With a blog read by tens of thousands, we have a soapbox on which we can stand to fight for change in highly selective college admissions. And we’d be remiss not to use our soapbox to help make the highly selective college admissions process more fair, more equal, and more just. Today, we’re proposing three radical changes to the college admissions process. We don’t foresee any of these changes being made tomorrow. Or even the next day. But we encourage our readers who sit on admissions committees, who are leaders in the admissions field, who wish to be change agents in education to think about these proposals. Because, really, they’re not that radical at all. And they’re changes we didn’t start proposing today. We’ve been proposing them for years.
1. End legacy admission. As the venerable Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation has argued for years, legacy admission is actually a violation of law. It’s a violation of tax law. In the simplest terms, folks make tax-deductible donations to universities. These folks aren’t supposed to receive any benefits for their tax deductible donations. It’s our U.S. Tax Code. Let’s call it U.S. Tax Law 101. So why, oh why, are these folks receiving benefits in return for their tax-deductible donations? The children of legacies, of donors, earn admission at much higher rates than do the children of non-legacies, of non-donors. End this violation of law. Hey hey, ho ho. Legacy admission has got to go.
2. Remove the question in which applicants are asked if they need Financial Aid from the Common Application and from any other application used by colleges reviewed by college admissions officers. If highly selective colleges are indeed need-blind as so many of them claim to be, then why, oh why, are they able to read the answer to this question with their own two eyes on the same document that contains an applicant’s SAT or ACT scores, Personal Statement, Senior Year Courses, etc. Why isn’t it on a separate document that admissions officers are truly blind to? How difficult would it be to remove this question from the application so admissions officers aren’t privy to the answer. Who, oh who, could argue with confidence that the answer to this question doesn’t shape the thinking of admission officers? Nobody. If a college admitted a class in which every student needed Financial Aid, the school would have to dip into its endowment and risk becoming financially unstable. Colleges rely on tuition dollars. If colleges were truly need-blind, they’d be putting themselves in financial peril. Hey hey, ho ho. The Financial Aid question has got to go.
3. Demand to see the tax returns of admissions officers. A recent scandal in college admissions hung a lantern on how some morally compromised admissions officers benefited financially from their power to admit or deny students — but not from the colleges that employ them. Rather, it was from a Chinese “education” company named Dipont which paid off some admissions officers in the hope they’d admit their students. And, naturally, they got caught. But who knows if there are others out there? In all likelihood, there are more where these folks came from. So why can’t colleges require their employees to show them their tax returns, much like our country demands to see the tax returns of our presidential candidates. Oh wait. Hey hey, ho ho. Corrupt admissions officers have got to go.
Do we foresee any of these changes being made tomorrow? No. Next week? No. But, we ask…why, oh why, not?
Harvard University has the biggest endowment in the world. At the end of fiscal year 2015, Harvard’s endowment was reported to be$37,615,545,000. And yes, that’s a whole lot of commas. That’s over $37 billion. So when someone makes a donation to Harvard of $1,000,000, it’s not exactly newsworthy. But regular readers of our college admissions blog know that we are big fans of Jeremy Lin, the former Harvard basketball player turned NBA player. Jeremy is now the face of the Brooklyn Nets. And, today, it was announced that Jeremy made a $1 million donation to his alma mater.
As reported by “Harvard Gazette,” “‘Without question, my time at Harvard prepared me well for success both on and off the court,’ said Lin. ‘I’m honored to put that same world-class education in reach for deserving students and to support improvements to the facilities where I spent countless hours practicing and competing.'” The $1 million donation will be earmarked for financial aid as well as renovations to the university’s basketball arena.
The piece continues, “William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, Harvard College dean of admissions and financial aid, said, ‘I find it inspiring to see the commitment to financial aid and Athletics that Harvard College and Jeremy share. His generosity will strengthen the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), through which more than half of our undergraduates receive need-based grant aid.'”
