Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


We're looking for someone with character
April 24, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Soft skills, such as "grit" and "creativity," are being increasingly considered in school admissions and job recruiting while standardized test scores and knowledge are being de-emphasized. But can you measure what they're looking for, or even gauge it holistically?

Side note: I thought it was interesting that the word "grit" appeared in both of the first two articles linked. Are you gritty? Do your experience, resume, cover letter, and essay show it? If so, how?
posted by ChuckRamone (81 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this was how you measured grit.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:11 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


No, they use the metric scale based on the millicogburn.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:14 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


"This applicant is stellar but lacks grit." Has a recruiter or admissions officer ever said that and rejected someone because of it?
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:14 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


"This applicant is stellar but lacks grit." Has a recruiter or admissions officer ever said that and rejected someone because of it?

If the candidate was a woman or a racial minority? Absolutely.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on April 24 [74 favorites]


Grit = 20 years old, willing to work 20 hours a day for $20,000 a year
Creativity = family connections to potential or existing clients
posted by infinitewindow at 7:17 AM on April 24 [67 favorites]


I'm sure this emphasis on grit can be traced fairly directly to the increasing number of geese occupying key administrative positions.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:19 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


I've said this before but I was once privy to the admission proccess for a very competitive university and at some point every one was so equally qualified that you start filtering out cause there are too many Taylors in this class.
posted by The Whelk at 7:20 AM on April 24 [29 favorites]


The hilarious (and somewhat telling) thing about this is that in sports, particularly baseball, "grit" has already been code for Substandard White Dude for years. But I'm sure that recruiters and admissions staff scouring applications for weird intangibles they can barely even describe won't inevitably result in more white dudes ending up in colleges and jobs over equally-or-better-qualified women and minorities.
posted by Copronymus at 7:20 AM on April 24 [25 favorites]


Are you tough enough to take on literally a lufe time worth of crippling debt?
posted by The Whelk at 7:20 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Even as the College Board announced in March 2014 that it will overhaul the SAT by making the essay optional, cutting obscure vocabulary words, and sharpening the focus of the math section, skepticism abounds. The SAT has undergone many changes before (the much-maligned analogies section was retired in 2005), but SAT scores have continued to reflect socioeconomic disparities.

As someone who really, really liked the analogies, essay, and obscure vocabulary words to the point that I actually had fun studying for the verbal section even though it was a waste of time I should have used to study for math, this makes me strangely sad.

I guess I'm just proving their point, though, sigh.
posted by quincunx at 7:23 AM on April 24 [11 favorites]


Are you tough enough to take on literally a lufe time worth of crippling debt?

They don't care how gritty you are when paying off your debts. Just how gritty you are before you get in.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:23 AM on April 24


Wasn't the first use of holistic measurements in college admissions designed explicitly to keep out Jewish people?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:24 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


I've said this before but I was once privy to the admission proccess for a very competitive university and at some point every one was so equally qualified that you start filtering out cause there are too many Taylors in this class.
Having once taught a pretty small class with three Taylors, I think this is totally reasonable. I feel so much sympathy for the Jennifer-teaching instructors of 1988.

I completely buy the grit thing, for what it's worth, but I'm deeply suspicious of attempts to measure it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:29 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I feel so conflicted about this because on one hand standardized approaches have the potential of leveling the playing field for academic and career admission. My concern is that it takes a tremendous amount of time (and well, grit) on the part of the interviewers to get to know the applicant well enough to make an informed decision.
posted by dgran at 7:34 AM on April 24


Wasn't the first use of holistic measurements in college admissions designed explicitly to keep out Jewish people?

Basically. I don't like linking to David Brooks but this was from a book review for The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, so it's probably safe to assume the book backs up the facts:
In the 1920's, the Protestant Establishment still dominated business and society. University administrators sensed that if they admitted too many Jews, they would alienate themselves from the power centers around them. So they restricted the number of Jews by shifting their admissions criteria and putting more emphasis on "character," measured by alumni connections, athletic skill and personal letters of recommendation. Applicants were less likely to be admitted if all they demonstrated was academic brilliance.
posted by griphus at 7:34 AM on April 24 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure why you people think grit is so difficult to objectively measure. Just use the standard metrics of ability to jump onto moving trains, ability to jump off of moving trains onto buildings, and eagerness to jump off of buildings and into dark holes in the ground.
posted by Balna Watya at 7:35 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


I'm pretty abrasive. Does that count as grit?
posted by srboisvert at 7:37 AM on April 24 [47 favorites]


The changes coming to the 2015 MCAT are another good example of this. The test has been so thoroughly gamed since its last revision that the average score has risen by about one point per year.

