The College Application Death Spiral
The frenzy that is today’s college application process seems to be a train wreck that has gotten out of control. Here is an exchange I had with an old friend, who worked as an Ivy League admissions officer for 20 years, and is still active as a college counselor:
ME: My pet theory on the increasing selectivity of elite institutions is that there is a dangerous feedback loop which has spiraled out of control in the past decade.
There are only so many slots at elite schools. To maximize their chances at getting into one, applicants started applying to more schools (I only applied to four schools when I was in high school…that would mark me as a lazy madman today). This meant that elite schools had to get more selective (more applications). This drove applicants to increase the number of schools applied to. And so on. Yet the students dare not opt out of this death spiral for fear of missing out.
Do you think this is an accurate analysis? I’m sure it’s oversimplified, but it has the ring of truth to me.
HIM: I think you are right. If I were your counselor today, leaving aside Early Action/Decision, I would never let you apply to just four schools, unless one of them was very easy and a sure thing.
Your analogy to a death spiral is very apt. It is driving us crazy. I am caught in it too as a counselor, but I have to be my students’ advocate, so to tell them to cut down their applications too severely is a big risk. Be glad that you are an old person and don’t have to go through this, until and unless your children confront it.
So when confronted with a situation where something is obviously wrong, and it’s getting worse, what can you do as an individual to fix it? Any thoughts?