Inside Elite Admissions

Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall during college admissions committee deliberations? When it came to my own children, a son and daughter, I often fantasized about being able to witness their respective colleges’ reactions to their applications. I wasn’t as interested in hearing highly complimentary personal things about their accomplishments as much as I was about seeing the reactions to how they constructed and executed the applications per se.

Of course, the farther up the “elite” (whatever that means) ladder of admissions you go, the more time and scrutiny is spent on evaluating applicants. Right? (Well, we shall see.) Well, National Public Radio (NPR) has given us a fly-on-the-wall moment when one of their reporters was allowed to sit in and observe and record the deliberations of one of America’s top liberal arts colleges, Amherst College in Massachusetts.

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There are some amazing quotes on the transcript provided on the NPR site. Here’s are few samples:

“You know, I think the process to anybody who is not inside it is baffling. It’s perplexing.”

Reading and excerpt from an essay, on committee member quoted this passage aloud: “He said while my parents and doctor simultaneously asked how I was feeling, only two words came out of my mouth: Chicken McNuggets.”

There’s a lot more.

Speaking of those so-called “institutional priorities,” the Dean of Admissions says, “Yes, indeed. There are years that it’s great to be a runner and there are years that it’s great to be a lacrosse player, and there are years that it’s great to play the piccolo and there are years that it’s great to play the piano. But the candidate doesn’t know that.”

Well, you can read (or listen to) the entire story on the NPR site. The story is currently generating an avalanche of comments on the College Confidential discussion forum. Here are a few:

“Very arbitrary nearly random process.”

“Terrifying, just terrifying.”

“My favorite line in the story is that an admit will have a certain “je ne sais quoi” …. I think that sums up the process and admission should run a lottery to pick out admitted students from the “creme de la creme” group that’s in the final round and save the admission counselors time and heartache.”

“I was losing hope, and this took what was left, ripped it up, spat on it, and then handed it back to me like nothing happened.

Don’t get me wrong, i’ve been accepted to some great schools, but this makes me want to boycott the college process all together, (obviously, not going to happen haha) I mean common!”

“I think adcoms see right through starting faux clubs, just as they see through trips to Guatemala to help the poor and the resulting gaggy essays.”

There’s a ton of additional comments, so have fun digesting them all. Plus, once you finish both the NPR story and the CC discussion comments, you can reach your own conclusions about how the elite admissions process works and how it might affect you or your child. Let me know what you think.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.