College admissions just gets crazier. The latest thing is college admissions camp. For nine to 12 days over the summer, students prep for the SATs, draft college essays, practice for interviews and visit dozens of colleges. The New York Times profiles camps charging $2,295 to $2,899.
The pitch is none too subtle. “Colleges don’t accept people, they accept applications,” said the press release announcing the Brighton program. “In the vast majority of cases, the admissions officers that decide whether to `admit,’ `wait list’ or `deny’ will never meet the candidate. With that in mind, it doesn’t make much sense to struggle for years to compile a wonderful academic and extracurricular record only to rush together applications at the finish line.”
Better to spend time over the summer, the Brighton materials say, making sure that every element of the application is “carefully crafted to tell a compelling story.”
Brighton’s director, David Allen, said: “These kids, all the kids are there with their great grades and their great SAT scores, so those factors that used to be secondary, like how well rounded they are, and whether their essays really say something, are a lot more important.
It’s true that grade inflation has made it hard to tell one A student from another, but the number of students with great SATs isn’t rising dramatically. The problem is that increasing numbers of students are applying to the same list of elite colleges, which have limited spaces.
When I was graduated from high school in 1970, some elite colleges remained all male, and others limited female students. (Stanford had a quota; Radcliffe had far fewer slots than Harvard.) Males had some shelter from competition. Fewer minority students were applying to college at all levels. And students typically sent out three to to five applications; now it’s common to apply to 10 or more competitive colleges.
We didn’t think we could game the admissions system, so agonized a lot less about it. In particular, we thought our SAT scores couldn’t be improved by studying or repeating the test. There were no essay-polishing services, much less marketers promising to craft our applications. We just applied, made sure to include a safety school and left it to the fates. It’s a sign of how things have changed that my safety school was Middlebury, which is now very selective.