Meanwhile, medical schools and residency programs consistently complain that they have a lot of trouble finding enough qualified students who have the soft interpersonal and communication skills required to excel as clinicians.

While some might argue that interpersonal and communication skills are best gauged by, I don't know, interviews, the new MCAT aims to assess soft skills by testing students on topics in psychology and sociology. If you've ever had a weird professor of social sciences in college, you might agree with me that this is a dumb approach, but that's the AAMC for you.
posted by telegraph at 7:40 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


"So they restricted the number of Jews by shifting their admissions criteria and putting more emphasis on "character," measured by alumni connections, athletic skill and personal letters of recommendation."

That's still pretty common these days when someone is faced with a competitive Other. "Yeah, this person's pretty good. But they don't have heart like I do. They're just a soulless automaton."
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:40 AM on April 24 [11 favorites]


I thought grittiness was measured by how often you grit your teeth, how many teeth you have, and how over-inked the panels in which you appear are. Also, possibly, the number of useless pouches attached to your outfit. Also, also, random blood spatter.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:40 AM on April 24 [9 favorites]


I'm not very smooth, but I wouldn't describe myself as gritty either. Perhaps fuzzy, or sticky.

On second thought, let's not go there.
posted by Foosnark at 7:40 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I too am suspicious about the fact that admissions/hiring criteria are becoming even vaguer juuuuuuust as the applicant body is becoming majority nonwhite...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:46 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


I too am suspicious about the fact that admissions/hiring criteria are becoming even vaguer juuuuuuust as the applicant body is becoming majority nonwhite...

But ostensibly this is to redress socioeconomic barriers in standardized measures. Do you really think that's the reason?
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:49 AM on April 24


I too hate standardization. Tests are stupid and measure only your ability to take a test. Colleges should certainly take life experience and character into account, and obviously as a hiring manager I take character and likeability into account way more than any objective measurement. Of course I go out of my way to consider minority candidates and I would hope ethical colleges would as well. As others have said, this doesn't have to be a way for them to keep the asian population under 80% or something, though probably some places will do that because Ivies are assholes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


In order to measure them don't you need to define them first? Is there a consensus view on 'grit' and 'creativity'. Case in point: I was deemed wildly creative when I worked in a Law outfit, not so much when I worked in a theatre (I preferred the theatre if that counts for anything). Neither would have welcomed what I consider creativity - ie deep focus on original output with a serene lack of concern for other people's views thereof.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:59 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


There's certainly reason to be skeptical about measurements designed to get at something so amorphous as "character" in student applicants, but I'm troubled that people seem to think that somehow strictly "academic" criteria are free from socioeconomic distortions and will lead to just outcomes. It is true that, historically, university admissions departments went to holistic admissions protocols because they were worried about overrepresentation of Jewish applicants who were performing better than WASP applicants on strictly academic criteria. But that historical fact doesn't mean that the use of holistic criteria is always designed to enact a nefarious program of racial discrimination. As bad as the effect of Prop 209 in California was, for example, in dramatically reducing the number of black students admitted to the UCs in that state, the effect would have been even worse if the UCs had not changed their admission criteria to more holistic ones that give more chances to students whose SAT scores alone simply wouldn't get them into the conversation.

tl;dr: SAT scores correlate strongly with the socioeconomic status of students. Insisting on ignoring everything in the applicants' records other than their scores on strictly academic test is not a way of neutralizing the distorting pressures of race, class etc.; it's a way of institutionalizing them.
posted by yoink at 7:59 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


"grit" has already been code for Substandard White Dude for years.

