10 Disturbing Facts About The College Admissions Process


Whatever college admissions counselors are getting paid, it probably isn’t enough. They each have the unenviable task of parsing through hundreds or even thousands of eager young students’ applications, most of whose dreams they will have to dash to pieces with a single stroke of a pen. Still, they are cogs in a process that is rife with enough stuff to discompose, discombobulate, distress, and discomfort anyone who happens to look right at it for too long.

  1. Web profiles are coming back to haunt students:

    It’s surprising that the figure isn’t even higher, but three-quarters of teenagers are social media users, and almost all of them are on Facebook. And apparently one-third of them are poor judges of what constitutes appropriate material for sharing. From 2011 to 2012, admissions officers increased their social media background checks on applicants only slightly, but the percent that found something that hurt students’ chances of getting into their particular school nearly tripled, to 35%. Considering that only a fraction of colleges conduct criminal background checks despite one in 29 students having criminal records (as of 2009), the weight attributed to youthful indiscretions posted online is troubling indeed.

  2. The bar is higher for Asian-Americans:

    Considering race is an issue we’ll be talking about more, but none of us like to imagine race being a factor that makes it more difficult to be admitted to a certain school. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what’s happening for Asian-American students. A 2009 book found a 140-point SAT penalty waged against Asian applicants, meaning a 1600 scored on the test by an Asian American applicant would be considered equally with a 1460 by a white student. The investigations have already begun, but until they are completed, many applicants will think hard before checking the “Asian-American” box on their applications.

  3. The SAT range can be very misleading:

    Contrary to a growing belief that the SAT is an unfair or otherwise poor indicator of student success in college, recent research has found it is still a useful part of the admissions process. That being said, the commonly-seen “25/75 percentile” — the stat that reveals the range of scores the middle half of last year’s incoming freshmen class scored on the SAT — might lead a student to believe he is well within the range of acceptance when in reality he’s as much as 200 points behind the majority.

  4. Admissions consulting has become big (and often ugly) business:

    Can we all agree the system needs tweaking when over one out of every five students in private colleges has used private admissions consultants to get in and the number of said consultants has doubled since 2010? And when consultants are taking fees as high as $2 million to get Junior into Harvard? Disconcerting as those facts alone are, some of these companies are less than above-board. As one stateside application coach working for a Chinese firm discovered, some consulting groups go beyond essay editing so far they’re treading “dangerously close to plagiarism.”

  5. Colleges are judging the entire student:

    Imagine having a dozen strangers perusing your academic achievements, your family background, your high school activities, your essays about who you are and who you want to be, and basically everything else that makes you you and deciding you just don’t “fit.” “Institutional fit” they call it, and at 21% of schools, it’s the first cut you have to survive in the admissions process. Not only does this method have the potential to vary wildly by school, it is alarming that schools promote this “holistic” approach, as the ones who are rejected have little else to conclude than that they have been rejected as whole people, not just students.

  6. Schools have been caught fixing their admissions numbers:

    As The New York Times put it, the early 2012 news that a top-flight school like Claremont McKenna had manipulated its admissions numbers left the academic world “dismayed.” We’re simply going with disturbed. Emory University coming clean about having also lied about admissions data for a decade did little to help our disturbia. The two were simply the latest examples of colleges manipulating data to improve their rankings and get more applicants in a system that now relies heavily on those rankings.

  7. Considering race sets back desegregation:

    Here’s something pretty much nobody saw coming: the states that don’t allow race to be considered in college admissions may actually help move along the process of desegregation that unfortunately is still underway some 50 years later. A study out of Georgetown University just found that in states where schools aren’t allowed to factor race (like California, Florida, and Texas), black students’ exposure to white students increased 1.45%. More work will no doubt need to be done on this line of inquiry, but it needs to happen sooner than later as the Supreme Court may rule soon on the constitutionality of using race in college admissions.

  8. Legacies get a huge boost:

    Much like in other areas of life, the best thing you can do for yourself is be born into a privileged family. The legacy system is one of the most off-putting aspects of the college admissions process, except obviously to those lucky few who benefit. How much do they benefit, exactly? A Harvard researcher found that at elite universities, being what he called a “primary” legacy (having a parent who attended the desired college as an undergrad) was good for a 45% bump in the chances of getting in. So to put that in perspective, having the right parents can take your chances of being admitted from 5% to 50-50.

  9. Applicants who can pay have a better chance of getting in:

    Darn you, recession; have you no decency? Must you invade the hallowed halls of academia as well? Yes, cynical as it may seem, news began to emerge in 2011 that more than half of public universities and a third of four-year colleges had cranked up the search for students who didn’t need any financial assistance. Nearly 20% of admissions officials at private colleges even admitted that most of the full-pay students they were letting in had worse scores than their peers.

  10. Random admissions committee comments can make or break you:

    As our readers familiar with the actual workings of the college admissions process will know, most applicants go through several stages of cuts before being finally accepted, the final stage often being an admissions committee meeting where a panel discusses each student together. As the Daily Beast reported, at a “top” northeastern liberal arts school (that obviously would not appreciate being named), comments from these talks revealed such bizarre, vague, and otherwise outrageous disqualifiers as not “feeling a spark” from an application, how the student stacked up against an already admitted sibling, and whether the decision would “make sense to the high school.”

Posted on 01/15/13 | by Staff Writers | in Resources | No Comments »

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