There was an article in yesterday’s “New York Times” by Anemona Hartocollis entitled “Greater Competition for College Places Means Higher Anxiety, Too” that we figured we’d share with our readers. The piece largely focuses on how students are applying to more and more colleges these days, how anxiety levels have never been higher, and how it’s just getting worse and worse…you get the idea. Yawn. It’s not like we haven’t seen a version of this article every spring for the last decade. But one of the core objectives of our college admissions blog is to correct misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process. And there is a misconception presented in this piece.
As Ms. Hartocollis writes, “While colleges celebrate their record-setting applicant pools, high school guidance counselors take a dimmer view. Bruce Poch, the dean of admission and executive director of college counseling at Chadwick School, in Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., said admissions had turned into more of a lottery, as students express their fears of rejection by applying to more institutions. ‘It is seen by them as more and more something they can’t control, a crapshoot, so they pile them up,’ Mr. Poch said. ‘The multiples are at the, quote, most selective places.’ Mr. Poch said he had been disillusioned by a sense that colleges have become driven more by data points — SAT scores, maximizing tuition revenue and maximizing enrollment — than by the individual characteristics of students who apply.”
More applicants and a lower admission rate doesn’t mean an applicant pool is more competitive. Numbers can mislead. As the kids say these days, “Obvi!”
Highly selective college admissions is not, as you suggest, “a crapshoot,” Mr. Poch. Nor is it “something [students] can’t control.” In fact, highly selective college admissions isn’t getting more competitive every year — that is a complete and utter myth that you’re buying into and then reinforcing to everyone who reads this piece in “The New York Times.” Just because more and more applicants apply to a school each and every year, it does not mean that college is getting more selective. It simply means that more students are applying. Colleges are getting better and better at encouraging students to apply to more and more schools. But a ‘C’ student in an applicant pool does not — in any way — make that applicant pool more competitive. Mr. Poch, you’re getting fooled by the numbers. Mark Twain would have a fitting quote for you…you know the one. And college admissions is not all about data points — it is indeed about the individual characteristics of the students who apply (contrary to your statement). Students with perfect grades and perfect SAT scores get denied admission at America’s most selective colleges every year because they don’t show personality, because they don’t demonstrate the unique qualities and attributes they can bring to a school.
Highly selective college admissions is not getting more competitive every year. More applicants means lower admission rates and that means more hype. To buy into that hype, to express in one of America’s most respected newspapers that college admissions is “a lottery” that is getting more competitive each and every year is to exacerbate the problem and create a wholly unnecessary self-fulfilling prophecy. Mr. Poch, you worked at Pomona. You worked at Wesleyan. You know highly selective college admissions. Jack Kennedy was a friend of yours. We kid. You see what we did there? Anyhow, you know better.