In the NBA this is called "hustle," or being a "good teammate" with a high "basketball IQ."
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:08 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I think that grit is defined as something like the ability to stick with a difficult, frustrating, not-necessarily-immediately-rewarding task (or set of tasks) over a long period of time. So basically, if you find your math class tough and immediately drop it because you think you're bad at math, you may lack grit. If you go talk to your TA and ask for extra problems so you can keep working them until you understand them, you probably have a lot of grit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:10 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


"This applicant is stellar but lacks grit." Has a recruiter or admissions officer ever said that and rejected someone because of it?

If the candidate was a woman or a racial minority? Absolutely.


This is a running joke in sportswriting. White guys on sports teams who are average-to-good at their position yet are still well liked by fans are described as having -

Grit
Work ethic
a High-motor
Hustle
Smarts
Leadership
Intangibles
Club-house presence

Black guys of the same caliber are described as having -

Natural gifts
Athleticism
Instincts
Good Fundamentals
Personality
Team-first attitude
Potential

- plus a "well spoken" for a bingo.

The white athletes all earn it, you see, while the black athletes have it handed to them on a platter. The average-to-good black athletes everyone loves all know their place, too.

It's pernicious bullshit.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:11 AM on April 24 [39 favorites]


And as far as if employers are good at gauging people or not, take a look around at your co-workers this morning. Then take a peek in the executive offices. It's always been a huge crap-shoot, and most people haven't the least clue how to do an interview that correlates with if someone will be good at the job or not.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:12 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Might this kind of thing be useful?
Discoverables is built by youth charity Spark+Mettle to enable young people aged 16–24 to translate their capabilities and their life experience into work-readiness. The website allows them to uncover their signature strengths, capabilities and skills, to prove and improve them, and to learn how they can articulate these in ways that are relevant to you and your organisation.
posted by fay at 8:14 AM on April 24


Did you guys read the article? "Grit" as defined here has nothing to do with that sports thing. If anything identifying those candidates with positive attitudes and ability to overcome adversity would lead to more hardworking minority candidates who don't test well to go to better schools. In conclusion: Read the article.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:15 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I've said this before but I was once privy to the admission proccess for a very competitive university and at some point every one was so equally qualified that you start filtering out cause there are too many Taylors in this class.

Stanford's admission rate this year was 5.7%. So yeah, they rejected a ridiculous number of candidates who were without question above and beyond qualified. I imagine that somewhere in the process, the admissions officers start making paper airplanes out of everyone's applications and whichever ones fly farthest get accepted, because that's not even the nuttiest way to pick the class.
posted by rtha at 8:15 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Has a recruiter or admissions officer ever said that and rejected someone because of it?

If the candidate was a woman or a racial minority? Absolutely.


I'm in no way denying sexism in general, but in the case of college admissions, women get admitted in significantly higher numbers than men.
posted by the jam at 8:16 AM on April 24


When I was in grad school there was a lot of conversation about a claimed surge in applicants from China who had totally gamed the GRE and other numerical parts of the application process without necessarily being holistically qualified (eg having near perfect toefl scores while not speaking much English, say). There was probably some truth to that (including articles about systemic cheating) but it was also an expression of concern about too many of "them" coming in and changing "our" schools.

I have read accounts of the same kinds of discussions happening around the "too many Jews in the ivies" thing decades ago -- and as described above, the answer was to change the admissions criteria.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:18 AM on April 24


What the Google guy is saying is about not caring about degrees is nothing new as far as what tech companies have been doing since at least the late '90s.

What will you get at a tech interview? Trivia questions- the worst way possible to try to find out if someone is good at their work. Companies have a list of questions, and they have their current developers, who tend to be very very unskilled at doing interviews, ask them to developer candidates by rote. They usually expect one "right" answer with no room for independent thought.

It's to the point where I once aced an interview because a recruiter had found out the trivia questions from the last candidate she sent, and I just googled them beforehand and they asked me the exact same thing.

If you happen to be a Javascript developer, you will always always be asked "What is a closure?" for some unfathomable reason. If you don't want the job, the correct answer is, "Something that people ask about in tech interviews that's good for writing unnecessarily confusing code and causing memory leaks."
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:20 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


You can test grit with the pain-box that they used at the beginning of Dune.
posted by zscore at 8:20 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]


Did you guys read the article? "Grit" as defined here has nothing to do with that sports thing.