It’s nice to see one of Harvard’s favorite sons making a sizable donation to his alma mater. And we’re excited for Linsanity to return to New York, even though Jeremy probably wants to keep Linsanity behind him. The fact is he’s been a very good NBA player throughout his career even if those couple of crazy weeks when he wore a New York Knicks uniform never happened.
But we want our readers to hear it from the horse’s mouth. So here’s what Yale has to say about international medical school applicants to the university: “It is extremely difficult for international applicants who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States to gain admission to U.S. medical schools. State-supported medical schools rarely consider international applicants for admission, and those private schools that do accept applications generally require that international students place in escrow an amount ranging from one to four years’ tuition and fees (USD 40,000–200,000). There are very few scholarships available for medical schools in the U.S., and to qualify for U.S. government-sponsored loans, the applicant must be a citizen or permanent resident. International applicants who are considering a career as a medical doctor and hope to receive their education at an American medical school should think carefully before applying for admission to an undergraduate program in the United States.”
Is it more difficult to earn admission to an American medical school as an international applicant? You bet it is!
It’s important to have a life lesson in college essays, right? A great Personal Statement wouldn’t be compelling if it didn’t wrap up with a story about a life lesson learned, right? Maybe it’s about understanding the value of hard work. Maybe it’s about understanding the importance of perseverance and overcoming adversity in pursuit of your goals. Maybe it’s about realizing that all people are, in many ways, more alike than different. These are the kinds of life lessons that make for compelling storytelling not only in the Common Application’s Personal Statement but in the unique supplemental essays for the schools to which students apply, right?
One of these things doesn’t belong in college essays: a life lesson, great storytelling, and colloquial writing. Which one is it, you ask?
No, not right. But the regular readers of our college admissions blog know that the entire introductory paragraph above was one big setup. Life lessons have no place in college admissions essays to highly selective schools. Life lessons are cliche. You pulled your hamstring but nursed your way back from injury to compete in the 100 meter dash again? You may not have won but you tried your best? Cliche. You realized that the folks in Soweto, South Africa are just the same as you and your neighbors in Greenwich, Connecticut? Cliche. You learn about the importance of love and family from your wise grandfather? Cliche.
Life lessons have no place in college essays. Let’s say it again. Life lessons have no place in college essays. When admissions officers are reading hundreds upon hundreds of essays, how many come-from-behind races can they possibly enjoy? The answer is zero. “Full House” was a terrific television show on ABC. And its sequel “Fuller House” is a nice followup on Netflix. For those not familiar with “Full House,” Danny, Jesse, and Joey often imparted life lessons on D.J., Stephanie, Michelle at the end of each episode. But college admissions essays are not episodes of “Full House.” So leave the life lesson out and don’t think twice about it.
Want special access to admissions officers? Not so fast. There’s a fascinating put out by “Reuters” by Steve Stecklow, Renee Dudley, James Pomfret, and Alexandra Harney that we figured we’d draw to the attention of the readers of our college admissions blog. The piece is entitled “How a Chinese company bought access to admissions officers at top U.S. colleges” and it sure is a juicy one. A major Chinese “education” company named Dipont has apparently paid thousands of dollars to admissions officers at some of America’s most elite institutions in the hopes of improving their clients’ case for admission. Indeed the company even boasts of its relationship with various highly selective American institutions.
Our regular readers know that if anyone or any firm boasts of its relationship with various colleges, prospective clients — or clients — should run. Run fast and run for the hills. Because no company has special relationships with highly selective colleges. And if you think Dipont does, than this expose is quite the counterpoint — highly selective colleges will be reluctant to admit students these corrupt, bribe-taking admissions officers met with during their visits.
Colleges should demand to see the tax returns of admissions officers to ensure they’re not taking money from outside sources. And if Donald won’t release his tax returns but wants a job in admissions, don’t hire him. You don’t want him anyway.
