April 23, 2007

Ivy Admissions: Same As It Ever Was

Today's American Prospect has a great piece deflating the recent glut of upper-middle class scare pieces on increasing selectivity in elite college admissions. Author Kevin Carey's point is that "[t]he declining odds of getting into an elite college are mostly a statistical mirage, caused by confusion between college applicants and college applications."

A little statistic data sheds a lot of light on the situation. Carey notes that, while the number of high school graduates have jumped by 8% in the past four years, so has the number of acceptance letters mailed out by "elite" colleges and universities. When discussing the ratio of acceptances to applications however, Carey's example is slightly less solid.
"Imagine 20 students, each of whom applies to five schools and gets into two. Now imagine if the same students each applied to ten schools and got into two. The outcome for the students is the same: two acceptance letters. But the schools report lower admission rates, and the odds of admission seem worse."
Though this an intentionally vague hypothetical, I think its a bit of an oversimplification. There is something tangibly different about only getting accepted to 20% of the schools one applies to versus 40%. Taking into account the relative differences in selectivity between colleges, in this new era of common-app fueled applications to 15 schools by each kid, who's to say which two colleges the kids get into. Perhaps a student who may have gotten into, lets say, John Hopkins University has now lost that slot to a student who was also accepted at Harvard, and has no intention of attending the former.

The number of Ivy acceptance letters mailed out has actually grown faster than the high school graduate population, however, and in the meantime, underqualified students are "
treating the Harvard application like a Powerball ticket. An Ivy League education can be worth millions of dollars over a lifetime. To take a shot at one, all you need is $65.00 and a dream."

So really, things probably aren't getting much harder. Meanwhile, the publications marketing the annual panic piece to upper-middle class parents, the reputation-obsessed Ivy schools, and the cottage industry based around admissions seem to all be doing just fine.

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