Archive for the ‘Admissions’ Category


Over at his New York Times blog, The Choice, Jacques Steinberg is keeping and updating a chart outlining the admssions numbers at some of the most selective colleges and universities, which have just sent or are about to send out their yes-or-no letters. The most notable trend at this point, he says, is that

applications to elite private colleges rose again this academic year, despite the economic constraints on many families, and admission rates often fell to record lows.

Not all the numbers are in, but so far the biggest jumps in applications are at University of Pennsylvania, up more than 18 percent, and Brown, up more than 20 percent. (A commenter reported a 42 percent increase at U. of Chicago, but that’s not verified.) At Stanford, the acceptance rate was 7.2 percent and at Harvard, it was 6.9 percent, which is ridiculous.

My only response is to quote the last line of Wolcott GIbbs’ New Yorker profile of Henry Luce (written in Time-ese): “Where it all will end, knows God.”



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The child of a friend of mine, who has applied to the University of Delaware, got this e-mail on 2/26 from the UD coach of the varsity sport he/she participates in. (It is not a major sport and the child isn’t a highly recruited athlete, though he/she is probably good enough to play at UD). Here is the e-mail, which doesn’t mention the person’s name or say anything personal (that is, it’s a form e-mail):

“Congratulations! You have been admitted to the University of Delaware for the fall of 2010!  I’m letting you in on this great news a few weeks before any other students have been notified so that you can make your decision to attend Delaware now.  Official acceptance letters will start being mailed March 15th, so be patient it’s on its way! If you plan on attending Delaware please let me know by March 25th, if not before.”

This strikes me as sleazy. I guess there’s no problem with informing the applicant early, but I have a problem with the pressure to reply by 3/25, when most top colleges don’t reveal their decisions until 4/1. There’s an implication that the student might give up their spot if they don’t reply by 3/25, which is not true but which a naive high school student might fall for. And in general the pressure is out of line.


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NY Times reports that more than 100 colleges have eliminated their application fees. An idea whose time has come, right? With students applying to 10, 15, or even 20 schools, these fees, at $40 or $50 a pop, add up to real money, and a burden for all but wealthy families.

Not so fast. If students are even now trying their luck with all these colleges, how many will they apply to if it doesn’t cost anything? Fifty? A hundred? I have a one-word reaction to that prospect.


What’s more, the Times article suggests that some of the colleges have a rather cynical ulterior motive for dramatically upping the number of applicants. That’s right, the dreaded US News and World Report rankings, wherein the more students you reject, percentage-wise, the better you do.


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Oh, brother!

Can you imagine the Crouch household on December 15?

That’s the day that ALL FOUR of the Crouch quadruplets were accepted to Yale early action. Because Yale’s program is non-binding, each of them has applied to a handful of other top colleges as well, which they expect to hear from on April 1. According to the New York Times, financial aid will weigh heavily in their decision-making, as well as determining whether they want to continue their lifelong togetherness or branch out on their own.

Being only children, Ben and I don’t really get what it means to have a sibling.  But over my years of college work, I’ve seen many siblings choose the same institution, and thrive. At Swarthmore, there have been the Russo twins, now both in (different) medical schools, and the Amazing Davis Sisters, known for their dazzling smiles, Jamaican lilts, and brilliant accomplishments. (Mitzie-Ann is now a Philadelphia ob-gyn, and Marissa and Marsha-Gail led post-Katrina service projects in New Orleans. But Marissa really wow’ed me by singing back-up for Bruce Springsteen at Obama’s inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.) And to go way back to the 1970’s, I remember the Gross triplets at the University of New Hampshire – Maggie, Marianne, and Marie – who with their red hair were hardly inconspicuous, but who managed to forge separate groups of friends and identities.

So, readers out there who went to the same college as a sibling – what would you advise the Amazing Crouch Quads to do?


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Daze of decision

Well, the past week has been decision week for early decision applicants, and even though I’m two years removed from the process I still feel my pulse quicken, my palms sweating, and basically the whole flight or fight response kick in. (I’m not a fighter—get me Sully!)

Surprisingly, a New York Times survey of elite colleges reveals that all but two (Yale and Williams) reported increases in early-decision applicants. That’s surprising because, what with times being tough and all, you would think that applicants and their parents would want to keep their options open in terms of financial aid, whereas most early decision programs are binding, thus eliminating any negotiating leverage.

The paradox is explained by someone quoted in the Times:

“The fear of not getting in is a trump card,” said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, a private school, and a former admissions officer at Stanford. “That fear is more powerful than any piece of factual information, such as, ‘Gee, colleges are having a hard time with financial aid, maybe we should cast our net fairly widely and not jump the gun and throw our eggs all in one basket.”’

