A Tribute To Richard Moll

Harvard Admissions, Yale Admissions, Bowdoin Admissions

Former Dean of Admissions Dick Moll’s letter to the editor in today’s “New York Times” is spot on.

Richard Moll, a former admissions officer at Harvard and Yale and Dean of Admissions at Bowdoin, UC Santa Cruz, and Vassar, was an inspiration to our Founder when she first got into the profession. Many in the highly selective college admissions community would argue that Richard Moll was a controversial, even divisive figure during his tenures in admissions. We would argue that nobody did more to shake up the highly selective college admissions process and improve access to underserved populations than Dick Moll. Dick Moll was — and remains — an innovator.

Now in his 80’s, Richard Moll is still shaking up highly selective college admissions and challenging folks to defy the status quo. In a letter to the editor in “The New York Times,” Moll writes the following: “In your article, a college admissions officer says, ‘In the day of the Common App, there’s such a sense of sameness in applying to the different schools.’ The unavoidable standardization of the Common Application, not to mention the online debacle for students trying to use it this year, causes serious questions regarding its service to both the candidate and the college. As co-founder of the Common Application some 40 years ago (with Jack Osander of Princeton and Fred Jewett of Harvard), I sense that the Common App’s time is up.

Moll goes on to write, “The sole original goal of the Common Application was to make applying to highly selective colleges easier for nontraditional, less advantaged but deserving students. Clearly, it worked early on. Now it seems that the ease of applying via the Common App has transferred from the poorest to the most affluent students, whose families have no problem paying a dozen or more application fees — the more apps, the better the chance of admission somewhere special. This phenomenon also creates thousands more ‘ghost applications’ (from students unlikely to enroll) for the colleges. Given the compromised mission of creating access for the less sophisticated students and families, plus the frustration of colleges, applicants and secondary school counselors struggling to make uniqueness known within the limitations of standardization, why continue the Common Application?”

And there you have it. One of the founders of the Common Application believes it needs to go. As you may know from reading our college admissions blog, we have been very critical of The Common Application of late, even questioning if the Common Application is restraining trade by penalizing universities that do not offer the Common App. on an exclusive basis. Deemed by Bowdoin in a 1975 article “one of the most controversial admissions chiefs in the College’s history” and affectionately referred to in this same piece as “the king of pizazz,” we at Ivy Coach are sure glad to see that he is very much still the king of pizazz. We salute Richard Moll for his enormous contributions to the field of highly selective college admissions. There’s nobody else like him.


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  • Nice tribute. And I share the general feelings about the common app. Philosophical and qualitative comments aside, the thing is just plain difficult to use and does not allow a student to put their best foot forward. As colleges spend what seem like infinite funds on slick marketing material, the best a student can do is shoehorn their accomplishments into an unweildly common app format. How can admissions make a good match when the student’s hands are tied.

  • Kim says:

    The difference between rich and poor applicants is not the fees, because they can be and are waived by almost every college that uses the common app, and some that do not. The less advantaged and even middle class applicant suffers simply because the richer applicants have tutors (some live-in), and they can afford to be “packaged” by expensive college coaches, some of whom write their essays. It doesn’t end there. Students who gain admission to the ivy and top tier colleges/universities, because of a handsome donation ($50,000 doesn’t cut it these days; $10-20 million seems to be the magic number), or connections through private school guidance counselors, or the athletic scholarship (worst offenders and most enabled) etc. are not able to do the work. So those same high school tutors (if they were good) remain at their beck and call in college. Based on what I have personally seen and heard, so many email their homework to their tutors. That is the true issue difference between the rich and the poor, not application fees. I don’t know if mr moll is ignorant of this fact or not. Perhaps he wants to believe in the goodness of people, but it doesn’t exist in the wealthy communities. It is every man for himself, to see whose child can get into the most competitive Ivys and top tier schools. It is foolish to believe otherwise. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. and I thought it was unconscionable, until I soon learned, it is a way of life for the wealthy. It is all about bragging rights and endowments. Their hope is to turn their average child into a more educated one at these institutions. They mask it most times with athletic ability, and the universities welcome this as a way of justifying the acceptance outside the payoff. There are some bright wealthy students, but they are few and far between. What lesson does this teach them? That they will never have to work hard or prove themselves. And when they graduate, there will be a job waiting for them with their parents, or their parents’ cronies. It happens over and over again. That’s life, as unfair as it may sound, but we must acknowledge it. There are those who think it doesn’t exist, and those who are complicit in its coverup. We must prepare the students who truly do work hard for this unfortunate and expanding reality. It”s the middle class who are feeling the brunt of this and getting squeezed, because of the perception of Ivys and top tiers producing the best and most qualified students. It simply isn’t true; but unfortunately, the name of the school seems to be the name of the game. Today, the “intelligent” less advantaged and minorities who have gone to the top universities, have more opportunities, and that is a good thing.

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