Tuesday, March 31, 2009

College Admissions by Lottery of Qualified Applicants? Part II

Today is the last day of March, which means it's time for the annual ritual of high school seniors learning which colleges they've been accepted to and for my jaw to drop at how insanely competitive the process has become. There's good news and bad news for this year's applicants to selective colleges.

First, the good news: applications to certain of the liberal arts colleges were down, allowing a larger percentage to win acceptance. More fat envelopes are going out this year from the following: Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Pomona, and Grinnell.

Unfortunately, many more of the top schools are reporting record low admissions rates:

Harvard 7% vs. 8% last year
Stanford 7.5% vs. 9.5%
Yale 7.5% vs. 8.3%
Columbia 9.8% vs. 10%
MIT 10.2% vs. 11.6%
Brown 11% vs. 13.4%
Dartmouth 12% vs. 13%
Duke 17% vs. 20%
Penn 17% (same as last year)
Cornell 19% vs. 20.4%
Wesleyan (CT) 22% vs. 27%

Chad Aldeman had an iteresting blog post a couple weeks ago over at "The Quick and the Ed" calling for selective colleges to hold lotteries of all applicants who meet the school's minimum academic qualifications:
"What this becomes, more or less, is a lottery. And if it's a lottery, and everyone treats it that way except the students who invest their time, money, and emotions, maybe we should just start treating it that way. No more pretending it's about student activities, their essay, recommendations, or their devotion to the school. We've all heard about the perfect 4.0 student with excellent extracurriculars who gets rejected from their dream school. Instead, let's just institute a lottery. Schools set their baseline, kids submit their numbers, and then we run a giant lottery for the spots. Poof, like magic. Such a system operates in other fields that we're perfectly comfortable with--medical residency programs or coveted charter schools, for example--so maybe it's time to give it a shot for college applicants."

As I blogged almost two years ago, holding lotteries would go a long way in reducing the pressure cooker atmosphere at many of today's high schools.

There's a girl in our 4H club who is the valedictorian of her class at one of the local government-run schools. She was telling me at one of the recent project meetings about her crazy workload. She's currently taking FIVE (!) Advanced Placement courses. I took one AP course my senior year and thought that by itself was a lot of work. I can't imagine multiplying the demands of that by five!

If students knew that they did not need to try to impress an admissions officer, maybe they could stop obsessing over external markers of achievement like grades and standardized test scores- and start focusing on learning for its own sake. The current system encourages kids to "play the game" of school and often penalizes those who stretch themselves intellectually by enrolling in courses where they won't receive a high grade. Shouldn't we be discouraging students from settling for the "easy A" and rewarding those who challenge themselves?

1 comment:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I have often had the same thoughts. I attended the local state institutions, and got a fine college and graduate education. In fact, I encouraged the CGP to go to UNM (and get the lottery and other scholarships), because she could get a very good education there. That way, she could focus on learning, both in high school and her undergrad years, and go to whatever grad school she wanted later.

The truth is--it is a big lottery--and it is only the suicidal high school senior that is fooled and believes that rejection means some inherent unworthiness.

But these big name schools are unlikely to change this way, because this is how the preserve the idea that those who matriculate with them are somehow more special than those who were rejected.