Yup, this process brings out fear and all sorts of other emotions. At our suburban high school, the winter concert was scheduled for the very same evening when many seniors got the word, so there was the unfortunate spectacle of kids coming out on the stage in tears to do their solos. A friend told me that on the day before decisions were announced he got a bizarre phone call from a coach who had been semi-recruiting his daughter: “Tell her to call me when she hears if she’s gotten in.” My friend thought that was the equivalent of white smoke. But no, the child was not even deferred, but rejected. He still has no idea what was going on with that phone call. And here and there one sees unseemly outbreaks of schadenfreude—people (almost always grownups) made merry by the misfortunes of their neighbors’ children.

The whole thing is bad medicine. My congratulations to all those who got good news, but to everybody else, I quote the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny!”


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Dirty little secrets

This could be a typical class at the University of Delaware

The dirty little secret of American colleges is …

Well, I could finish that sentence a number of different ways. One would probably deal with grade inflation, which in my impression has reached absurd proportions, especially in humanities depts. (where there are less likely to be patently right-or-wrong answers) and especially at elite colleges, where students, first, have gone through high school getting more or less straight As and have a powerful expectation of still getting them and, second, actually need good grades for their grad and professional school applications. (I was talking to an Ivy League prof the other night who said that the current standard is: A=excellent work, A-=good work, B=passable and undistinguished work. He said the among the many students who complain about grades, the biggest subset is students whom he has generously given A-s.)

Another unwashed secret has to do with admission of the children of bigtime donors. Someone at another elite school, with reason to know, told me that if your mom or dad has given big bucks, and you have the most minimal qualifications—along the lines of being able to eat without food coming out of your mouth—you are in.

But my theme today is affirmative action for guys. The United States Commission on Civil Rights announced today that it will investigate nineteen colleges for gender bias in admissions decisions. The specific bias is favoring males, and the reason for the bias is that without it, many colleges would resemble a regiment of women. The schools were reportedly randomly selected, with the exception that they are all within 100 miles of Washington, D.C., meaning that the Commission can subpoena them.

My own school, the University of Delaware, is on the list, and I imagine it is fairly typical, with a female-male ratio of 58-42 percent. UD reports that exact same ratio every year back to 2004, which raises some red flags on my part—60 percent being widely seen as the tipping point when excessive femaleness becomes a problem at a school, in terms of attracting males and females. So, yes, I suspect that there has favoritism towards guys in the admissions department. (By the way, things would be even more lopsided if we didn’t have an engineering school, with 79 percent male enrollment.)

But whatever the school, all this has always remained a suspicion: if such favoritism did indeed exist, it could not be said out loud. The only exception, to my knowledge, came when the dean of admissions at Kenyon College wrote a memorable New York Times oped nearly four years ago, “To All the Girls I’ve Rejected.” She described her staff struggling with the decision on a bright, engaged female student with grades and board scores in the middle of Kenyon’s range. The official admitted:

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit.

(She went to say that they ultimately decided to admit the student. It was a shrewd choice of example: if she had talked about a female student who hadn’t been admitted, the hue and cry would probably still be ringing through the halls of academe.)

It’s not exactly clear what power the Civil Rights Commission would have over these colleges, especially the private ones. But in any case, I say have at them, and get this stuff out in the open. The fewer secrets, the better.


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Nag, nag, nag

Marilee Jones: from dean to consultant

The New York Times reports that Marilee Jones is back doing college admissions work, after nearly three years of self-imposed exile. Ms. Jones, you may recall, was the revered Dean of Admissions at MIT, who left in disgrace after she was found to have falsified academic degrees on her resume. During her tenure as dean, she had developed a national reputation as an advocate for dialing down the stress of the college application process.

She is now continuing that work as a consultant, with a focus on parents, whom she identifies as being both perpetrators and victims of much of the hysteria that surrounds applying to college, as they  sort through a mess of their own issues about status and worth and fear of failure.

My kids will tell you that I am the queen of nag, nag, nag, and that I was a nightmare when they were applying to college. But in my own defense, assuming they didn’t go for a terrible match like the Citadel or Bob Jones University, I really wasn’t that worried about where they might end up.  However, I did want them to give it their best effort, and that meant starting early enough to be able to do their applications carefully and well. It’s a rare 18-year-old who can knock out a good essay in one sitting, the night before it’s due. (I say the same nag nag nag to my Swarthmore pre-med and pre-law students, too.)

After a good effort,  even though the waiting can be agonizing and the ultimate decision is sometimes disappointing, one can say “Je ne regret rien,” not “coulda, woulda, shoulda.”


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