Friday, February 12, 2016

The progress of Holistic Admissions 2.0

So, how's that plan written by aliens from outer space to make elite college admissions about being a nice person going? According to the headlines of the college papers, it's going amazingly well. Everyone is totally behind it in spirit, and the report has convinced several elite universities to radically overhaul their applications by...adding a supplemental essay question asking applicants to describe their goodness.

And the rest of the report's recommendations? The stuff about capping AP courses and activities, throwing out the SAT, evaluating "students’ daily awareness of and contributions to others," and - my personal favorite - asking elite schools to discourage ambitious students from applying to elite schools? Well, it seems that those might take a bit longer to implement:
Fitzsimmons stressed that his endorsement of “Turning the Tide” did not mean the College is relaxing its expectations for academic rigor. In particular, he pointed to the report’s recommendations that admissions officers reduce pressure on students to take a large number of Advanced Placement courses in high school. 
“Academic excellence in all its forms is critically important,” he said. “There are students out there who relish the possibility of taking many AP tests, and it’s one of the things that gets them ready for work in college.” 
Similarly, while the report suggests that schools should reevaluate whether the SAT is a predictor of academic success and consider adopting a test-optional admissions policy, Fitzsimmons said Harvard is unlikely to make such a move any time soon. 
“We still find that standardized test scores are useful,” Fitzsimmons said. “One of the things that we hope does not get lost in the enthusiasm that people have for the report is academic excellence, measured a whole variety of ways, including by standardized test scores.”


Alex Small said...

One of my favorite books is Hofstadter's _Anti-intellectualism in American Life_. Because of the title and Hofstadter's known political opinions, I've seen some people jump to the conclusion that it's primarily a history of the ignorant masses. In fact, to a large extent it is a chronicle of educated people questioning the significance of education.

Who needs book smarts and stuff?

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, at least the deans of admission make it clear that their zealous support for this idea is purely theoretical..

Helen Andrews said...

"I do not know why there is all this fuss about education. None of the Paget family can read or write and they do very well." Ironically when Lord Melbourne said that to Victoria he was one of the most intellectually accomplished men in Parliament. Certainly he was smarter than I am, which is one reason I trust that his flippancy concealed a serious point.

I have never understood why people who love intellectual debate for its own sake would want a society in which it is made the gateway to worldly success. It's like dropping a honey-covered ham in the middle of your picnic cloth. It will make you more popular, but not in the way you want.

That said, the squirming hypocrisy on display from these admissions officers is indeed delicious.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, for one thing, intellectual debate is not the whole of higher education. There is still a great deal of practical skill acquisition going on at top schools, but it's often the acquisition of intellectually demanding skills (consider computer science, or the applied sciences generally).

Another thing is that only a handful of institutions are really in question here. The report is aimed at re-orienting admissions at those schools where there is real competition for admission. They aren't the gateways to all worldly success, but they often are gateways for success in fields where intellectual debate is either central or at least plays a big part - academia, law, journalism, pure science. So selecting students for intellectual talent at these schools is justified.

It may be that these schools are becoming too much the exclusive gateways to success in these fields, or maybe in other fields as well, which I suspect is your complaint. But that is not a problem caused by too much emphasis on academic aptitude in the Ivy League admissions process. In fact, if they really did throw themselves into selecting exclusively for academic aptitude, they'd soon become nerd warehouses and lose much of their cache. Which I think would be ok too.