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Agreeing and disagreeing with The Wall Street Journal's "How to fix college admissions"

December 2, 2019

On Saturday, November 30th, the Wall Street Journal published an article called "How to fix college admissions". Here are my comments on each of the ten ways the WSJ suggested to fix college admissions:

1. Get rid of rankings: DISAGREE. Rankings should be taken with a grain of salt because the underlying calculations are poorly understood. However, rankings are useful as a relative tool, to help families identify the tiers of college programs. I find rankings on niche.com helpful just to see what categories a school is ranked in (most liberal, diverse, greek, etc), to get a sense of the culture. 

 

2. Limit # of colleges to which a student can apply: AGREE. The common app does make it easy to apply to too many colleges which artificially decreases acceptance rates and yield. I contend that if a student needs to apply to more than ten colleges, they haven't done their research.

 

3. End preferential legacy treatment: DISAGREE. I don't see this as a big issue, and feel a small preference to students of alumni makes sense and continues a family tradition.

 

4. Stop giving athletes a leg up. AGREE. I don't think this will change, but there seem to be a lot of cases when athletes with poorer academic records are admitted in favor of non-athletes with stronger records.

 

5. Rethink recommendation letters. AGREE. Guidance counselors usually don't know students very well, and even teachers probably write very similar recommendations for many students. I don't think this will fix the process, but the current recommendations probably don't affect applications in a meaningful way.

 

6. Blow up the essay. AGREE. The WSJ's notion of a 1 hour writing prompt would give schools a look at student writing that wasn't affected by outsiders. I would also suggest a student should choose from  a list of character traits that they think represent them if the current essay goes away.

 

7. Get rid of the SAT and ACT. AGREE. SAT scores definitely favor those who can afford to prepare with a tutor or class, and don't say much about how a student will fare in college. However, they are a useful tool to see if a high school prepares it's students for college, so I don't expect them to disappear anytime soon.

 

8. Eliminate early decision. AGREE. Not only does early decision seem to benefit wealthier students, but when a college fills a large portion of each class with ED students, it puts pressure on others to apply early decision since the non-ED admit rate must be lower.

 

9. Use a lottery system. DISAGREE.  Colleges should consciously decide which students to admit, even when they look similar on paper. The notion of a medical residency-like ranking/matching system is interesting, but probably hard to implement on such a large scale.

 

10. Overhaul the tuition model. AGREE.  I disagree that sticker prices should be changed, but agree that tuition is outpacing income at an alarming rate, and uses up many families' savings, whether that is $5,000 or $250,000. 

 

 

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