As reported in the piece on the admissions scandal in “Reuters,” “Dipont denies the allegations of application fraud but boasts of its special relationship with some 20 U.S. colleges, which include Vanderbilt University, Wellesley College, Tulane University and the University of Virginia. Their admissions officers have visited China since 2014, personally advising Dipont students at an annual summer program on how to successfully apply to U.S. colleges. ‘Just once a year, current admissions officers become your exclusive consultants,’ an ad from Dipont tells prospective clients. The same ad features a Wellesley student crediting the Dipont program for her early acceptance.” Yikes, yikes, yikes! If that ad wasn’t a major red flag.
No current admissions officer should be taking outside admissions consulting money. The former admissions officers on our staff at Ivy Coach are former admissions officers. It’s a very important distinction. Our former admissions officers no longer have the power to admit or deny students. They now use their expertise to beat these colleges at their own game and they have every right to do so. That is America. That’s how our free market economy works. But current admissions officers? Talk about a conflict of interest. If a current admissions officer ever reached out to us, asking if they could work for us while simultaneously working in admissions, the line would instantly go dead.
Shame on these admissions officers. Shame on this Chinese company (and, yes, cheating is widespread in China, a subject we’ve been writing about for years on our admissions blog). We firmly believe that America’s most elite colleges need to take measures to ensure bribes can never influence admissions officers. And how? Just as journalists can’t give money to politicians or even foundations run by politicians (hi George Stephanopoulos with your donation to The Clinton Foundation), so too should admissions officers not be able to take money from outside sources. It’s likely in their employment contracts but we urge colleges to go a step further — demand to see their tax returns. If they received money from outside sources, they’d have to declare it. Make them release to you their tax returns. It’s not like Donald Trump is applying for a job as an admissions officer. Most will agree. And if they don’t agree, don’t employ them. Simple as that.
One of our mantras at Ivy Coach is: “Dare admissions officers not to admit you.” Our students, through their narrative — as powerfully detailed in their Personal Statement, in their supplemental essays, in their Letters of Recommendation, in their Activities — make powerful and compelling cases for admission. They make clear precisely how they are going to leave their mark on this world. They make clear how they are specifically going to contribute through their singular talent to the universities to which they’re applying.
We dare admissions officers to pass on our students.
A three-sport athlete who writes a Personal Statement about his grandfather does not dare an admissions officer at a highly selective college not to admit them. A piano player who dabbles in Science Olympiad and absolutely loves working at a local soup kitchen doesn’t dare an admissions officer at a highly selective college not to admit them. A student who brags of her achievements in the sciences in her supplemental essays does not dare an admissions officer at a highly selective college not to admit them. Rather, these students are playing into the hands of admissions officers. And they’re losing. These kinds of students, with these kinds of all over the place, unfocused, and cliche narratives, are not the students admissions officers seek at America’s most elite schools.
It’s difficult to explain precisely how the applications of our students dare admissions officers not to admit them — because that’s a big part of our secret sauce (we are a business at the end of the day!) but let’s just say that nobody — not one person — has ever suggested that our students’ applications are cliche. Not now, not ever. Dare to pass.
Folks often write in something like this: “My son needs help with college interviews.” When we see something like this, we often wonder why so many parents essentially overemphasize the importance of the college interview and underemphasize the rest. The truth is that alumni interviews are a part of the admissions process at many highly selective colleges, but they’re one of the least important parts of this very process.
Do alumni interviews matter? Well, you don’t want to say something that will preclude your admission. You don’t want to say something racist (you shouldn’t anyway!). You don’t want to say something homophobic (you shouldn’t anyway!). You want to present yourself in the best possible light, not brag, be likable, etc. But even after all this, the alumni interview is but one small part of a big picture. So why do so many parents who don’t seek assistance with the stuff that matters big time — coursework, testing, an extracurricular hook, school selection, Early Decision / Early Action strategizing, those many college admissions essays, etc. write us asking for assistance with alumni interview prep? It boggles our minds. We’re happy to prep their children for their alumni interviews but we always tell them that this is like cleaning a car in which the engine may or may not be working. You get the idea.
