to MIT for prestige, you are likely sunk. The classes there are HARD. As is really hard and with real grades -- yes, kids do get Cs and Ds and even Fs. The saying is IHTFP - either 1) I have truly found paradise or 2) I hate this f***ing place.  The work load is unbelievable. It is just so intense there. My ds called us Every. Single. Night. for his first year to help us deal with both the course load and with the interpersonal skills required to integrate into a collection of crazy smart people. My son's experience has been profoundly positive, but if I knew what I know now, I would have been very very worried about him attending. 

I have no idea what admissions is looking for there. They do accept basically all the the USA winners of the major international competitions - IMO, IPhO, USAMO, and also all the camp kids. But they also take a huge percentage of poor kids, and Asian kids, etc. So in that regard they are definitely outside the norm for the Ivies. 

I have no idea how admissions should work in the ideal world. The problem is that there are some kids that should go there to get the education they need, they are just that gifted. And it is their capability and drive that create the reputation of the school as full of geniuses. But there are a lot of kids who want to go because they want the prestige they get from going there. Maybe it would be good for them, but maybe not. But it is their applications that drive the crazy low acceptance numbers. 

Edited by lewelma
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10 minutes ago, lewelma said:

I struggle with this topic, I really do. Obviously, my son is in one of these elite colleges. I don't know about HPY, but if you go to MIT for prestige, you are likely sunk. The classes there are HARD. As is really hard and with real grades -- yes, kids do get Cs and Ds and even Fs. The saying is IHTFP - either 1) I have truly found paradise or 2) I hate this f***ing place.  The work load is unbelievable. It is just so intense there. My ds called us Every. Single. Night. for his first year to help us deal with both the course load and with the interpersonal skills required to integrate into a collection of crazy smart people. My son's experience has been profoundly positive, but if I knew what I know now, I would have been very very worried about him attending. 

I have no idea what admissions is looking for there. They do accept basically all the the USA winners of the major international competitions - IMO, IPhO, USAMO, and also all the camp kids. But they also take a huge percentage of poor kids, and Asian kids, etc. So in that regard they are definitely outside the norm for the Ivies. 

I have no idea how admissions should work in the ideal world. The problem is that there are some kids that should go there to get the education they need, they are just that gifted. And it is their capability and drive that create the reputation of the school as full of geniuses. But there are a lot of kids who want to go because they want the prestige they get from going there. Maybe it would be good for them, but maybe not. But it is their applications that drive the crazy low acceptance numbers. 

Those are academic qualifications. This makes sense. It’s the non academic nonsense that some of us are objecting. 

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

Those are academic qualifications. This makes sense. It’s the non academic nonsense that some of us are objecting. 

Ah, well, I'm never sure about that. How do you out compete all those other kids??!?!?! Kids who are rich and with lots of opportunities, and kids who have outside agencies helping them?  Well, my kid was had a personal tutor for his 13 years of schooling (me), and he had dedicated help with applications (me).  I'm not so sure that homeschooling does not give a leg up in the race -- the parents are so involved that they act like a rich person who hires all that help.  Is there actually a difference between me sacrificing a high paying career to homeschool my son, vs a rich person paying for that same help?  It is just not straight forward. I think this is a very difficult topic. 

Edited by lewelma
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Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

Those are academic qualifications. This makes sense. It’s the non academic nonsense that some of us are objecting. 

I think it is dangerous to admit based on academic qualifications only. Poor kids don't have those opportunities. By being able to tell their unique story, they are able to say why they can 1) handle the workload, and 2) offer something to the community. We used this global admission to our advantage by arguing that there was nothing here for ds, as in nothing in the entire country. He was just that advanced. However, my son did not make it into MIT based on his merits. He did not earn a Gold medal in the IMO, not even a silver or a bronze. MIT could fill its class with only international medal winners from the top 10 international competitions. This would have excluded my son. But he (with my help and his English teacher's help) was able to argue *why* he should be admitted. How he had struggled with a lack of community, how he tried to help others in his same shoes. He told a compelling story. As much as global admissions is horrible, academic admissions only is equally bad. My ds did not earn a medal at the IMO even with three tries, but he is now top of his class at MIT, regularly scoring 2 standard deviations above the mean score on tests. Academic qualifications do not equal capability.  Can admissions accurately and regularly spot kids like my son?  I don't know, I guess that is the real question. I have always assumed that they could see right through all the fancy expensive admissions agencies, but maybe not.

