Category Archive 'Andrew Ferguson'

06 Mar 2011

The College Admissions Process

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If you want to go to naked parties, first you have to be admitted to the appropriate elite college, and even if you don’t want to go to naked parties, you are going to need to get your ticket stamped in our credential-obsessed society in order to get any kind of serious job.

In my day, places like Yale, in the aftermath of Sputnik, were scouring the country in search of anybody with good standardized test scores. All you had to do was ace the 9th grade Stanford-Binet IQ test, then do well on the SATs and alumni representatives of Yale would come and plead with you to accept a full scholarship. Things are a bit more complicated today.

Daniel Akst, reviewing Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College in the Wall Street Journal, has a lot of negative things to say about the process.

The most darkly humorous aspect of this often hilarious book is its depiction of an admissions process that corrupts everything it touches.

It’s a process that discourages reticence by requiring students to write revealing and disingenuous personal essays; discourages thrift by regarding parental savings as fair game in the financial-aid evaluation; discourages intellectual curiosity by encouraging students to pursue grades rather than knowledge; and discourages honesty by transforming adolescence into a period of cynical calculation.

“At its most intense,” Mr. Ferguson writes, “the admissions process didn’t force kids to be Lisa Simpson; it turned them into Eddie Haskell. . . . It guaranteed that teenagers would pursue life with a single ulterior motive, while pretending they weren’t. It coated their every undertaking in a thin lacquer of insincerity. Befriending people in hopes of a good rec letter; serving the community to advertise your big heart; studying hard just to puff up the GPA and climb the greasy poll of class rank—nothing was done for its own sake.”

This stressful process practically demands cynicism from all parties. To “climb the page” in the closely watched U.S. News & World Report rankings, schools solicit applications so that they can increase the numbers they reject, thereby appearing more selective. Elite institutions claim to be open to all but devote wide swaths of their entering classes to athletes, the offspring of donating alumni, members of minority groups and others with “hooks” that give them an edge.

Matters have been complicated in recent years by the success of girls, who persist in outperforming boys academically in high school and outnumbering them in college. But a university may admit so many girls that a tipping point is reached, making boys even less likely to apply or, as Mr. Ferguson notes, “attracting the wrong kind of boys for the wrong reasons.”

Admissions officers have tried to rectify this problem by making schools more appealing to male applicants, expanding math and science departments, adding sports—and lowering admission standards for males, most of whom are white. Asian boys generally don’t need any such help. “After several generations of vicious racism,” Mr. Ferguson says, “followed by protest marches, civil rights lawsuits, accusations of bigotry, appeals to color-blindness, feminism, and eloquent invocations of the meritocratic ideal, the latest admissions trend in American higher education is affirmative action for white men. Just like the old days.”

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