We’ve got a college admissions myth to debunk. If you’re a regular reader of our college admissions blog, you know that it’s rare when we don’t have criticisms of articles and editorials on highly selective college admissions. Well, in the case of Kevin Carey’s piece in “The New York Times” entitled “For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems,” we don’t have much to criticize. And that’s because Mr. Carey is exactly on point in much of his editorial. The main point that Mr. Carey makes in his piece is that highly selective college admissions — in spite of dropping admission rates at highly selective colleges across America — isn’t any more selective this year than it was last year or even five years ago.
And that all traces back to something Mark Twain once said about statistics: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Just because admission rates seem to be getting more competitive at institutions like Harvard, that doesn’t mean it’s more difficult to get into Harvard now than it was in 2008. So why the change in numbers? Harvard is simply getting better at attractive more applicants. But more applicants doesn’t go hand-in-hand with higher selectivity because colleges such as Harvard — and just about every highly selective college — encourage unqualified students to apply. Students who have absolutely no chance to get in. And they do this simply to boost their selectivity and, in turn, their all-important “US News & World Report” ranking. It’s all about manipulating those rankings!
As Mr. Carey writes, “Selective colleges immediately toss the long shots and dreamers from the admissions pile in order to concentrate on students with a legitimate shot at getting in. But they don’t parse their admissions statistics that way, in part because it’s in their best interests to seem as selective as possible. Admission rates are among the most closely watched barometers of institutional prestige. The fact that Stanford’s rate beat Harvard’s for the last two years has been cited as prime evidence that Palo Alto may be eclipsing Cambridge in higher-education glory.”
We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Carey. Thanks for sharing.