Edited by lewelma
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We have only one admissions agency for help getting into American elite universities, and it is owned and operated by the son of our previous Prime Minister, John Key (who is also crazy rich having been a currency trader before being PM). So there you go. Connections count. 

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11 minutes ago, lewelma said:

I think it is dangerous to admit based on academic qualifications only. Poor kids don't have those opportunities. By being able to tell their unique story, they are able to say why they can 1) handle the workload, and 2) offer something to the community. We used this global admission to our advantage by arguing that there was nothing here for ds, as in nothing in the entire country. He was just that advanced. However, my son did not make it into MIT based on his merits. He did not earn a Gold medal in the IMO, not even a silver or a bronze. MIT could fill its class with only international medal winners from the top 10 international competitions. This would have excluded my son. But he (with my help and his English teacher's help) was able to argue *why* he should be admitted. How he had struggled with a lack of community, how he tried to help others in his same shoes. He told a compelling story. As much as global admissions is horrible, academic admissions only is equally bad. My ds did not earn a medal at the IMO even with three tries, but he is now top of his class at MIT, regularly scoring 2 standard deviations above the mean score on tests. Academic qualifications do not equal capability.  Can admissions accurately and regularly spot kids like my son?  I don't know, I guess that is the real question. I have always assumed that they could see right through all the fancy expensive admissions agencies, but maybe not.

In one post you say studying at MIT is super hard. In another one you say you don’t want to admit based on academic preparation? I don’t understand what good it would do to admit kids to MIT who can’t do work? You are talking about IMO medals but people are arguing it’s too much to ask poor kids to take SATs. You tell me how a kid would do at MIT who got a 450 on math section of an SAT? 

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

In one post you say studying at MIT is super hard. In another one you say you don’t want to admit based on academic preparation? I don’t understand what good it would do to admit kids to MIT who can’t do work? You are talking about IMO medals but people are arguing it’s too much to ask poor kids to take SATs. You tell me how a kid would do at MIT who got a 450 on math section of an SAT? 

MIT accepts a very large percentage of low income students (largest percent for any elite by far). They admit based on potential, not just academic qualifications. If all you have is precalc at your school, and you have maxed out your opportunities, then they still can still let you in. They have lots and lots of helps for kids that have not had calculus. They even have 'stretch' classes that run for longer - into the January term, so giving the kid an extra 4 weeks to get the class done. They have tutors, special dorms, and special programs of only 20 kids with 5 professors, etc. They are desperate to admit low end kids and support them to success. This is why the mantra is 'you belong here.' Because there are a lot of kids that have way fewer qualifications than my son and have had way fewer opportunities. Do they find it hard there?  Yes! They definitely do. But MIT is committed to giving capable poor kids (who have had few opportunities) a chance. This is why they use global admissions. 

Edited by lewelma
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I've read this article, but I can't get past the pay wall now. Basically, this article shows that MIT is committed to admitting kids from the bottom 20th percentile, and definitely the bottom 40%. Unfortunately, this is not true of a lot of elite universities. 

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/18/upshot/some-colleges-have-more-students-from-the-top-1-percent-than-the-bottom-60.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=AFEFBE272CA3473876B1A306FD211BE5&gwt=regi&assetType=REGIWALL

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6 minutes ago, lewelma said:

MIT accepts a very large percentage of low income students (largest percent for any elite by far). They admit based on potential, not just academic qualifications. If all you have is precalc at your school, and you have maxed out your opportunities, then they still can still let you in. They have lots and lots of helps for kids that have not had calculus. They even have 'stretch' classes that run for longer - into the January term, so giving the kid an extra 4 weeks to get the class done. They have tutors, special dorms, and special programs of only 20 kids with 5 professors, etc. They are desperate to admit low end kids and support them to success. This is why the mantra is 'you belong here.' Because there are a lot of kids that have way fewer qualifications than my son and have had way fewer opportunities. Do they find it hard there?  Yes! They definitely do. But MIT is committed to giving capable poor kids (who have had few opportunities) a chance. This is why they use global admissions. 

Just because you are poor doesn’t meet you aren’t academically qualified. I would think it isn’t much fun for kids who aren’t academically qualified to sit in the classroom with IMO kids. I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a school like that. 
I am not really sure what you are trying to argue with me about. You want MIT to admit kids based on income instead of academic preparation? If academic preparation has nothing to do with going to college, then why don’t we just run random lotteries? 
 You always talk about wanting peers for your son. I assumed you wanted academic peers? So how does one measure academic preparation? By income level? 
 