Yes, it does. It's an unmeasurable intangible, a "knows it when I sees it" quality. It will always be used to identify qualified members of an in-group in the end, no matter how noble the initial intentions are.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:21 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


"Grit" as defined here has nothing to do with that sports thing. If anything identifying those candidates with positive attitudes and ability to overcome adversity would lead to more hardworking minority candidates who don't test well to go to better schools.

Is there a chance this will just be used by canny Admissions staff in place of outright affirmative action?

I mean, if a university has decided that a racially-diverse student body is a priority, but this week's SCOTUS decision hampers them in making it an explicit policy, then could they oinstead use this intangible attribute of "grit" to pick whoever they like to fill out their lists of applicants who receive an offer?

(Not judging, just asking.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:23 AM on April 24


The Whelk: "Are you tough enough to take on literally a lufe time worth of crippling debt?"

WRT to grit, I think you should have asked "Are you a bad enough dude to take on literally a lifetime's worth of crippling debt?! And maybe rescue the president?"
posted by barnacles at 8:23 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


My conclusion would be that almost every company and institution in the world is somewhere between "complete failure" and "highly problematic" at making decisions based on "hard" skills, so I don't see a suddenly shift to emphasizing pie-in-the-sky ultra-subjective "soft" skills making any of the current problems a whole lot better.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:23 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Lordy, I never what to be interviewed at Google. That article was... too much...

I feel like I need to go brush my teeth or wash my soul or something..
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:25 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Wasn't the first use of holistic measurements in college admissions designed explicitly to keep out Jewish people?

Yes, and now we have Chinese, Indian and other south Asian, Japanese, Korean and yet other students to keep out as well, so it's high time we developed new tools.
posted by jamjam at 8:26 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


I'm just coming out the other end of the college application process with my daughter, and one thing that was very clear is that when you get to the interview round for the big merit based scholarships, it's basically a crapshoot. At that point the school is interviewing (for 20-30 minutes each) hundreds of kids who all have a 4.0, 1400+ on the SAT, community service, extra-curricular stuff, state championships, etc. etc. etc. They school really can't lose at that point. They are all high achievers, almost all of them are going to do just fine in college. So how do the schools pick the scholarship winners?

My theory is it comes down to your story connects with the person you are interview with. You could have the exact same interview experience with 10 different interviewers in a day at a school, and probably win the scholarship 3-4 times. And maybe that interviewer is looking for grit - a kid that didn't have as easy road to get that interview. Or maybe one is looking for kids that seem more naturally inclined to give back and help others, or whatever. It's basically luck if you get paired up with the interviewer team that connects with your story.

The moral being being don't let your ego, or your kids ego, take a hit because you didn't win the scholarship. You won getting to the interview, it's mostly out of your control after that.
posted by COD at 8:26 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Does sand count?

But at last, just as I was sailing by, FLASH comes the light in Mary Jane's window! and my heart swelled up sudden, like to bust; and the same second the house and all was behind me in the dark, and wasn't ever going to be before me no more in this world. She WAS the best girl I ever see, and had the most sand.
--Huckleberry Finn
posted by chavenet at 8:29 AM on April 24


It's an unmeasurable intangible, a "knows it when I sees it" quality. It will always be used to identify qualified members of an in-group in the end

So do, pray, tell us what the pure criteria are for selecting students that are wholly free from socioeconomic pressures and which in no way unfairly advantage "in groups" of one kind or another.
posted by yoink at 8:31 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I'm in no way denying sexism in general, but in the case of college admissions, women get admitted in significantly higher numbers than men.

Please put grenade and /grenade tags around comments so people understand you are rushing to a talking point defending a stance that will likely still not end well. Even with data behind what you are saying regarding admissions numbers, there are additional realities.

If a college is uninviting to a particular minority, they will have to over-admit that minority in order to obtain their quota since that minority group may still not want to go there. This has twofold effect, one: the school can pat themselves on the back by standing up against the patriarchy, and two: they can pat themselves on the back by maintaining the patriarchy.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:33 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


It will always be used to identify qualified members of an in-group in the end, no matter how noble the initial intentions are.

If they wanted more rich white people they could just keep accepting people from good schools with high SAT scores its not exactly difficult though. The key to a diverse and still successful student body is coming up with criteria that allows you to find people that will thrive in an academic environment.

