A piece by Frank Bruni in “The New York Times” entitled “Rethinking College Admissions” is a hot topic right now in highly selective college admissions. And so, naturally, we figured we’d comment on it. For those not familiar with the piece, there will be a report released tomorrow from the Harvard Graduate School of Education entitled “Turning the Tide.” The report includes endorsements from several presidents and deans of admission at highly selective colleges, including Ivy League colleges.
Bruni, who was given an advance copy of the report, wrote this of what he read: “The new report contemplates how the admissions process contributes to that psychology and how it might be changed. Some of those alterations would simultaneously level the playing field for kids applying to college from less advantaged backgrounds…The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income…It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools. The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.”
If grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and such aren’t given as much weight in highly selective college admissions, perhaps colleges will admit based on how regularly students brush their teeth. Once a day? Twice? Oh my, Suzie brushes her teeth four times a day! No way!
Now we’ll have more to discuss once we read this report but allow us to just break down some of these arguments right here and now. These folks believe that grades are fairly irrelevant due to the fact that there is widespread grade inflation (the ultimate irony here is that Harvard is making this report — a school notorious for grade inflation!). But it’s not just the grades that they believe to be somewhat irrelevant. They also believe standardized test scores — like SAT, ACT, AP, and SAT Subject Test scores — are somewhat irrelevant too, as more and more colleges become test-optional. One parent from Palo Alto very wisely commented (and we so loudly echo this argument), “Now they are recommending getting rid of standardized test scores too (which, btw, were invented to put kids from lesser known schools on equal footing with kids from fancy schools)?” Amen to that. It’s so true!
And we don’t get how limiting the number of extracurricular activities listed on college applications will help either. We agree with the wise parent from Palo Alto who believes these tweaks to be “silly.” Silly is right. And as for high schools doing away with rank, weighted grades, AP / IB courses, well, they’re not helping the situation. They just think they are — that is until their students don’t get into highly selective colleges and parents start complaining. And complain they will! With admissions rates at lower than 10% generally across the board at highly selective colleges, there must be criteria. There must be standards. Just as we foresee the Coalition for Access failing, we believe this report not to be worth the paper it’s written on. Especially if the paper is fancy manilla card-stock.
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