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Thinking further about this, I wonder if elite universities want :

1) Rich kids with opportunities who end up doing amazing things because they took advantage of those oppotunities.

2) Poor kids with no opportunities who take advantage of everything they could squeeze out of an impoverished life.

This leaves a problem for 

1) Rich kids with opportunities who don't end up doing amazing things.

2) middle class kids with moderate opportunities who just can't stand out. 

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1 minute ago, Roadrunner said:


I am not really sure what you are trying to argue with me about. 
 

Not arguing. Just trying to add nuance to the discussion. I can jump out if you want. 

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

Just because you are poor doesn’t meet you aren’t academically qualified. I would think it isn’t much fun for kids who aren’t academically qualified to sit in the classroom with IMO kids. I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near a school like that. 
I am not really sure what you are trying to argue with me about. You want MIT to admit kids based on income instead of academic preparation? If academic preparation has nothing to do with going to college, then why don’t we just run random lotteries? 
 You always talk about wanting peers for your son. I assumed you wanted academic peers? So how does one measure academic preparation? By income level? 
 

Well, the IMO kids take Graduate level classes their freshman year. They are allowed to skip the entire undergrad curriculum if they want. Kids without that kind of background can take stretch freshman Calculus. So they are not together in classes. 

Basically, I support global admissions. I think it has a place. It may not be perfect, and it may need to be adjusted, but I much prefer it to the UK system that is based on exams only. 

Edited by lewelma
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Just now, lewelma said:

Well, the IMO kids take Graduate level classes their freshman year. They are allowed to skip the entire undergrad curriculum if they want. Kids without that kind of background can take stretch freshman Calculus. So they are not together in classes. 

Basically, I support global admissions. I think it has a place. It may not be perfect, and it may need to be adjusted, but I much prefer it to the UK system that is based on exams only. 

So what is your idea of qualification? Is there one? 
You want to admit by potential? Fine. Then let’s do IQ tests. 
You want to admit by academic standard? Then let’s have exams.You want to admit based on race and income? Then let’s create those categories, put kids who applied and then play a lottery. 
but what I object is an institution that tells a kid they didn’t cut it academically or personality wise when in reality they admitted many other students with the same qualifications because it’s essentially a lottery outside of your IMO kids. So let’s call it what it is and stop pretending they pick the best. It’s emotionally damaging what these colleges are doing to kids. 
I much prefer a European system to this madness. 

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Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

So what is your idea of qualification? Is there one? 
You want to admit by potential? Fine. Then let’s do IQ tests. 
You want to admit by academic standard? Then let’s have exams.You want to admit based on race and income? Then let’s create those categories, put kids who applied and then play a lottery. 
but what I object is an institution that tells a kid they didn’t cut it academically or personality wise when in reality they admitted many other students with the same qualifications because it’s essentially a lottery outside of your IMO kids. So let’s call it what it is and stop pretending they pick the best. It’s emotionally damaging what these colleges are doing to kids. 
I much prefer a European system to this madness. 

Well, there is a third way. NZ has a basic level of exam scores that are required for guaranteed entrance into any of our 7 universities. Basically, you need an equivalent of a 3 on four AP exams (sort of, but the system is essay based with 4 exams per subject so 12 exams-ish).  If you make the base requirement, you can go.  Now the universities are not going to make things easy for you -- they don't reduce expectations. They provide an excellent and challenging education. They are ranked internationally around Georgetown, Vanderbilt, UVA, and Georgia Tech. Around 50% of ALL students (poor, rich, intellectual/emotional differences etc) gain university entrance. And the first year is free. If you can't cut it in the first year, you aren't out any money and you can go on to do other things. You can also go to university at the age of 20 with NO highschool qualifications at all (kind of a back up system for kids to get 2-4 years of work experience and get motivated to go to uni to improve their job options).

I like this system.  But I've been told that American's won't accept it -- that general admission for most students just isn't OK. Universities need to be a bit selective. Well, fine. Then you are stuck with the options that people keep bringing up.  

Edited by lewelma
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2 hours ago, Farrar said:

It's all incorrect assumptions though. Those selective schools rarely get you so much farther in and of themselves. It's the connections, which you have anyway if you have the cash. The whole thing is so self-reinforcing.

I really think the real villain here is the system as a whole, not the particular methods of college admissions being demonized by the article.

So yes and no. I can tell you that your prospects for a job in CA with a similar major out of UCLA are much greater than our of Chico State. I can also tell you my boss wouldn’t interview anybody out of any CSU and bottom half of UCs. 
So while I agree that life can go into all sorts of places out of all sorts of places, I think we can’t ignore the name recognition either. 

