Lifting the veil on college admissions


College admissions can be a costly and panic-provoking process, made worse by selective colleges’ efforts to hide the details of how they decide who to accept. Earlier this year, however, spurred by revelations that emerged from the Harvard University affirmative action case currently heading to the Supreme Court, corporate executives Michael Goldstein and William Gentner, and the statistician Gregory Frank, started a new business, Transparency in admissionsintended to help remedy this state of affairs.

In court, Harvard’s admissions department was forced to reveal heaps of data about how it assessed applicants (along with some troubling information details on the greed with which the institution sells access to the rich and connected). This data dump and the statistical model that expert witnesses produced with it allowed Transparency in Admissions to develop an algorithm that can offer new insights into the chances of admission to Harvard and, by extrapolation, to other universities. very selective private.

Of course, since colleges hide the details of their admissions process, translating Harvard’s algorithm to other colleges required some educated guesswork. For example, because Harvard’s legacy admission rate differed four percent from that of another institution, the model was adjusted accordingly.

To use the site, students provide their demographic and academic information – including ethnicity, socioeconomic status, test scores, etc. Students also indicate whether they are applying for financial aid or a fee waiver, if they are a recruited athlete, or if they have legacy status. The algorithm then calculates their probability of admission to Ivy League colleges as well as Cal Tech, University of Chicago, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Northwestern, and Stanford.

One takeaway, co-founder Michael Goldstein observes, is that contestants get a huge boost from being the child of a major donor or recruited athlete. Another is that heritage status and being black or Latino confer similar sized bumps on a candidate. In the meantime, he explains that the data clearly shows that entire categories of applicants have virtually no chance of being admitted to these universities.

Indeed, Goldstein says that the only populations with a non-negligible chance of admission to these colleges are athletes, legacies, children of professors or donors, certain racial minorities, first-generation students, students of schools high-end private schools and those whose academic results put them in the top one percent of applicants. About half of all admitted students belong to one of these privileged groups.

Most others (for whom the acceptance rate is around 2%) might be better off saving their admission fees.

Yet these selective colleges and many private college advising organizations lead students and their families to believe that admission is within reach (largely because rankings are powered by “acceptance rates,” which means that the colleges benefit mightily by sucking in a lot of candidates with no luck in applying). And counseling organizations are encouraged to remain hopeful, because that’s how they convince families to shell out their high fees.

Goldstein explains that Transparency in Admissions was created to shed light on deceptive admissions practices in order to mitigate some of the harm they can cause. He notes that many students and families spend money, instill anxiety, and experience extraordinary pressure in pursuit of an often unrealistic outcome. That’s apart, he says, from the emotional deflation produced by a series of rejections.

Goldstein says the goal is to ensure students and families have a realistic picture of the likelihood of admission, allowing them to make informed decisions. Asked about the cost of the service, he says it costs students $15 but schools can subscribe at a discounted rate for their entire student population.

With a more accurate picture of selective admissions, families can better weigh the costs and benefits of enrolling students in numerous AP courses, long lists of extracurricular activities, SAT or ACT prep classes, tutoring for university applications or payment of fees to apply for many selective courses. colleges and take trips to visit campuses. Indeed, students equipped with the real story could stop fetishizing colleges that have no intention of accepting them and focus on more fulfilling or useful pursuits.

While it’s good that Transparency in Admissions took on this challenge, they really shouldn’t have to. Imagine if colleges provided information about their admissions process freely, rather than under duress. It could take a toll on the rankings of these pampered colleges and surely make it less fun to be an Ivy League admissions officer, but it could be a great thing for students falling victim to what has become expensive, exhausting and off-control admissions gauntlet.


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