To get into college, fake it

Applying to College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions, writes Julia Ryan in The Atlantic. Elite colleges’ admissions essay prompts pretty much demand that students “pretend to be something you are not,” she charges.

Brown University is asking applicants for the Class of 2017: French novelist Anatole France wrote: “An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.” What don’t you know?

The University of Chicago would like high-school seniors to tell them: How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Tufts would simply like to know: What makes you happy?

“Applying to college shouldn’t be the intellectual equivalent of dressing up in your mother’s clothes,” writes Ryan.

Many of her commenters liked the prompts. (They made me very glad that all this is behind me.)

Universities have automated admissions, writes a commenter who designs admissions software. An outside service will use “advanced OCR and ICR recognition software plus semantic analysis” to turn the transcript and extracurriculars into a single number. Essays are turn through plagiarism software. “If a university is particularly prestigious they *might* read the essay, but the counselor is reading about 15 to 20 an hour.” The essay reader is probably an untrained graduate student or unemployed graduate making $11 to $13 an hour, he writes.

Hacking the Common App has good advice on writing admissions essays. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Bard’s new admissions option — submit four research papers instead of grades and scores — is begging to be gamed by the wealthy, writes Jordan Weissmann.

Rather than submit a full battery of grades, teacher recs, SAT scores, and personal essays, Bard applicants will be able to choose to hand in four 2,500 word research papers, which will be graded by faculty. Applicants who earn a B+ or better on their writing will be accepted . . .

“It’s kind of declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions and the failure to foreground the curriculum and learning,” Leon Botstein, Bard’s president of 38 years, said in an interview.

Who’d choose this option? Someone who’s gone to a very good college-prep high school and learned to write a college-quality research paper, but hasn’t earned Bard-worthy grades or test scores. That’s a small group. Or, as Weissmann suggests, someone who can afford to pay a “college consultant” to write the papers.

ROTC plus global studies

Columbia University’s faculty senate passed a pro-ROTC resolution Friday. The Army is interested in restoring ties with Columbia. A Navy unit also is a possibility.

Navy ROTC is returning to Harvard.

Stanford’s faculty is reviewing the issue. A student group is rallying opposition to bringing ROTC back on campus on grounds the military discriminates against transgendered people.

Dickinson College in Pennsylvania may expand its ROTC curriculum, if the Army agrees, to include four years of foreign language, cultural immersion, a semester or year’s worth of study abroad and a concentration in global security studies, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The move was inspired by an e-mail from a Dickinson ROTC graduate who majored in Middle Eastern history and now leads an infantry platoon in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Talking with village elders, he recited the first chapter of the Koran, which he’d learned in a class.

Soon after, one of the men handed over five small papers which appeared to be “night letters,” or notes left by the Taliban on local mosques or the doors of homes. Typically, such letters urge resistance or threaten violence to those who cooperate with American forces. These, however, were asking for help. “The three letters this man gave to me thus signaled a major shift in Taliban morale in our area of operations, and at the end of the day became very valuable intelligence information,” the unnamed lieutenant wrote.

University president William Durden, a 1971 graduate of Dickinson’s ROTC program,  believes officers need more than training in operations and tactics. “We have young lieutenants running cities.”

The Mellon Foundation is funding partnerships between liberal arts colleges and military institutions of higher education. Dickinson will collaborate with the nearby U.S. Army War College, Bard, Union and Vassar colleges with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, St. John’s College with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and Colorado College with the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Bard and West Point have shared an “odd-couple relationship” for years, said Jonathan Becker, Bard’s vice president for international affairs and civic engagement.

. . . students sometimes attend classes at each other’s institutions, faculty travel to deliver guest lectures, and students and professors from both colleges mix sides to debate political issues.

West Pointers and Bard students have no trouble getting along, Becker said. “Twenty-year-olds enjoy meeting and learning with other 20-year-olds.”