I mean I get the skepticism but I see grit as "Found a baby sitter for the younger sibling he takes care of so he could get a medium score on the SATs" or "Taught herself basic French to write an essay about Camus after her school cancelled all language programs" or "Formed a GLBT club in a small town in Texas and spoke in front of the City Council about bullying." That ability should count way more than some list of letter and number achievements.

Maybe I'm being naive but the plan, as defined in the article, seems like a great step forward for higher education. The alternative, to be 100% "objective" and numbers-based, has just lead to continued lack of diversity.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:33 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


If you're using flawed quantitative data, the solution is to improve the data collection and analysis, not get rid of data altogether for gut feelings.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:36 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


If a college is uninviting to a particular minority, they will have to over-admit that minority in order to obtain their quota since that minority group may still not want to go there.

With women it is the opposite -- just admitting based on scores and extracurriculars would mean incoming classes wildly biased toward women. To get the ratio down to 60:40 or 65:45 takes informal affirmative action for male applicants. (Including, I suppose, "grit" now.)

Why it is a crisis to have mostly female students is of course a question that comes to mind.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:39 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


If you're using flawed quantitative data, the solution is to improve the data collection and analysis, not get rid of data altogether for gut feelings.

First of all, that is why in the article a new test to determine someone's level of stick-to-itveness is proposed.

But everything can't be quantitative. A candidate's history and personality is important and giving admissions officers the tools to find good candidates from working class backgrounds is way better for our society and for the schools and employers as well.

There is no such thing as a fair, unfettered meritocracy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:45 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


There's certainly reason to be skeptical about measurements designed to get at something so amorphous as "character" in student applicants, but I'm troubled that people seem to think that somehow strictly "academic" criteria are free from socioeconomic distortions and will lead to just outcomes.

On the one hand, yes, traditional criteria for these things like measurements and theoretically-but-not-really objective standards have a history of being biased toward the already privileged. On the other hand, at least when there are standards, you can meet or exceed them. To bring up another sports analogy, the most popular and successful black athletes in the first half of the 20th century were mostly boxers and track stars, largely because those are sports where you can objectively beat anyone who decides to play against you (obviously this is somewhat less true of boxing, but even there, if you knock someone out, you knock them out, no questions asked). Now, obviously, black track stars and boxers had a million other things against them, from not being allowed to compete to inferior training facilities and equipment, but if they could still win, they did, without someone else stepping in to assign those victories to someone else because they didn't like the look of Jesse Owens.

In a lot of ways, I feel like most hiring and college acceptance decisions are still in that place, where even unfairly objective standards that can be known and met are better than what we have with all of the gut feelings and judgments about character based on 15 minute interviews and whatnot. People hate credentialism, and for good reason, but the place where credentialism in hiring is most prominent is the federal government, and their employee demographics are almost certainly closer in line to the country's than any other employer. In a perfect world, I'd absolutely be in favor of hiring people based on non-quantitative factors and personality decisions, but we're not there yet and won't be for a while barring comprehensive re-education of multiple generations of hiring managers and applications officers.
posted by Copronymus at 8:55 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]


If you're using flawed quantitative data, the solution is to improve the data collection and analysis, not get rid of data altogether for gut feelings.

The problem is not that the data are flawed: it's not that there are people out there in the ETS company who are selectively altering the actual SAT scores of students according to their socioeconomic status. The problem is that no matter how perfectly you assess student capacity to perform a variety of purely academic tasks the results do not tell you everything you need to know about that student's aptitude for higher education. And the reason for this is that the students are not arriving at the moment of applying for university free from a whole slew of distorting social pressures. The kids whose parents can afford extra coaching, who send their children off to good schools with a good breakfast in their stomachs, who provide enriching extra-curricular activities to them and bring them up in an environment that is safe and nurturing (etc. etc. etc.) are going to perform better, by and large, on the strictly academic tests than the kids for whom all or some of those things are not true. So to stand back and say "let's ignore everything but performance on strictly academic tests because those are nice and clear" is just to say "let's just let privilege replicate itself."

