A Misleading Admissions Article in Newspaper of Record

There are over 900 universities in America. Only about 20-25, like Yale University, are highly selective (photo credit: Namkota).

There’s a piece on college admissions in The New York Times today that inspired us to grab a red pen. Yes, The New York Times. The Gray Lady. The Newspaper of Record. The paper that uncovered President Trump’s taxes earlier this year, which is sure to win them a Pulitzer. Yes, that paper ran an article that isn’t incorrect but it is misleading. The piece, by venerable education journalist Anemona Hartocollis is entitled “The Exquisite Angst of Applying to College in a Deeply Anxious Year” and, well, as much as we admire her reporting as among the best — if not the very best — in the business, it’s just not her finest work.

NYT Piece States Applications Are Down This Fall at America’s Universities

In the piece, Ms. Hartocollis writes, “Final application deadlines are still to come, but the data on early-decision applications this month showed a slightly smaller number of students applying to college, especially from low-income families, although those that did were trying their luck at more schools than usual. That data comes from the Common Application, which is used by more than 900 U.S. colleges and universities to screen prospective students. This year, the application added an optional 250-word essay about the virus’s impact, to give students a chance to explain their circumstances without it having to take over the rest of their application. ‘I think it’s going to help us provide context, how the crisis has impacted their schools and their families and their communities,’ said Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions.”

While True, NYT Fails to Draw Distinction Between America’s Universities and America’s Selective Universities

Anyone see anything wrong with what Ms. Hartocollis has written? Allow us to raise all our hands — and pump them until someone calls on us. It’s not untrue that overall applications to the 900+ American universities were down on November 2, 2020 as compared to November 2, 2019. But the vast majority of American universities not only aren’t highly selective but aren’t particularly selective at all. Most admit more students than they choose to deny. Yet right after stating how applications are down thus far this year as compared to last year, Ms. Hartocollis cuts to a quote by Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions. Well, Yale isn’t like just any university in America. Yale is one of our nation’s finest universities. And at many highly selective universities this fall, as we’ve reported already with data dumps from the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, applications are not in fact down. Instead, they’re up. And, if our sources are right, applications from low-income students are up at many of these institutions, too.

Cutting to a Quote from Yale’s Admissions Dean After Saying Applications at America’s Universities Are Down Misleads

We would urge all journalists to make a distinction among America’s universities and America’s highly selective universities when writing articles on admissions. Harvard University and Hofstra University just don’t share all that much in common other than both beginning with an ‘H.’ Sorry, Hofstra. It’s one thing not to draw this distinction. But it’s quite another to make a sweeping point about American universities and then cut to a quote from Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions — an institution where we suspect applications this fall are not down but are in fact up. This is misleading and it’s especially misleading to the students of applicants to Yale’s Class of 2025 (and their parents). Ms. Hartocollis is raising their hopes by suggesting it might be a little bit easier this year. These students and their parents deserve the truth — the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Just like Jack Nicholson said.

We’ll give Ms. Hartocollis and The New York Times a mulligan for this one. They deserve it. And, hey, they’re not alone.

 
 

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