@Rivet2000 and @theloniusmonk : First of all: PRIMARILY is not the same as “only” and I was basically saying primarily. I agree with @theloniusmonk that it is not a requirement, but is certainly nice to have. My idea is that some schools sell a grand, often non-academically focused picture that for some reason gets students to believe that the school is much better than it really is for academics (people can be cajoled in conflating campus aesthetic and many other things, for academic excellence. When it is challenged, all such a school must do is point to their admissions statistics…as if it has grown with academic quality and rigor Some places have hardly changed their programs or instruction to fit the “increasingly excellent students”).
You can go on many university/CAS websites as well as admissions websites and look at the imagery and nature of the blogs to get an idea of what many schools are trying to play up. The expenditures of many elite schools, including most elites have suggested the increased value placed on “quality of life” and “fun”. You can see how many construction projects are geared towards undergraduate dorms (especially freshmen at many places) and other shiny new amenities. Much of marketing will focus on how nice the campus looks, how shiny the current amenities are and the fact they are building even more to appease students. Academically focused structures and construction are often played down relative to that sort of stuff (think student unions, gyms, etc). I don’t need to list examples. I attended one of these places. They are great relative to other places, but I will not pretend that they are perfect and don’t go out of their way to sell students feel good stuff. Let us not pretend that lots of places don’t do this and also recognize that some schools have seen stark increases in admissions success (on paper) versus super elite schools academically not because they improved undergraduate academic opportunities such that they truly rivaled such schools, but because they were very “nice” and “not so stressful”. I have done comparisons of the academics between some of these newer schools with HYPM level stats versus HYPM…they don’t compare particularly well (even at the undergrad level in the areas I am interested in.
I would name names including my own alma mater, but I really do not feel like lighting flames right now. They are not alone, many of the very top ranked schools pre-dominantly known for raw strength of academic programs seem to have followed suit and joined the construction arms race after many of the “new Ivies” as well as many public schools who did the same thing to compete. There is nothing wrong with selling the “feel good” aspects, but I feel as if it should not be overdone. My point is that it has become easy to sell prestige and grandeur using superficial “improvements”.
You can look up literature and articles that point out these issues if you do not wanna believe me. I’m not going to do this today though I normally wood write you a nice little thesis including examples, studies, compelling anecdotal articles, etc. Some people just hate hearing that elite schools can do no wrong or hate them being critiqued in any way. They are not beyond reproach and are certainly not above continuing the games that significantly less well-off schools employ even post-prestige. They tend to follow whatever trends.
@SCMHAALUM : Eh…the opposite happens more than you think. Among the talented and high caliber applicants they get, there will be lots of seemingly randomness and surprises when looking at those who are actually admitted. Really hard to tell and then the evaluates are human. Was it Amherst or Haverford who had a little blip of an evaluation session recorded? A lot of weirdness and human element can go into evaluating qualified candidates.