And the point about ETS's PPI test (and other such mechanisms) is that they do, in fact objectively outperform strict academic performance as predictors of student performance once students reach university. That is, the nice, clear-cut, purely academic tests that you want to privilege do not in fact do as good a job at sorting the people who will thrive and succeed at university from those who will not as the fuzzy, impressionistic, evaluative tests that you deprecate.
posted by yoink at 8:55 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


In a perfect world, I'd absolutely be in favor of hiring people based on non-quantitative factors and personality decisions, but we're not there yet and won't be for a while barring comprehensive re-education of multiple generations of hiring managers and applications officers.

OK cool so we'll just keep the current system until the perfect one comes along. Problem solved!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:58 AM on April 24


where even unfairly objective standards that can be known and met are better than what we have

I suspect you have no idea just how drastically such a program would affect minority enrollment at elite universities, and just how strongly it would act to entrench socioeconomic privilege. I, for one, do not see that that would be a "better" outcome than what we have now.
posted by yoink at 9:02 AM on April 24


I think if we're going to go the "grit" and "intangibles" route, we need to get rid of the standardized tests and GPAS and extracurriculars and essays and send every high school senior in America a form with just one question:

Are you a bad enough dudette or dude to rescue the President?

Answer "Yes" and you're in. Answer "No" and it's off to the salt mines with you.

Problem solved.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:03 AM on April 24


Standardization and metrics have the problem of still being totally gamable, and often arbitrarily designed but with the veneer of being authoritative and unquestionable.

I wish we had a public school curriculum that taught soft skills like facilitation, conflict management, consensus building, active listening, managing up, peer coaching and leading from the back of the room. This skills are utterly trainable and are exactly the skills that create a foundation for democracy.

Lack of training in these skills is part of why we have dysfunction from PTA meetings to board rooms to activist and political circles. So much time wasted on petty differences instead of real issues. I've seen shouting matches over when to hold a meeting +/- 15 minutes when the real issue was saving peoples' homes -- and both shouters were on the same side!

We give kids random group homework assignments where kids group with their best friends and/or one kid does all the work and we call that team training. Maybe some kids are extra good at a jump shot and we call them leaders as if that's a valuable skill for the jury box.
posted by Skwirl at 9:09 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


You know, the quality of this discussion would be greatly improved if people would actually invest just sufficient time to read up on what the PPI (and other such measures) actually involves rather than imagining some situation where an admissions officer meets for 10 minutes with a student and decides whether or not they like the cut of their jib.
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]



I've said this before but I was once privy to the admission proccess for a very competitive university and at some point every one was so equally qualified that you start filtering out cause there are too many Taylors in this class.


Which goes to show we are fretting over the wrong issue. College admissions and job decisions will always be unjust, arbitrary, and irrational. What doesn't have to be true is that those who roll snakeeyes in that crap shoot have to be condemned to poverty.
posted by ocschwar at 9:17 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Just make all applicants run a Spartan Death Race and the top x finishers get in.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:22 AM on April 24


"grit" has already been code for Substandard White Dude for years.

In the NBA this is called "hustle," or being a "good teammate" with a high "basketball IQ."


In hockey it's usually about fighting, hitting, and willingness to block shots with your body (though I find that in hockey the term gets applied to just about anyone, with the NHL's few black players like Wayne Simmonds, Jarome Iginla, Joel Ward and Evander Kane getting called gritty frequently). I wonder if Canadian universities are going to ask applicants to jump in front of a slapshot.
posted by Hoopo at 9:34 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


grit == when some muckety-muck reviews your project three days before deadline and requests a dozen trivial cosmetic changes that will all take more than an hour to perform, you just smile and say "sure! that won't take too long!"
posted by bukvich at 9:36 AM on April 24


Nope that's wrong. Grit = "the ability to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 AM on April 24


with regards to college admission criteria, I think we're looking at this backwards.

education is a right, and a requirement. a "good" school is one that can take anyone, even those who have missed out a lot of education in highschool and before that, and give them the tools required for a career.

But instead, we see that the "Best" schools exclude all the difficult students. It makes you wonder, do they get good students because they are good, or are they good because they get good students?

It's like the parable in the bible, where god takes the talent of gold away from the servant who buried it, and gives it to the servant who invested it. Taking opportunity from those who have little, and giving it to those who already have much.

I think we should turn the tables. Make universities apply for students! Students can register themselves in a database, and (accredited only!) universities can send students applications advertising how that university will help them long-term. Then, students can choose which school to attend, and all schools have to make due with whatever students show up.

