Applying to College? I'm So Sorry

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/15/10

You have been elected the leader of a new populace. The future is in your hands. Outline a platform on environmental issues, education, and race and ethnicity. Be wise and be creative. Maximum length: 500 words

Accepted? Rejected? Thrown into waitlisted limbo land?

We're heading into the peak of the college admissions frenzy, as millions of high-school seniors receive word about their educational futures. After another year of record-high application numbers, there will be thousands of smart kids who thought they did everything right staring at a pile of "This was a difficult decision to make..." letters.

Kathleen Kingsbury, an education reporter for The Daily Beast, spend months getting to know admissions officers to figure out how they make these life-changing decisions. This weekend, she was interviewed on NPR. But it's her January piece --i ncluding a series of blunt quotes that I'd like to say were shocking, but let's be frank, we knew it was like this all along -- that's worth checking out.

Current admissions officer, Ivy League university

"Some 70 percent of kids who apply are qualified to come to school here, and we have space for one in ten. We can be as choosy as we like. It almost always comes down to whether or not you're a likeable person. Let's face it, some people are just more affable or more likeable than others. An admissions officer is really asking himself, ‘Would I like to hang out with this guy or gal for the next four years?' So if you come off as just another Asian math genius with no personality, then it's going to be tough for you. An admissions officer is not going to push very hard for you."

There are some parents who read this with relief, others with horror. But for the rest of us, it's just a reminder of the cut-throat nature of the game.

To answer that question of whether or not this 17-year-old is "likeable," some colleges are accepting video essay submissions. (Admissions for the American Idol generation, indeed!) devised down-right evil essay questions. Like this one, which appears on a New York City university's application this year:

You have been elected the leader of a new populace. The future is in your hands. Outline a platform on environmental issues, education, and race and ethnicity. Be wise and be creative. Maximum length: 500 words

Seriously? What is this teaching kids to do?

One could write an essay about the importance of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you... or perhaps on the benefits of Libertarianism. Or maybe a Star Wars analogy would work. I advised the very-overwhelmed student to consider a pitch for early-childhood education as a cure for many of these social ills... but seriously, this is getting brutal, folks.

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