Application Inflation
February 28, 2011 8:17 AM   Subscribe

"Measuring quality is difficult; measuring quantity is as easy as counting. The more apps a college receives, and rejects, the more impressive it seems." Eric Hoover in the Chronicle of Higher Ed takes on the arms race in college admissions offices. Hoover blogs about admissions issues at Head Count. Sadly, not everyone can write an essay like Hugh Gallagher.
posted by escabeche (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I refuse to believe Hugh Gallagher has actually spoken to Elvis.
posted by jaduncan at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2011

I fondly remember that Hugh Gallagher essay. He was in college at roughly the same time I was, and I remember that essay was among the first mass-forwarded emails that I remember getting over and over again. The Googles say he is (or was, semi-recently) performing in NYC as Von Von Von. Good for him.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2011

I was told that my college interviewed 14 other people for my place (I was the only one accepted for my course that year). It was a fairly salutory thing to be told in a 'must work hard now' way.
posted by jaduncan at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2011

My father interviewed at Princeton in the early 70s. After his interview, he was told by the admissions counselor that his chances were very slim, as they had already filled their quota of "people like him" for the class of 1976.

We're Jewish.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:00 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remarkably, the Gallagher essay, Chuck Norris Facts, and those Dos Equis ads can all be traced back to the Mahābhārata of ancient India, in which the hero Arjuna is repeatedly described as "he of correct dharma, strong-legged, high of chest, wielder of the celestial weapon rudra, who does not sleep, but rather waits."
posted by theodolite at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

My daughter is applying to school now and while she is no Hugh Gallagher, she can roll her eyes at parental direction faster than a bullet shot out of a Glock 9, she can shove her clothes under her bed so that we don't even find them for weeks, she can talk me out of a $20 bill as if money does actually grow on trees and she can ignore her brothers. Oh, she got a trophy for participating in 1st grade soccer. She refuses to wake up before 1:00pm on a weekend, she has a hard time grasping simple words like "no", yet she got a 34 on her ACT and has a 3.7 gpa. Amazing how she would do if she actually cared. Might even be able to do what Gallagher can do.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:15 AM on February 28, 2011

I volunteer at an after school program with youth who have faced a lot of challenges in life, and I see this problem with college admissions over and over again. A lot of our kids do the community college route, or don't go to college at all, but there's a good number of kids who really show promise (and interest) for doing well in a "traditional" college environment.

One young man I worked with last year during the application process--he was a good student, not outstanding, an athlete (again, okay, but not amazing), and involved in some community activities. His parents, who are refugees, believed in the power of education and had been encouraging him to attend a 4 year college since he was in middle school. Like Shaun Stewart, he had a decent GPA, and an average SAT score, and he was getting tons and tons of information from colleges in the mail, and tons of invitations to apply. So he thought, "Wow--I have a chance of attending UCLA, University of Chicago, freaking Harvard, etc etc." And, of course, he didn't. He's a great, great kid and a promising student, but just not that top 2% that these colleges are apparently looking for.

And the thing is, this kid already suffers from a sort of low confidence and constant disappointment in regards to academic achievement. He knows he's not the best of the best; he didn't get into that selective engineering summer program at the University the summer before, and he wasn't chosen to be on a student committee at his school, because it required a 3.8 GPA. He gets it, and somehow still had hope for the future--he worked hard, he overcame challenges, and, really--a 3.4 GPA isn't terrible or anything. So these rejections seemed particularly cruel to me. Like Mr. Stuart says, they were inviting him to apply just to reject him, and that really sucks.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2011

lPrinceton, like many ivy schools had quota for Jews. Now they have a Jewish Studies Program.

But there is an important point missed in this post: colleges love getting out the word on how elite and good they are so that they can get more and more applications. To reject. Why? Do the math on how much each application costs and multiply times the number a college receives...pure profit.
posted by Postroad at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

pure profit

Can you cite some university budgets that show this, then? Because I'm pretty sure this is not even remotely true. Most admissions offices aren't even close to self-funding, as far as I know; the application fees just help to pay for admissions officers who read all those applications, travel around visiting high schools, and so on. The real grievance here is that the rankings and "selectivity" arms race creates an incentive for colleges to solicit applications only in order to reject them; it's not about the fees themselves. If the process were a little more honest, the fees wouldn't even be necessary, because all those extra applications could just instantly be thrown away, eliminating the need to pay people to read them.
posted by RogerB at 10:28 AM on February 28, 2011

I am not a traditional student. I have 2 GCSEs and 2 A-levels (non-UK people. this is truly appalling) I went to Cambridge after a 1 year general uni access course.

I am, non-coincidentally, a supporter of admissions departments being able to make their own judgements.

PS: I did not pay to apply.
posted by jaduncan at 10:45 AM on February 28, 2011

Speaking of college admissions coverage, I've mostly been enjoying the NYT's The Choice blog and its surprisingly level-headed coverage of admissions issues over the last year or so. It's a rare case of the Times's yuppie-lifestyle supplemental coverage actually providing an intelligent take on its subject, and I think the blog has actually been responsible for cooling off and smartening up some of the previously clockwork-predictable email-forwarding frenzy for panic-button-pushing admissions stories every spring.
posted by RogerB at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2011

UBC's law faculty/school is notorious for being numerically focused, and reading very, very few essays.

One alleged essay from an admitted student was something like "I hate driving a shitty car. I would like to go to your law school so I can stop driving a shitty car. Thank you."

God bless 'em.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:06 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

We.,.. alright, it was me, I did it, I did it. I used to call it the funnel and say that if we were able to attract a wider range and number of applicants then we'd have a better chance of improving the class average GPA at intake, which is all part of Kotler's Strategic Marketing for Higher Education metrics by which the Board of Trustees evaluates your performance every semester. We did indeed improve our selectivity from "is there warm breath on the mirror" to "shit, find the funds to woo him/her/it away from MIT's Media Lab or Stanford etc".

There's pressure from funders, from the board, from administration, from the competitive rankings of US News & World Report.

As a human being who knew that I could NEVER use hard sell to get a student to take out the equivalent of a small mortgage for a degree they weren't 100% sure about, I also know that the focus on metrics can totally get out of hand leading in some cases to outright fraudulent practices.
posted by infini at 11:25 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gallagher clearly didn't need to go to college.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:47 AM on February 28, 2011

Some advice for Ghallager.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:51 AM on February 28, 2011

When I was applying to college in the very late 80's, apparently CalTech had been under some kind of pressure to increase the number of female students. I, along with every other girl I knew who'd checked "share my scores with colleges" on the SAT form and got over a 700 in Math received an application, and then another shortly before the application deadline. About a week after the deadline, I got another application with a letter suggesting that perhaps my application had been lost in the mail or I had forgotten to send it but they'd happily extend the deadline for me if I'd like to send it again. About a week after that deadline, I got yet another application in with a letter suggesting that perhaps my application had been lost in the mail or I had forgotten to send it but they'd happily extend the deadline for me if I'd like to send it again. This went on until sometime in early spring.

At the time I had no desire to wind up (a) in the sunny part of California or (b) at a tech school. In retrospect, I should have take them up on it.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2011

There's another side to this phenomenon which is, having managed to gain admission into a school, students being faced with departments who want to fail out as many students as possible so as to appear extremely rigorous and, I suppose, bad-ass in some way. I've had the immense displeasure of being stuck in such a department and the experience of discovering that you've landed in a virtual gladiatorial arena where you have to fight other students to academic death is disheartening to say the least.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2011

It ain't which college ya go to. It's what you bring.

A couple of decades down the road, nobody cares where you went except the alumni office. Save your money.
posted by Twang at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2011

The same thing happens in medical education. After all the applicants have been interviewed, each program puts together a "rank list", and so does each applicant.

An important measure of a residency's "pull" or competitiveness is how far down the rank list they have to go in order to fill their available slots. A residency that is able to fill five slots with applicants 1 through 8 on its rank list looks better to the administration than a residency that needs to go down to applicant # 20 to fill five slots. This leads to some distortion in the rank lists. For applicants, the advice is to fill out your rank list in a straightforward fashion, i.e., put your most favored residency as #1 on your list, second-favorite as #2, and so on, include on your list every program that is better than "scrambling" (failing to match, and having to hustle and make dozens of phone calls to try to secure a position).

For the residency, the calculus is different - the residency has to take into account not only the merits of the applicant, but also how likely that applicant is to rank the residency highly. Sometime residencies will withhold slots from the matching process for fear of not filling, or for fear of filling their last slot with an applicant who was way down on the residency's rank list.
posted by etherist at 6:33 AM on March 1, 2011

OK, so it's not the same thing as college applications, but whatever.
posted by etherist at 6:34 AM on March 1, 2011

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