At the start, there will have to be some sort of raffle system to ease top schools into high-capacity mode, but eventually it will work out.
posted by rebent at 10:08 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I think we should turn the tables. Make universities apply for students! Students can register themselves in a database, and (accredited only!) universities can send students applications advertising how that university will help them long-term. Then, students can choose which school to attend, and all schools have to make due with whatever students show up.

Given that the vast majority of students apply to multiple schools, that's essentially already the system. Universities put a great deal of time and money into wooing the best students and trying to persuade them (and their parents) that "Blank U is the right place for you!"
posted by yoink at 10:16 AM on April 24


Stanford's admission rate this year was 5.7%. So yeah, they rejected a ridiculous number of candidates who were without question above and beyond qualified.

Or they encouraged a lot of not-particularly-qualified people to apply, because "most selective college in the country" is a blue-chip marketing tool. The students aren't the only ones who can game the metrics.
posted by escabeche at 10:44 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


The Downside of "Grit"
posted by Backslash at 10:46 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


The Downside of "Grit"

Wow, that's a shallow piece of writing. The downside of grit, it turns out, is that if someone is persistent at something bad, that's not a good thing. Gosh, what a wonderful insight. Next we can have "the downside of matches": arsonists can use them! "The downside of pianos": people might play music you don't like!. "The downside of intelligence": smart people pursuing bad ends are more effective at achieving them than dumb people!
posted by yoink at 10:56 AM on April 24 [4 favorites]


Did like almost nobody actually RTFA?

The main article is about the difficulty in measuring traditionally unquantifiable traits and the effort to try to standardize such quantification to, among other things, improve predictors of success in college. Quantification of multiple intelligences is, at the end of the day, good for equity.

It's hard to see how this is in any way a bad thing. Psychologists have been talking for 30 years about models of multiple intelligences. Recognizing that there are ways to be 'smart' other than the traditional logic-based models of intelligence and that such intelligences should count in some way in college admissions is a huge step forward. The interesting question becomes how do you measure and standardize the measurements of these multiple intelligences in order to be able to compare them (which is, at the end of the day, what college admissions offices need to do).

It's a very interesting and difficult problem that cuts to the very heart of what we value as a society. Deciding how to measure something is one in the same with deciding what it is you wish to measure - and this is very revealing. Call it what you will, but it's hard to argue that 'grit' - defined here as "the ability to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals" is critical to success in college and in life. The point of developing a standardized way to measure something like this intelligence (call it grit or perseverance or whatever you like) is to try to diminish the role of biases (of gender, wealth, race, etc) in making admission decisions. I do not think we are likely to repeat the same mistakes that were made (and continue to be made) in predicting success through the SAT. Most admissions folks recognize the outdated nature and poor-predicting ability of the SAT and ACT. So I hardly see why this push will do anything but help traditionally disparaged populations in the admission process.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:30 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


I assume universities are moving away from standardized testing simply because high schools are leaning so heavily on them now. Like how when I started high school they had just switched from semesters to quarters and then when I started college they had just switched from quarters to semesters.
posted by ckape at 11:31 AM on April 24


Yeah, I think the "Downside of Grit" guy is responding to a caricature of the grit argument, not to the actual thing. Nobody is saying that persistence is the only thing that matters and that students should persist indefinitely regardless of the feasibility or desirability of their goal. They're saying that the ability to persist through hardship and frustration is one of many factors that makes a person a successful student. When I talk about this with students, which I do a lot, I also talk about the importance of self-awareness, flexibility, and curiosity. I talk about whether their ultimate goal is a good fit for their interests, strengths and personality. I talk to them about whether they enjoy what they're studying. And if they do, then we discuss how there will probably always be difficult and boring aspects of working towards any goal, and we strategize about how to get through the difficult and boring parts. It's not like "sit down, shut up, and keep doing this rote task for 20 years because I hate students and want to torment them with my mean Protestant work ethic."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:36 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Finally, David Eckstein can go to Harvard.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I've said this before but I was once privy to the admission proccess for a very competitive university and at some point every one was so equally qualified that you start filtering out cause there are too many Taylors in this class.

