Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Selfish Colleges

At the recent Wake Forest conference on "Rethinking Admissions", the Director of Admission from Duke, Christoph Guttentag, made a statement that colleges, especially selective ones, are "selfish" in making their admission decisions and that the process is not really meritocratic. He noted that colleges are not transparent that these decisions are really made with the mission, needs, and the self-interest of the institution in mind, not in "rewarding" students for their achievement.

This statement might be confusing for students who are striving to reach the highest level in grades, test scores, and extracurricular attainment in order to be rewarded with admission to a highly selective college. If taken at face value, the comment might add anxiety to an already high pressured process. In reality though, it can be liberating for students by allowing them to focus more on becoming true to themselves (remember the virtue of "unto thyself be true"?) rather than focusing on extreme course loads, extensive and expensive test prep strategies, and overloaded extracurricular schedules that erode "studenthood" -- the intellectual and personal vitality and interest that should be the basis for positive student growth. Numerous books and studies have been written about the fact that most of the "name" institutions in this country have strong institutional biases when making admission decisions and that those biases lean towards higher socio-economic groups, athletes, and other "name" individuals who will attract money, attention, etc. to the institution.

What is even more valuable about accepting this perspective is that individuals who are being true to themselves are happier, better adjusted, and more successful in the long run, including in the college search and application process.

Students should strive to grow and develop themselves to the fullest extent rather -- "being" rather than "doing" just to gain acceptance to a specific college or colleges. This change in perspective can help students have a more valuable and rewarding high school experience. It should not diminish the pursuit of excellence and growth, but the change in focus should provide a healtheir motivation for students.

In addition, as students select colleges, the focus should be on which ones will support progress towards becoming who they are and reaching their potential.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rethinking Admission

Wake Forest has just concluded its first national conference on "Rethinking Admissions" ( and the presentations by a wide range of admissions experts presented some thought-provoking research and comments. The discussion ranged from the use of the SATs to preferential admission to how to define college "success" to the use and impact of college rankings.

While there was clear agreement that there were problems with the current process, there were differing viewpoints on the nature of the problem and how best to improve it. A conference blog ( provides some insights into the topics and points that were made.

Over the coming weeks, I will be commenting on specific aspects of the conference.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Admissions from the Other Side

Many seniors are assessing their admission responses -- some students are elated, some are dejected, and many are wondering "Why?" the decision went one way or the other. This op-ed piece from the LA Times gives a unique perspective to the process, and is valuable not only for seniors but for all high school students and their parents in understanding how decisions may be made and affected at selective colleges.,0,4003619.story.

The greater understanding and learning that comes from this piece is that this process can be and is a very personal one, and the more that a student can become and be the true person he or she truly is, the better the chances of admission to a college or colleges that will "match" that student and provide the best experience for his or her growth.