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1 minute ago, lewelma said:

Well, there is a third way. NZ has a basic level of exam scores that are required for guaranteed entrance into any of our 7 universities. Basically, you need an equivalent of a 3 on four AP exams (sort of, but the system is essay based with 4 exams per subject so 12 exams-ish).  If you make the base requirement, you can go.  Now the universities are not going to make things easy for you -- they don't reduce expectations and provide an excellent and difficult education. They are ranked internationally around Georgetown, Vanderbilt, UVA, and the best uni is ranked next to Georgia Tech. Around 50% of ALL students (poor, rich, intellectual/emotional differences etc) gain university entrance. And the first year is free. If you can't cut it in the first year, you aren't out any money and you can go on to do other things. You can also go to university at the age of 20 with NO highschool qualifications at all (kind of a back up system for kids to get 2-4 years of work experience and get motivated to go to uni to improve their job options).

I like this system.  But I've been told that American's won't accept it -- that general admission for most students just isn't OK. Universities need to be a bit selective. Well, fine. Then you are stuck with the options that people keep bringing up.  

I like that as well. Seems more sensible to me. 

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, chiguirre said:

And this is a big part of the problem. "College" isn't good enough to ensure your economic future anymore. Now you need "selectivity" and "prestige" to ensure your place in the middle class, especially if you plan to major in something that is not an immediate professional qualification and you're taking out student loans to do it. That's why people freak out about getting into "name" schools.  

I disagree.  Selectivity isn't vital for 99% of the fields out there, even ones without immediate professional qualification.  What they do when they step foot on campus--that is going to matter in terms of recommendations and mentorship.   Students who get involved and seek out opportunities on their campus, in their dept, etc are going to have a much different experience than kids who go to class (or don't even) and are not focused on developing career skills.

I am a firm believer in Bruni's premise of where you go is not who you'll be and Gladwell's big fish in a small pond being a benefit. That is the approach our kids have taken and have done so in a way where they have attended college for free or for very low cost.  They have all ended up having wonderful professors who have mentored them and have had opportunities that have helped form their skills to make them employable.   One of the first things my college freshman did this past yr was start reaching out to the dept about getting involved in UG research.  She has secured a great UG research position with a professor who has a history of mentoring his UGs toward grad school, NSF fellowships, and employment opportunities.  

It takes being proactive and making the most of your college experience.  But, equally, advancing a career takes being proactive as an employee.  It does not take forfeiting your future to debt or driving yourself crazy trying to get into a top competitive school.

Edited by 8filltheheart
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7 hours ago, daijobu said:

Is this the appropriate thread to let on that Stanford reversed its decision to eliminate a bunch of weird unpopular sports in which mostly rich white students participate?  And this was after supporters of these sports vandalized the sandstone walls of the office of the president of the university.   

White privilege anyone?  

If that’s not charming, likeable behavior, then what is? I guess people want their money’s worth of 4 years tuition of whatever sport no one else can do. 

(and I say this as the parent of a little kid that loves a sport on that list)

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Posted (edited)

@8filltheheart I agree with you that students can succeed without going to elite schools, but wanted to point out that your particular students are not typical. Your family culture puts your children at an advantage. I’d guess that many students have no idea how to network like your kids do to secure research positions etc.

@lewelma re global admission, I agree that basing admittance decisions on academics alone can eliminate disadvantaged students and admire MIT’s commitment to looking for potential.
 

@Roadrunner re “If academic preparation has nothing to do with going to college, then why don’t we just run random lotteries?” I imagine you’re being facetious, but this would probably work as long as admitted students were provided with support to further level the playing field. 😉 Did you ever see Trading Places? 😜

I like what this foundation is doing. https://www.possefoundation.org/recruiting-students/the-nomination-process They work with communities to identify students with potential and match them with universities that not only admit them but also support them at school. It sounds a bit like the program @lewelma described at MIT. 
 


 

 

Edited by bibiche
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Posted (edited)
27 minutes ago, bibiche said:

@8filltheheart I agree with you that students can succeed without going to elite schools, but wanted to point out that your particular students are not typical. Your family culture puts your children at an advantage. I’d guess that many students have no idea how to network like your kids do to secure research positions etc.