Remember, alumni interviews are as much to appease alumni, to make them feel like they’re a part of the admissions process (after all, alumni are the donors to universities) as they are to figure out if an applicant is worthy of admission to a given university. So, in our minds, the interview is overvalued by many parents and students. They assign it more weight that it deserves.
Sometimes folks, often our friends, ask us if we check in with our former students whom we’ve helped earn admission to the colleges of their dreams years later to see what they’re up to, to see who they’ve become. The answer is that sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Naturally, it depends on the relationship we’ve built with the student and with the student’s family. If someone comes to us for an hour evaluation, we don’t check in with them ten years later to see what they’re up to. If we work with them through their high school years, you can bet we likely stay in touch even years later. And, in just a few short years, we’re expecting to have one of Ivy Coach’s first clients’ children as clients. It will be some moment.
We are particularly proud of the relationships we’ve built over the years with members of our military, men and women whom we’ve worked with on a pro bono basis because of our longstanding commitment to helping these young people receive the educations they so richly deserve upon the completion of their service. In fact, we’ve noticed a trend. It’s our military clients who check in with us before we get around to checking in with them. They’re appreciate of our assistance. And it makes us feel so good inside that we’re appreciated. And sometimes that’s everything.
So while we’re a bit freaked out that we’ll likely soon be working with the children of one of Ivy Coach’s initial clients, it sure does make us feel good that we’ve remained a part of this (then!) student’s life through so many milestones, even from a distance via phone and email. Indeed it puts a smile on our faces.
The Yale football team is in a bit of hot water. At this past Saturday’s Yale vs. Dartmouth football game, Yale distributed a program that featured a historical retrospective of Yale-Dartmouth football programs from games of decades past. It seems innocuous on the surface but if one takes a closer look at the previous covers of these programs, it becomes painfully obvious that this was a major misstep.
By way of background, Dartmouth College was a school founded to educate Native Americans. Before Dartmouth became the Big Green, there was the Dartmouth Indian. And while the school remains more committed, we’d argue, than any institution in the world in educating Native Americans, the school did away with its old mascot for a reason (hint hint: Washington Redskins). As an article up on “USA Today” points out, it wasn’t just that the program cover featured images of the Dartmouth Indian. It’s how the school’s mascot was portrayed. “One of the images, from Nov. 4, 1944, shows an illustration of a Yale football player setting fire to a Native American man’s clothing while the man screams in agony.”
Yale Athletics unsurprisingly promptly issued a strong apology: “Our intention was to recognize the 100-game relationship between Dartmouth College and Yale University. We are truly sorry for the hurt this program cover caused, particularly for those from Native American communities. Yale Athletics is committed to representing the best of Yale and upholding the University’s values, especially respect for all.”
Experience can often teach empathy. In our own business, we’re often surprised when folks during free college admissions consults — folks who are not our clients but are rather prospective clients — make the assumption that we wish for them to be our clients. The free college admissions consultation that we offer is to learn about our services and it’s as much for us to figure out if we wish to work with a prospective client as it is for the prospective client to figure out if they wish to work with us. Sometimes the fact that it’s a two-way street surprises prospective clients but we have limited hours in our days and we wish to live happy lives. So why take on clients who we think will be unkind? It is our longstanding policy at Ivy Coach to only work with kind people. And it is a policy that has served us well for over a quarter of a century.
But every business owner also frequents or uses the services of other businesses. Maybe they go to restaurants and sports arenas. Maybe they hire electricians and plumbers. When you own and/or run a business, you invariably think of these businesses differently. For us, we don’t assume that business always want to work with us. Maybe our electrical job will be too small for an electrician. Maybe our leaky faucet is unfixable. Maybe a fancy Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills wants to have celebrities seated by the window at the 8:00 dinner hour rather than us. And that’s ok.
Sometimes even we sit in restaurants and cross our fingers that the wait staff will choose to bring us menus. We kid, we kid! But you get the idea. Every business has the right in these United States to work exclusively with kind people if they so wish. And this right has, over the decades, become our creed at our college admissions business.