Sunday, January 30, 2005

Is There Hope On The Horizon For Restoring Sanity In The College Admissions Process?

Regarding the agonizingly stressful college admissions process, The Boston Globe writes:
"Are you a high school student fed up because you keep hearing that everything you do makes a difference on your college application? Are you a parent sick of emptying your wallet for test prep courses or the latest summer activity that might help Johnny get into Harvard?"
Lloyd Thacker, a former counselor and admissions officer, wants to change the way that universities and colleges admit their students by de-commercializing the process. He has started an advocacy group, The Education Conservancy in order to operationalize his goals. As the admissions process has become more focused on prestige, statistics, and money, Thacker says, students have lost faith, and education has taken a back seat. He writes:
"I saw the impact on this in the eyes of the kids" when he was working as a high school counselor, Thacker says. "The fear and anxiety increased as admissions became a game to be played, and parents told kids to pick activities based on what would help on their application. I had people calling and asking what sport would help their ninth-grader get into Harvard."
Some common sense advice offered by Thacker:
  • Resist taking any standardized test more than twice.
  • Try to limit the number of college applications you submit to no more than four to six. Studies show that students who apply to fewer colleges, once they have done reasonable research, often have better rates of acceptance and college success.
  • Remember: The more popular the college, the more political the admissions process and the less control you have in that process.
  • Carefully consider your reasons for accepting a position on any college's waiting list, and make sure you are set to go to a college to which you have been admitted. If you have selected your colleges confidently, you should have options.
  • Are you applying to a college just because the application process is easy?
  • Keep in mind that you are being judged according to criteria that you would never use to judge another person and which will never again be applied to you once you leave college.
  • Consider taking a year off between high school and college to work or follow your passions.
  • Approach high school as a necessary, significant, and enjoyable part of your life.
  • Take appropriately challenging courses; you are in charge of deciding what is appropriate.
  • Should you let an admissions dean, test score, GPA, or coach tell you what you are worth?

As a classroom teacher, I can appreciate Thackers motives, and I do like the tone of his advice. However, American society in general is resistant to change, and in the weird little world of Academia, the resistance to change borders on the fanatical.

There are just too many interests sinecures at stake to risk changing the status quo.

Sadly, this is our pessimistic (though realistic) prediction: There will be no meaningful changes in the admissions policies of our top-tier schools anytime in the foreseeable future. Our thirteen-year-old daughter (the TeenWonk) and her classmates will be the lesser for it.

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