Then they aren't paying attention at student orientation.  I have yet to sit through a student orientation that does not encourage kids to get involved on campus and tells them how.  Many colleges now require a "College Success Skills" class that goes over the need to attend class, use office hours, get involved in the dept, etc.   It is from sitting through so many orientations that I know what opportunities are out there for kids, not bc somehow I just knew.  I am not involved with colleges on any level.  I have no "inside information."  I have simply listened and paid attention to what is being directed toward the STUDENTS, not the parents. 

For example, USC offers University 101 courses which are designed specifically to help students understand exactly what the U offers and how to get involved and succeed:  https://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/university_101/courses/index.php

Quote

II. Discover and Connect with the University of South Carolina

As a result of this course, students will:

  • identify and use appropriate campus resources and engage in opportunities that contribute to their learning within and beyond the classroom

  • develop positive relationships with peers and faculty and staff members

  • describe the history, purpose and traditions of the University of South Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by 8filltheheart
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11 minutes ago, 8filltheheart said:

Then they aren't paying attention at student orientation.  I have yet to sit through a student orientation that does not encourage kids to get involved on campus and tells them how.  Many colleges now require a "College Success Skills" class that goes over the need to attend class, use office hours, get involved in the dept, etc.   It is from sitting through so many orientations that I know what opportunities are out there for kids, not bc somehow I just knew.  I am not involved with colleges on any level.  I have no "inside information."  I have simply listened and paid attention to what is being directed toward the STUDENTS, not the parents. 

For example, USC offers University 101 courses which are designed specifically to help students understand exactly what the U offers and how to get involved and succeed:  https://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/university_101/courses/index.php

I didn’t mean that you had an “in” at colleges but rather that you’ve raised your children in an enriching learning environment and they look for opportunities, which is fabulous and ideal. 

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1 hour ago, bibiche said:

I didn’t mean that you had an “in” at colleges but rather that you’ve raised your children in an enriching learning environment and they look for opportunities, which is fabulous and ideal. 

That's a good point.  Dd's boyfriend is in college and is a first generation college student with parents who aren't familiar with American colleges at all (they are from China).  Dd has helped her bf a lot with navigating basic things like class registration, applying for internships, etc.  Her bf missed out on being in the honors program because he didn't even know to apply.  He's a really smart and motivated young man, but just hasn't had any guidance.  Of course, starting college life with all the Covid restrictions didn't help since there really wasn't any orientation, advising, etc.  

 

 

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2 hours ago, bibiche said:

@8filltheheart I agree with you that students can succeed without going to elite schools, but wanted to point out that your particular students are not typical. Your family culture puts your children at an advantage. I’d guess that many students have no idea how to network like your kids do to secure research positions etc.

@lewelma re global admission, I agree that basing admittance decisions on academics alone can eliminate disadvantaged students and admire MIT’s commitment to looking for potential.
 

@Roadrunner re “If academic preparation has nothing to do with going to college, then why don’t we just run random lotteries?” I imagine you’re being facetious, but this would probably work as long as admitted students were provided with support to further level the playing field. 😉 Did you ever see Trading Places? 😜

I like what this foundation is doing. https://www.possefoundation.org/recruiting-students/the-nomination-process They work with communities to identify students with potential and match them with universities that not only admit them but also support them at school. It sounds a bit like the program @lewelma described at MIT. 
 


 

 

Actually I am not. I am saying current system is the lottery with some exceptions. We tell kids it isn’t. We tell them they weren’t cool enough or smart enough or didn’t work hard enough. In reality colleges should say: I regret to inform you that you didn’t win a lottery. 
 

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18 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:

Actually I am not. I am saying current system is the lottery with some exceptions. We tell kids it isn’t. We tell them they weren’t cool enough or smart enough or didn’t work hard enough. In reality colleges should say: I regret to inform you that you didn’t win a lottery. 
 

But outside of the top 200 or so colleges, there are thousands of colleges in the US that will accept most students just based on their scores but most students want to apply to the top ones. Alabama has their requirements on their web page, you  score perfect Act/ sat and have a 4.0 GPA, you get a full ride. You score less, you can get full tuition etc. So many schools have that and we have students doing well at those schools. They all don’t  have to apply to the top 100 or so. There is more freedom and flexibility than you will like to acknowledge. The problem is that you want HYP, Stanford and MIT to also go that route and that is not possible. How many 4.0 gpa and perfect scores can you admit? What else are they bringing to the table other than scores? 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for linking this article.

It sounds like college admissions is becoming Miss America pageants, where one has to play the piano and be able to arrange world peace and cure cancer, all while looking good in a swimsuit and ball gown. Meanwhile, the qualifications for some other fields (heads of companies and countries) seem much lower.

Edited by stripe
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