...missing out on a much more fun option where you buy one of those spinning lottery ball baskets, assign everyone a number, and let Lady Luck decide for you.
posted by emjaybee at 11:48 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I kinda feel like things might be mitigated somewhat if ALL secondary & post-secondary institutions were legally required to put, in writing, the reason for every single acceptance and rejection they issue in a calendar year and to also post those reasons in tabular form on the internet.

If any reason is subsequently shown to be falsified, the top three levels of the university management are fired along with the entire board and the last three years of their remuneration (in any form whatsoever, so enjoy paying back the costs for those buffets!) clawed back.

Take the secrecy and hand-waving obfuscation out of the affair and let kids know what screwed them, or not.

Dear X, you are hereby accepted! Your application was received five minutes after the application period formally opened, so our standards hadn't really stiffened up yet, and we liked that you talk a lot about baseball in your essay, because the provost likes baseball.

Dear Y, you are unfortunately not suitable for our institution because your name is Meghan, and the dean felt that was a stupid spelling. We chose a wealthy kid from Bemidji instead, thinking that if we have to deal with stupid spellings we may as well hope for an endowment out of it.

Dear Z, you are on the wait list because you missed the necessary SAT score by two points. There are two thousand kids ahead of you who only missed by one point, and we will be accepting them in alphabetical order, so don't hold your breath.
posted by aramaic at 11:57 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Or they encouraged a lot of not-particularly-qualified people to apply, because "most selective college in the country" is a blue-chip marketing tool. The students aren't the only ones who can game the metrics.

Maybe? If so, they're not alone - all or nearly all the other tier 1/Ivy schools had record numbers of people applying and record or near-record lows in acceptance rates. From what I know, acceptance rates have been dropping at these schools for years, partly I'm sure as a result of the "everyone HAS to go to college" culture, and partly as a result of the wider adoption of the common application, which means it's a hell of a lot easier to apply to 12 schools than it used to be.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on April 24


I'm in no way denying sexism in general, but in the case of college admissions, women get admitted in significantly higher numbers than men.

Women are also applying in significantly higher numbers than men. As far as acceptance rates, women still face either lower acceptance rates than men or equal acceptance rates (as a percentage) due to, as mentioned above, colleges internally accepting more men to maintain gender balances at the school.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:30 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


I think we should turn the tables. Make universities apply for students! Students can register themselves in a database, and (accredited only!) universities can send students applications advertising how that university will help them long-term. Then, students can choose which school to attend, and all schools have to make due with whatever students show up.

I took the PSATs in 1994. I did pretty well, so a bunch of colleges bombarded me with all sorts of glossy pictures and swag. I ended up going to a college I hadn't initially considered till the calendar arrived at my doorstep. Does this not happen today? God, I'm old.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:24 PM on April 24


//Does this not happen today? //

Oh, it happens today. Several small forests sacrificed their lives so that my daughter could receive college brochures. University of Chicago probably accounted for 2 Redwoods alone. Too bad U Chicago doesn't offer an animal science program, because I hear it's a good school. She says she got 3X as much email to add to the all the glossy brochures.

Seriously, do these schools not realize that the kids all select a major on the SAT form? 90% of the mail she got was from schools that didn't even offer what she wanted to study.
posted by COD at 4:35 PM on April 24


Seriously, do these schools not realize that the kids all select a major on the SAT form? 90% of the mail she got was from schools that didn't even offer what she wanted to study.

They know the information is there but it's not worth using it to narrow down the prospect pool because most kids don't have particularly concrete life plans in mind at that age.
posted by ghharr at 5:10 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


My theory is it comes down to your story connects with the person you are interview with.
As an interviewer, I gotta say that the interviews have very very low standing in the overall process. Of the 30+ kids I've interviewed, only two have been admitted, and they were definitely not the ones I wanted to see there. Either the admissions committee decided to go with "the opposite of whatever whatzit said" or the admissions are very competitive (they are) or the interviews are relatively unimportant (they are). They are definitely looking for a different kind of student than when I was admitted, about, yikes, fifteen years ago.
posted by whatzit at 1:49 AM on April 27


So what kind of student were they looking for then, and what kind of student are they looking for now?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:33 PM on April 27


« Older Ken Tanaka and David Ury’s ‘Everybody Dies’. A boo...  |  Up Close on Baseball's Borders... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments