The Atlantic's College-Admissions Survey
October 22, 2003 8:58 AM   Subscribe

November's Atlantic Monthly includes their First Annual College-Admissions Survey: a collection of articles intended to give "a realistic portrayal of the admissions system." The survey includes articles on the chaotic nature of the admissions process, the rise of "late-decision" admissions, a way to rank colleges that might actually mean something, whether selectivity actually means anything, and bias in standardized testing. Will this survey restore some sanity to the process (as the editors seem to hope), or is it just the equivalent of the U.S. News & World Report rankings for the cognac set?
posted by Johnny Assay (9 comments total)
The NSSE might be cool, but after searching all over their web site for the results, I finally found this statement buried on Page 21 of their annual report:

...public disclosure is an institutional
decision; NSSE does not make institutional
scores available to third parties nor do we
endorse the use of student engagement results
in rankings

So there is no way to find out the results, unless the particular university decides to pubish. And there is no table anywhere with all of the results. Worthless to a potential student trying to find a good university.
posted by Xoc at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2003

It's such a myth that there's anything particularly "insane" about the college admissions process. Compared to looking for a job, it's downright straightforward.

The NSSE criteria sound interesting, but since they actually ask students what they think, I'm sure that it's only a matter of time before someone accuses them of catering to coddled, pampered students who view education as a consumer product, contributing to grade inflation and so on.
posted by transona5 at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2003

Is this Bash Higher Education week on MeFi?
posted by gsteff at 11:48 AM on October 22, 2003

A worthwhile read is The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premiere College in which the author, Jacques Steinberg, spends about a year with the admission staff and student applicants to Wesleyan University's class of 2004.
posted by gsh at 12:51 PM on October 22, 2003

Thanks for the links, I was meaning to pick up this month's Atlantic for this very reason. Seems like I've been saved a trip to Barnes and Noble. (FYI, two years ago they ran an excellent story about the early decision process that's worth a look).

The college application process does seem to have evolved into an insanely competitive beast. I conduct alumni interviews for my school (Northwestern) and the high schoolers applying today come in with two-page resumes. I spent my teen years playing Nintendo and shooting hoops. It makes a little sad to think that today 15 year-olds feel a tremendous pressure to succeed.

BTW -- The Princeton Review's Message Board provides an interesting take on the admissions game from those who in the midst of it.
posted by herc at 1:36 PM on October 22, 2003

Johnny Assay, I don't understand what you mean when you ask if the Atlantic survey is "just the equivalent of the U.S. News & World Report rankings for the cognac set." The Atlantic survey doesn't contain any rankings; it's just a critique of aspects of the ranking process. How could it be equivalent?
posted by jcruelty at 2:19 PM on October 22, 2003

jcruelty: Honestly, I wasn't really trying to make that strong of a comparison. I'm fully aware that these articles fulfill a competely different niche; mostly, I was just trying to riff off of the "cognac set" perception of the Atlantic. (Not that there's anything wrong with that — personally, I love the magazine.)

As an aside, though, there is a list of colleges associated with the article on selectivity — and the main student newspaper here at the U. of Chicago jumped on that and missed the point completely...
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:36 PM on October 22, 2003

I'm not really sure that the articles, outside of the one on selectivity, are covering any new ground - but I've been following the college admissions process pretty closely since I went through it about 8 years ago. Things were pretty intense then at my high school, where the top ten grads went to Georgetown, MIT, Duke, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Penn, etc. We were consumed with writing the perfect essay, getting just the right teachers and counselors to write recommendations, and having enough extracurricular activities. I don't think I'd want to go through the same process today.

I also do alumni interviews (for Duke applicants), but I haven't run across any of the kids with PR firms on retainer. I think that's mostly a function of the demographics of the kids I talk to - mostly engineering applicants from public schools.

I wonder how the upper end of the admissions spectrum is affecting the middle tiers of schools. One of the articles noted that perhaps 10% of graduating seniors are competing for selective colleges. The bulk of college students are being educated at public universities which generally have been entrusted to provide higher education to the public at low cost. Does it matter to them that Harvard turns down 50% of the kids with 1600 SAT's?
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2003

I think the problem is that too many students focus on the idea of getting into school and lose the idea that there also there to get an education (I went ot a school that regularly ranks in the top 30 and would still run into people who treated college like camp). In the end at a certain point all the schools are relatively equivalent in quality, it's not the school that makes the education, it's the student who takes as much advantage of what's offered at thier school and gets themselves the education.
posted by NGnerd at 9:29 PM on October 22, 2003

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