Friday, April 20, 2007
Educated Advice Columnist
Gerald M. Bradshaw
I wouldn't go as far as to say that top students are a dime a dozen, as reported recently in a number of publications including this newspaper and the Wall Street Journal.
There is no question that it is getting harder to get admitted to an elite college or university. The admission rates for all top colleges are tightening. Even so, students do make it in. The question is, how do they do it?
First, look back on what used to be. Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush made it into Harvard and Yale, respectively, because their fathers were famous alumni. They were make legacies of the rich and famous. While one wouldn't call them the "best and the brightest" of their generation, coined the term, they were rich and famous-and they were white males.
The Harvard and Yale of their generation routinely admitted students who were less academically qualified because their fathers went there.
That argument today is being taken up by a number of groups to reverse this trend. Asian students out perform all groups academically and on standardized tests. Yet many are turned away from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each year while less qualified legacies are admitted.
That number is falling fast and lawsuits are expected to put an end to this historic practice. The days of getting admitted because one is a legacy or an athlete has all but ended. Almost every student must now meet the same academic standards.
But there are other changes that have made it more difficult to get in. Males must now compete against female applicants-further reducing the number for both sexes. Most schools are 50 percent equal. And elite colleges have steadfastly refused to expand the freshman class to accommodate the growing number of qualified applicants.
Faculty opposed Harvard's past president when he wanted to expand the freshman class. Harvard's new president is mum on this issue.
Then there is the issue of admission preferences being given to under-represented groups. This further reduces the number of openings.
Students typically admitted under this policy have generally lower academic qualifications, including test scores, than students admitted under regular admissions. According to Harvard and other top schools, approximately 25 percent of the student body falls under this category-about the same number that legacies used to equal under the old policy supporters of preferential admissions like to point out.
Having set the playing field in the proper context, we must also give credence to the increasing number of well qualified applicants in every category.
High schools are doing a terrific job of preparing students to apply to colleges. This point is often is often overlooked. The number of students taking advanced placement classes and scoring in the top 5 percent on admission tests has increased twofold over the 1980's, according to the recent issue of U.S. News and World Report.
No matter which category you fall into, the competition is getting tougher.
What is the defining factor to getting in? Top grades and test scores still count most, plus extracurriculars, just as before.
In my 10 years interviewing the so called "best and the brightest" for Harvard and my experience working with students as a consultant, not much has really changed. There is always something about the student that gets in that stands out-no matter which category they fall into.
When all the interviews are said and done and I start to write my evaluation, the one defining quality that sets them apart is that they all seem to see the larger order of things.
They all faced different problems and came from different backgrounds, but they figured out how to expand their thinking and design a strategy to stand out nationally in some important area.
The list is long and varied. But what linked them together was they wanted to succeed in the larger world, not just in their small community. That is as close to defining what it takes to get admitted to a top college.
Contact Gerald Bradshaw, The US States Top college consultant. One-on-one college consulting. Get help with the college application essay. Make you dream of being admitted into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania a reality.
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