Has Admission to Elite Colleges Become a Racket?

Janet Lorin’s article, “College Admissions Racket: They’re Not going to Let You in Anyway,” ( Bloomberg News on January 28, 2015) considers how many “elite” colleges have extended their application deadlines in order to increase the total number of applicants to their institution.  Lorin explores the reasons behind these extensions and concludes that the primary purpose seems to be a bit nefarious.  Lorin states that by increasing the total number of applications and maintaining the actual number of acceptances results in a lower percentage of acceptances.  That makes the college appear to be more “selective,” and thus, more desirable.  “Selectivity” is one of the key categories that U.S. News & World Report, a self proclaimed evaluator of academic institutions, uses in its rankings of the Best Colleges in the U.S.

As an independent counselor who has placed students into elite colleges, I have seen a change in the type of student that these schools are looking for.  I believe that these colleges extended their deadline and actively sought out additional applicants via email because “elite” colleges are looking for a better student.

In a recent visit to Pitzer, one of the five colleges in the Claremont College group in California, the assistant Director of Admission spoke of applicants from a prestigious high school in Fairfield County, CT.  These applicants had very high grades, were taking competitive course and had board scores over 2000, but they didn’t have “IT.”   Pitzer’s student population is diverse, and they require every student to engage in a community project as part of the graduation requirements.  Pitzer is looking for students who know they can make a change in the world and have the energy and passion to affect that change. This is the “IT” that Pitzer is looking for in its applicants.

Pitzer is not the only school that is looking for students who think beyond their own needs.  Princeton University’s informal motto is:  “In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.”   It is not a coincidence that over the past three years, every academically qualified student that I have represented who demonstrated that they could make a change in their community and has the passion to use their college degree to “go forth and serve”, has been accepted to Princeton.

For the past year, I have had the pleasure to work with a lovely young woman who has experienced personal tragedy that she was able to write about in her applications.  She is bright, motivated, active in her school and has an impeccable academic record.  When it came time to apply to colleges she feared rejection.  So she applied early to Tulane and University of Michigan.  She submitted her application to Tulane on October 29th and was accepted via email November 2nd.  A week later, Tulane offered her a scholarship even though she did not apply for financial aid.  A month later, she received her acceptance to Michigan.  Her school friends were surprised by her success and told her that her acceptance to Michigan must have been a mistake because they had not received theirs.

Marie was overwhelmed when her friends, who she deemed more qualified, were not accepted at Tulane or Michigan.  After receiving encouraging emails, Marie decided to apply to Princeton, Brown, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth.  It is likely that Marie will be accepted to these schools because she has “IT”.  She has resolved her personal tragedy and has discovered that she can use this experience to live a life that will promote social change.  These are the scholars that colleges are looking for.  By extending the deadline and writing emails of encouragement, Marie was given the incentive to apply.

Being the valedictorian and volunteering at the local hospital are no longer the predictors of success in college or in life. Colleges are looking for students with determination and passion; students who will create the future of our country and alter the events of the world.  Extending the admissions deadline and encouraging students to apply was indeed “casting a broader net.”  However, admission committees of these schools are concerned with finding the right student.  They want to accept the students who will accept their offer for admission, graduate from their institutions, and “go forth and serve”.  These are better predictors of success for an “elite” institution than the number of students who apply.

Margaret G. Benedict, Ph.D. is a professional educator who has spent over twenty years working with students at the secondary school and university levels.  She is the founder and Executive Director of the Matthew Gaffney Foundation (http://www.gaffneyfoundation.com/) and College Preparation Services (http://www.collprep.com), a private college counseling service.

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