Why do we allow college admissions offices to shape and pass judgment on our children's character?

Talking about track & field stars from that era brings back great memories.

I’ve finally caught up on this thread. The one thing that amazes me is how many feel colleges should change their way of doing things because X is “better” in their opinion. I’m not really of the belief that one particular way of doing things is better for all and I’d be hard pressed to agree that one way of doing things is even better for most.

In the big picture, diversity of methods helps us all. If College A doesn’t measure up to how one wants things run, apply to College B or C. I’ve seen success come from all names and levels of colleges and a quick google search would show the same using pretty much any metric one would want to use as long as “masses” are involved and not just “one” company or similar.

I’m also curious why it’s ok to brag about sports stars and not academic stars. It’s always bugged me at school that they can have sports scores and athletic signings covered by the local newspaper and bragged about in the pep rallies, but do well in grades and get terrific college offers? Well, that’s bragging, so you’re a chump (insert word of choice) if you even mention it on FB.


Surprisingly, D22 told me this morning that she probably won’t apply to any HYP schools because none offer the major she’s interested in and she doesn’t want to write two sets of applications. It is surprising because those are the schools that many (possibly a majority) of her classmates who are applying to US universities target - good to see she’s willing to deviate from her peers (at least for one day!).


History is not an indicator of future performance, but it does suggest that achievement tends to be clustered in what are generally considered “more selective” or “elite” institutions. The complexity in the conversation relates to size. Comparing the number of CEO’s from Michigan with the number of CEO’s from Bowdoin would appear to favor Michigan (3 Fortune 500 CEO’s vs 2 for Bowdoin in 2018), but on a per-capita basis, you are 15 times more likely to be a CEO if you graduated Bowdoin.

Looking at the sciences, there is proof that on a per-capita basis, more selective schools have launched successful grads at higher rates. This article highlights the schools that have over time have contributed greatness. Gross numbers aren’t the measure, it’s the relative performance of the institution based on size. You don’t have to believe the difference continues (that’s a fair argument), and not atttending one of those schools doesn’t mean you can’t do amazing things…but there is proof to support the notion that high achievers congregate.

25 schools responsible for the greatest advances in science.

Anyone can be anything, and individual greatness will likely present itself regardless of degree, but the notion of achievement from specific schools isn’t baseless.

I highly suspect if you brought Michigan (or upper level school of choice) down to Bowdoin’s size you’d see the numbers average out. UM lets more in, but if they didn’t, their cream of the crop is quite likely on par.

It’s the cream of the crop who do well wherever they go IME and according to at least one other study out there that’s been linked to before.


When you factor for student’s high school record, high achieving students do well no matter where they go. It’s well known that more selective schools graduate more high achievers per capita than less selective schools. More selective schools have more higher achieving students to begin with.


No doubt. My statement about ECs at Oxbridge wasn’t meant as a comparison to US schools. It was more that it was a relief that despite ECs not being a part of the admissions process, opportunities still do abound to participate in what interests you outside of your chosen field once you are there.

While club sports are big on many college campuses (that was another secret bender of mine - which schools have lots of sports for the non-recruited athlete), that isn’t a universal. Eg I wonder about the smaller LACs who are very sports focused. When 40+ percent of the student body is on a varsity team, that doesn’t leave a lot of space for clubs.

Also, it does seem like a thing that kids drop their “passion” (aka application fodder) once they get to college. They are either burned out or it has served its purpose. That’s sad. It does seem healthier to me to keep the hobby just a hobby, not a means to an end. For that, the UK system seems to have something going for it. If the UK system allowed more time for students to explore their academic options and was a bit holistic in their admissions process (or alternatively, the US academic departments were involved in admissions and coaches weren’t), that would be my happy compromise.

I don’t know. I was in the band in high school (played trumpet for 6 years) but I dropped it in college because I wasn’t interested any more but I wasn’t burned out and it wasn’t application fodder. I just had other stuff going on. My kids danced for many years but also dropped it because they got tired of it. My d22 is in theater now in high school but has talked about not doing it in college. She may keep up with a little but I don’t know. People change interests all the time.


I should clarify- some kids. Not everyone. Of course people’s interests organically change over time. Mine did, too. I am thinking more about the recruited D3 athletes who drop their sport - there was a whole thread on that a while back. That kind of thing.

Thank you for sharing that, Blossom. What an amazing story.

Definitely. I guess where I was trying to go with the brilliance/best topic was that the numeric “tools” we have (GPA adjusted for rigor and test scores) are good at separating high school seniors from the 5th/10th percentile up to the 90th/95th, but they aren’t of much use in hyper selective, tail of the distribution decisions. Taking a quick scan of the “top” 20-25 or so private universities and comparable LACs, there are 50,000 slots. But maybe only two thirds of those slots are “available” to a “standard” US resident applicant (internationals, a subset of legacies/athletic/URM that would not gain admission based purely upon the numbers, etc). Also consider that maybe only 1 in 3 kids at the top decide to go for those slots anyway. Taken together, what this means is that the top 100,000 or so kids of 4.2 million of a given age living in the US are in that market. The top 2.5% standard that non-URM, middle class to non-obscenely wealthy needs to hit to gain admission. And for HYPSM, the standard is obviously much higher than that.

