College admission is not arbitrary! There’s a very well written piece in “Vanity Fair” by Michael Kinsley entitled “Why White, Preppy Men Need an Affirmative-Action Reality Check” that we figured we’d share with the readers of our college admissions blog. While we love the writer’s entertaining writing style and much of what he writes is entirely accurate, we figured we’d point out a couple of inaccuracies that he presents to his readers. After all, one of the purposes of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog is to correct misconceptions about the admissions process so when there are fallacies out there, we’re all over them.
Misconception #1: Mr. Kinsley writes, “People, notably parents, obsess about college admissions because it’s a lever in the mechanics of success that they feel they can control. But they can’t. College admission is one of the few explicit decision points in the murky workings of fate. But even so, as any college admissions officer will tell you, the decision to admit one person and reject another is highly arbitrary. It is arbitrary at every level.” Mr. Kinsley later goes on to write, “But it’s all luck. You deserve no credit and you deserve no blame.” No, no, no. Highly selective college admissions is anything but arbitrary, Mr. Kinsley. It is anything but luck. He even refers to the process as “a crapshoot.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to read Bev’s “Huffington Post” piece entitled “Ivy League Admission Isn’t Random.” Bev’s piece effectively squashes any erroneous claim that the process is random. And our quarter century of experience and track record in admissions also successfully counters this claim of randomness.
Misconception #2: “Some factors, such as grades and recommendations, are regarded as part of our machinery of meritocracy. Other factors, such as affirmative action, are regarded by some as a departure from it. Still other factors—the college orchestra needing an oboe player—are complete wild cards.” Extracurriculars are not complete wild cards. If Stanford needs a quarterback and a student at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California is the Stanford coach’s top target, this football factor is not a wild card. It will significantly help his case for admission. Any suggestion otherwise is just plain wrong. But we can imagine Mr. Kinsley thinks we’re misinterpreting his meaning. So we’ll use an example that is closer to oboe. Let’s take key club. Is key club a wild card in admissions? No. A student who attends key club to collect keys (or whatever it is they do) for two hours in a given week isn’t helping his or her case for admission one bit. It’s not a wild card. It simply isn’t an angle. Highly selective colleges want singularly talented students who together form a well-rounded class. These singular talents are not wild cards. Rather, they’re hooks. And we help our students find these hooks.
But the rest of your piece, Mr. Kinsley, is entirely amusing and extremely well written! Well done.