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.

Charters adopt common applications

Applying to charter schools is getting easier in some cities, reports Education Week. Charter schools are adopting universal enrollment systems and common applications, so parents can apply to multiple charter schools at the same time.

• Denver launched a centralized enrollment system called SchoolChoice in 2010 for all district-run and charter schools in the 85,000-student system.

• In New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District, in partnership with the Orleans Parish School Board, debuted a universal enrollment system called OneApp for charter and district-run schools in February 2012 and is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system serving the city’s 44,000 students.

• The Newark and District of Columbia school systems are making plans to implement universal enrollment systems for their district-run and charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

Before OneApp, New Orleans parents had to deal with multiple applications, deadlines and lotteries. Now they apply once for both district-run and charter schools, ranking their choices in order of preference. Each student gets one “best offer.”

DePaul: Show ‘heart,’ not SATs

SAT or ACT scores will be optional for DePaul University applicants starting next year, but those who choose not to submit scores will be asked to write short essays demonstrating “noncognitive” traits such as leadership, commitment to service and ability to meet long-term goals. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Admissions officers have often said that you can’t measure heart,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management. “This, in some sense, is an attempt to measure that heart.”

DePaul hopes to encourage more applications from low-income and minority students with relatively high grades and low test scores.  “Heart” is a better predictor of success than SAT or ACT scores for low-income and minority students, admissions officials say. 

In 2008 the university added four short essay questions to its freshman application with hopes of assessing noncognitive traits said to lead to college success.

One question prompted applicants to describe a goal they had set for themselves and how they planned to accomplish it: “How would you compare your educational interests and goals with other students in your high school?” Another question said: “Describe a personal challenge you have faced, or a situation in which you or others were treated unfairly. How did you react to the situation and what conclusions did you draw from the experience? Were you able to turn to others for support?”

DePaul dropped those questions when it started using the Common Application, which requires a personal essay of at least 250 words. It was too much writing.  The questions will return for students who don’t submit test scores.