Is among the most overused phrases of petulant children, and virtually anyone trying to make sense of the college admissions process. In either case, it generally doesn’t matter if it’s true, because the situation is probably not going to change.
I can’t speak to the situations for all the children in the world, but I will give you my take on the subject of the college admissions process. The reason the situation is unlikely to change is because the priority is enrolling the desired class, and not fairness. Think about it. When is the last time you heard an admissions officer emphasize how fair the selection process is? Even if fairness was the priority, what would it look like and how would you define it? There is no universal definition. So as it stands, enrollment priorities vary from one institution to the next. The methods employed to achieve those priorities vary just as much.
At one institution, the sole priority is admitting enough students who can be successful. If the admissions staff thinks that you can hack it, you’re in. How can they do that? The application volume is such that there is more capacity for students than the application pool provides.
At another institution the priority is access, and the standards are specified by the state legislature. If you meet those standards, you’re in, and so are thousands of other similarly qualified students.
At yet another institution, the priority is consistency, so that similar decisions are made for similar applicants from the same school, unless there is a recruited athlete, legacy or some other special case for whom inconsistency can be excused.
At a fourth institution, the emphasis is selecting the students who are most likely to enroll, where two-thirds of the class are selected before any regular action candidates are considered.
These are not hypothetical places. I have worked in each one of these admissions offices, and not one of them is MIT. On the topic of MIT admissions, much has been said by me, and others, about our values and priorities. Maybe we share too much, or are trying too hard to help you to understand. Maybe you think the admissions process works like the courtroom, and you can argue your way in. It doesn’t. In fact, the more adversarial you are, the less likely that you are going to be welcomed warmly into a community that admits fewer that 10% of its applicants.
Curiously, it is a byproduct of an extremely selective admission process that makes institutions even more desirable. Even at face value, if an institution is known for selecting only the best and brightest, who among the applicants doesn’t want the cachet that comes along with just being admitted? Beyond that, having the opportunity to spend four years living and learning, collaborating and teaching, working and playing with amazing people doesn’t happen by accident. It is intentional. The faculty and the rest of the university community facilitate that experience, but it all begins with the selection process that students initiate by applying for admission in the hopes that they will be among the select few admitted.
So let’s go back to the concept of fairness, and enrolling the desired class. Chris cites an example that equates choosing a class to putting together a group to go mountain climbing. This example works for many, but clearly not for all. I grew up in Florida. The state is flat. There are no mountains. So I will try a few different examples.
If one is going to select a basketball team, why bother with tryouts? Why not simply select the tallest players and be done with it?
For a football team, why not choose all the biggest players? Or the fastest?
For a band why would it matter if you had only drummers, or an orchestra made up solely of tubas?
Hopefully, you get the idea. If you don’t, there’s probably nothing else that I can say.