But the quantitative tools we have aren’t up to the task of differentiating between kid #50,000 and kid#150,000 by whatever “objective” measure one tries to apply. What is 50 pts difference on either side of a 1530 SAT really? Or n+1 5s on a AP tests vs n? Or a 3.9UGPA vs. 4.0? Those differences tell you next to nothing. But people refer to their 1530, perfect/near perfect GPA with rigor, string of 5s on APs kid as “brilliant”. For purposes of academic/upper level selection, that is “merely” smart in a pool of smart people.

For illustrative purposes, I went back to a grad program for “fun” 15+ years after undergrad. I took the GRE cold, got a 166 on both sections and 5.5 on the writing. I’d like to think I write pretty well (in a non-message board venue) and at least the score supports that. 98th percentile among people seeking grad school admission. If we had a writers workshop full of 5.0s with one 5.5 or a class of 5.5s with a 6.0, we could identify the outlier, but it wouldn’t be extreme. The kid a couple of classes ahead of me in HS who graduated in the top 3 or so at HLS that I tagged as “brilliant”? He would get a 6, but his ability to distill arguments to an audience, build upon that and then weave observations and concepts from multiple disciplines is something incredible. That room full of perfect 6s would either believe they received a 6 in error or that this guy at least an off the scale 7. Some people have “it”. And I’m not jealous of “it”. “It” is awesome to observe. Those candidates are easy for adcoms to see even at the Harvard level. But that is extraordinary stuff.

Going back to the point of the thread, unless a candidate has “it”–and only a small portion of HYPSM admits let alone that greater 100,000 “elite” pool do–then adcom is looking for anything they can find to distinguish applicants. Character? Yes. Essays? Yes. Demonstrated interest? Yes. Showing soft skills/insight in interviews/correspondence? Yes. ECs? Yes. Social and intellectual maturity? Yes. And those can be reasons to accept. Or they could be reasons to reject. The ability to “rate” for outliers using only quantitative tools is simply not possible.


While that’s generally a true statement in the US (although not always if you take into account external competitions like AMC/AIME/AMO), it isn’t the case elsewhere.

For example in the UK, about 25-30% of kids take A levels, and about 8% get an A* in any one subject. A*AA or above (typical Oxbridge entry requirement) is achieved by something like 5% of entrants, so 1.5% of the age group or 13K students a year. And there are 6K places, which is enough for most of them (bearing in mind some prefer other options).

All A*s in 3-4 A levels is sufficiently unusual (less than 1% of applicants) to still be seen as a remarkable achievement.

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Note that the UK’s smaller population relative to the number of places at Oxbridge, compared to the US’s population relative to the number of places at HYPS, matters in how selective the schools are or need to be. Would the top 1.5% of high school seniors (or 5% of those who will attend college) in the US find the number of places at HYPS to be sufficient?


They aren’t because they were deliberately made so. They were more meaningful once upon a time. College admissions in many other countries are primarily based on these quantifiable attributes alone and some of these countries have even more applicants for fewer available slots at their top colleges, so that isn’t the reason for holistic admissions.


Can’t wait for the movie- or a Nobel prize!

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No, but those ~60K students would find enough places at the T20, allowing for those who seek large amounts of merit elsewhere or want to stay local. The problem would be that most offspring of rich, well connected parents wouldn’t get in.

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What percentage of the Oxbridge spots are taken by students from private (aka “public” right?) schools? Comparatively, what percentage of UK students are educated in those schools?

About 30% at present, it’s been “rapidly decreasing” in recent years https://thetab.com/uk/cambridge/2021/03/05/private-school-intake-at-oxbridge-is-rapidly-decreasing-new-research-shows-148149

Only about 7% of students overall attend private schools, but it’s 18% of those taking A levels Independent school (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

As discussed in other threads, there is a lot of grade inflation that goes into those hundreds of perfect GPAs. In our school district, there is constant lobbying by some parents to tweak the grading to flatten the curve at the top. For instance, we stopped giving “minuses” in STEM classes (everything above 90% is an “A”), the honor classes in 9th grade are no longer weighted, etc. In the other high school, “A” starts at 88%.

All this is done ostensibly to reduce academic pressure. I am all for reducing the pressure. However, to differentiate themselves, now many kids spend their summers working as lab technicians, or in unpaid internships arranged by their parents. In my days, summers in high school and even in college were for playing, traveling, socializing, or reading for pleasure.


The year my son graduated (from a private prep school), the public high school had 29 Valedictorians in a class of 450. :flushed: