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Altherion

College admission in the US -- is it really this insane now?

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In the wake of the Varsity Blues scandal, I've seen quite a few articles about how this is just the tip of the iceberg. Here's one from the New York Times:

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The government’s indictments of dozens of parents, college administrators and coaches exposed an ugly array of corrupt and illegal admissions practices.

But there is also a perfectly legal world of gaming the college admissions process by doing everything from picking advanced classes, choosing the right sport, giving donations and turning to the multibillion-dollar industry of test prep, college essay editing and advice on how to produce the perfect application.

Every aspect of a teenager’s life can be managed and shaped into a persona catered to please the exacting eye of a college admissions officer. Parents might pay $300 for a standard, hourlong consultation with an admissions expert or donate tens of millions to schools, with the hope of winning special consideration for their child’s bid for a spot at a top school.

I went through the college admissions process just under two decades ago and I wanted to ask people here who either went through it more recently themselves or guided children through it: is it really this bad now? From what I remember of my own process, I didn't even start thinking about it until senior year of high school and nearly got into trouble because I waited too long to ask teachers for letters of recommendation. I took AP classes and had one serious extracurricular, but none of it was part of some grand plan and the only person other than myself who made any meaningful input into the applications was my mother (who proofread the essays). My high school was quite competitive and most of us aimed for very good schools and mostly got into at least one of them, but I don't know of anyone either among my classmates or in my family who did any of the things that article mentions.

So is this an accepted practice now? I don't mean giving millions to a specific school -- that was the case when I was growing up and it's still there now, but by its very nature, it's only accessible to a tiny fraction of the population -- but the rest of it can be done by people of far more limited means. Clearly, there are at least some people who play these games (both legally and otherwise) or the media wouldn't be all over this, but is it common to plan the lives of children around getting into college or is this spate of stories just sensationalizing the behavior of a small number of eccentric upper class families?

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If the industry is a multi billion dollar one I suspect that the buy in from the middle class is pretty complete. US society is not the meritocracy that it claims to be and parents understand that fact. Getting your child a step up the ladder is not just a matter of working harder and being smarter but of using a secret elevator made of money. 

I have been a reader of science articles and of the history of science for many years. One thing I always did was to look at where the author of the article went to school.  More often than not they came from small unknown universities or colleges. Once they make their mark the upper tier universities hire them on as faculty so that they can justify their reputation and keep building the myth that paying to get into that elite school will make your kid the next great thinker.

Going to a higher ranked school does not make anyone smarter by osmosis.  All it does it get you into the circle of people who like to consider themselves the ruling class. Parents know this and know that this is the best way to get ahead.

 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, maarsen said:

If the industry is a multi billion dollar one I suspect that the buy in from the middle class is pretty complete. US society is not the meritocracy that it claims to be and parents understand that fact. Getting your child a step up the ladder is not just a matter of working harder and being smarter but of using a secret elevator made of money. 

I have been a reader of science articles and of the history of science for many years. One thing I always did was to look at where the author of the article went to school.  More often than not they came from small unknown universities or colleges. Once they make their mark the upper tier universities hire them on as faculty so that they can justify their reputation and keep building the myth that paying to get into that elite school will make your kid the next great thinker.

Going to a higher ranked school does not make anyone smarter by osmosis.  All it does it get you into the circle of people who like to consider themselves the ruling class. Parents know this and know that this is the best way to get ahead.

 

I can't really agree with your last point. I have experience of both going to a good university and then an elite university, and I most definitely noticed a difference both in regards to the intelligence and ambition levels of the students as well to how demanding and good the education itself was.  

Now I didn't study natural science, nor was I in America, so I suppose it is possible that things could be different over there. But at least my experience really doesn't mesh with the common trope that the only benefit of going to an elite school is that you get to network with the upper class. 

Edited by Khaleesi did nothing wrong

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9 hours ago, Altherion said:

I went through the college admissions process just under two decades ago and I wanted to ask people here who either went through it more recently themselves or guided children through it: is it really this bad now?

Well I went through the college admissions process in the US over 30 years ago and most of these things were normal to my experience back then.  Granted, I went to a small private high school.  And it had a full time college guidance counselor who met with us regularly over the course of the 4 years.  So it was very college focused from day 1.  But everything you mentioned was pretty much done - although, obviously the donating millions of dollars was extremely limited to certain families.  But of these I would say they were more giving money to the family legacy school then like the recent scandal with blatantly buying their way in.

Obviously not everyone did everything.  If you were a natural standardized test taker and scored well on the SAT, you didn't take prep classes.  But for everyone else there was the Princeton Review.  And you started on that right after the PSATs when you got an idea of how you were going to potentially score.  If you were a good writer, the counselor would read over your college essays and give it a pass.  But if not, there were teachers willing to work with you to improve upon your essays.  You absolutely had to write them yourself though.  You just got extra guidance and editing with them.

I suppose where I see a potential difference today is back when I was in school it was this idea of having one activity or job or experience that distinguished you in an application.  Something you could write about in your essay.  And today one or two doesn't seem sufficient.  I get the sense kids going this route feel they have to have multiple such things to pad their applications.  Being on the water polo team for 4 years and working in a museum one summer might not be enough anymore for some like it was for me.

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Here are a few thoughts:

1.  Except for Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and a few quirky outliers like Cooper Union, most private Universities cannot afford to be completely need-blind in admission. I think most elite Universities claim to be completely need-blind, and aim to be as need-blind as possible, but it still amounts to somewhere between 40-60% of the class paying full freight (e.g., at my alma mater, which I think is a typical exemplar, ~52% of the class receives some financial aid.  That's pretty good, but it also means that 48% is paying full-freight).  Similarly, if you look at their website, Georgetown claims the same.  Penn, interestingly, does not have that statistic readily available on their website that I could find (mind you I spend all of 5 minutes looking).  

2.  The Common Application, and the ease of obtaining and submitting applications has removed barriers to entry to applying to elite Universities.  I am fully in support of this development, and think that barriers to entry should be lowered even further.  That said, the more people apply for a relatively fixed number of spots, the lower the percentage of acceptances will be.  This fuels the already enormous insecurity anxiety in a middle class/upper middle class relatively moneyed strata that views securing one of these spots as the only sure road to success and stability for their spawn (I heard a parent recently unironically bemoan that their third child, who was "not as bright" as the older sisters, "only" got into Georgetown as compared to the Yale degrees the sisters were earning - those kids have GOT to be so damaged - I digress).  

3.  So, in a miracle of the free market, people who have spent time in admissions/counselling are happy to take money from these parents to help get Lulabelle into college (and not just any college, the "right" college - not for Lulabelle necessarily, but for Lulabelle's parents).  Part of this is that college counselling at public schools in particular is often combined with the guidance counselor's job.  That person has A LOT to do, and has different interests from Lulabelle and Lulabelle's family (he or she probably cares more about a 4-year matric. stat rather than whether Lulabelle goes to the "right" place - either for Lulabelle or Lulabelle's parents).  Part of this is just insecurity. 

4.  There have always been a lot of these things - test prep, AP classes, extra curriculars, have always been important, and I think college admissions officers have evolved over time as to what they are looking for at elite Universities.  What is being sold, IMO, by these "consultants" is largely snake oil because it by its own nature, somewhat out of date.  

5.  In particular because one thing the media is faux outraged over simply exists in American society.  There are kids who simply have a leg up in the qualitative set of things admissions officers are looking at because they are wealthy. They have sophisticated and educated parents who value education and can AFFORD to value educational accomplishments. They can afford the "extras" and they can afford the time to do the "free" extras (e.g., read to the kids, spend time with them, etc.).  Make sense?     

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Posted (edited)

My experience is with Canadian universities and as just about all are publicly funded there is not as much that can be done to ensure that your kids get into the 'right' school. Canada does not have sports scholarships so lying about athletic ability is useless. Admissions are not based on SAT scores as again we don't do that up here. The universities all will swear up and down that your high school marks are what they look at for admission. As for writing an essay for admission, am I ever glad that we do not do that here also.  When I was a teenager, I was great at finding creative ways to suggest that what they were looking for in the way of answers in exams and essays was a load of bullshit. Yeah, a few times I was called on it, but usually they were cool with the fact that I had the courage to do so.

The original point is that a meritocracy doesn't work if it is privately run as there is every incentive to cheat and no real disincentive to doing so. The people you want to keep out, don't have the money to get in and would probably do better at public universities. There is an upside to all this and that is the reputation of the 'elite' schools is taking a real hit as knowledge of how easy it was to game the system comes out.

Khaleesi, I want to address your comment. If you are following the UK politics thread, I think you can see what the result is of having a so-called elite upper class, aka the Conservative Party, whose parents spent well but not wisely.

Edited by maarsen

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Our son is only in middle school so we have not experienced it yet, but we listen with dread to the kind of anxiety other families put themselves through.  Pretty much any high performing student from an upper middle class family is aware before the start of high school that they need to build their "resume" for college applications.  This means: several AP classes, a GPA well above 4.0 (I believe they aim for over 4.5 now; for non-Americans a 4.0 is an A+, so extra points are sought through extra credit assignments), extremely high SAT/ACT scores, high athletic* and musical achievement, demonstrated leadership (so every teenage kid wants to be the president of some club/society/micro charity/etc), thousands of hours of volunteering and a personal narrative that distinguishes you from the hundreds of thousands of other highly accomplished students with identical "resumes".  And even then it's a very long shot to get accepted into an elite college unless you are a non-Asian minority, a legacy (parent is an alumnus with strong track record of donations), a child of a famous or extremely wealthy parent (who is likely to donate in future), a recruited athlete/musician, or have a particularly compelling sob story about personal hardships survived and overcome.

*but really you need high athletic achievement in the kind of sports favored by elite colleges, so lacrosse, fencing, sailing, tennis, golf are all better than plebeian alternatives. 

It sounds insane.  These teenagers inside this hyper-competitive bubble live sleep-deprived, anxious lives as they check the boxes in a dutiful, meaningless way.  Adderall abuse happens and learning disabilities are faked/over-diagnosed to get Adderall and special concessions during test taking.  Kids have no time for friendships or any meaningful internal development -- they're too busy grinding through the list of requirements.

So even aside from outright bribery and falsified athletic ability, lots of wealthy parents create charities for their kids to lead, or sponsor their Habitat For Humanity poverty tourism, or invest thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in sports (playing, coaching, travel teams, development leagues, etc).

Almost all of these kids end up disappointed.  There are just too many bright, studious applicants after too few spots.  And the spots at these elite universities are assigned according to the priorities of the university (future donations; keep the prestigious sports teams and orchestras well stocked) rather than the benefit of the students.

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@Isk, how would you value the Leaving Cert \CAO points vs the American system? While I see the value of a good Liberal Arts basic in college, I like the LC /blind CAO. I certainly prefer a State wide exam. I certainly see merit in courses ascribing more points to LC courses, (e.g. chem, physics, biology getting a 20% boost for Sciece, English, history etc boosting Arts).

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a GPA well above 4.0 (I believe they aim for over 4.5 now; for non-Americans a 4.0 is an A+, so extra points are sought through extra credit assignments)

I had no idea there were high schools that reported GPAs over 4.0 for "extra credit". That sounds insane to me -- once one gets into college, 4.0 is the upper limit of a GPA for those who worry about such things for getting into grad school. And 4.0 is just "A" in my experience -- you don't actually get any points above that for A+.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, Ormond said:

I had no idea there were high schools that reported GPAs over 4.0 for "extra credit". That sounds insane to me -- once one gets into college, 4.0 is the upper limit of a GPA for those who worry about such things for getting into grad school. And 4.0 is just "A" in my experience -- you don't actually get any points above that for A+. 

I have heard about high schools that give out A+ which would be worth 4.3, but I'd never heard about anywhere that an A isn't 4 points.  That seems like a really big and frankly very strange change for a high school to make. 

EDIT:  When I was in high school (which was almost twenty years ago now), all the talk about getting a 4.7 or something was based on ridiculous "adjustments" such that either Honors or AP classes are worth an extra point.  Which is fine if you want to do that, but it's pretty ridiculous, since anyone getting a 4.0 is obviously going to be in honors classes. 

Edited by Maithanet

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Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, Ormond said:

I had no idea there were high schools that reported GPAs over 4.0 for "extra credit". That sounds insane to me -- once one gets into college, 4.0 is the upper limit of a GPA for those who worry about such things for getting into grad school. And 4.0 is just "A" in my experience -- you don't actually get any points above that for A+.

It’s about wealth, privilege and like everything else in America, race.

that is, rich white schools have created AP courses that are strictly segregated and allowed access only to those on the college prep track (which often means de facto racial segregation rather than de jour) they have all agreeed by silent compact to count AP courses as worth 5.0 rather than 4.0 (meaning kids the guidance counselors have excluded from the college prep track also cannot screw up the all important class rankings by getting As in non college prep classes). To further segregate the elite college bound students from the merely college bound students, the incredibly valuable college dual credit classes are valued at merely 4.5 rather than 5.0. This pushes only the most intense and highest wealth kids into AP courses and inflates a schools performance on the AP metrics and puts further distance between elite universities and less wealthy kids, all desired outcomes of the tracking system.

our valedictorian, for instance, mapped out her entire eight semesters of high school two weeks before our freshman year started (summer 1998) so that she could maximize her GPA with AP courses, and she did not deviate from that plan, including taking and acing AP music theory in spite of not playing any musical instrument. 

And of course since urban and ESL and minority heavy schools are less likely to offer AP courses the 5.0 AP system as implemented by all the white and wealthy parts of the country is an extremely useful way to segregate such undesirables out of “their” system.

SAT subject tests are another useful tool of the rich to keep the non coastal elites out of their schools, SAT subject tests, for example, three such tests were required by several schools I applied to, but my school had never held even one such test and the guidance counselor had never heard of it at my midwestern middleclass high school when I brought it up.

A very very good way to exclude the undesirable ACT swaths of the country and further make the process difficult or totally inaccessible to more of The poor nonwhites these schools despise so much.

i remember most of the colleges I was targeting had $50-85 application fees (pure glorious revenue mined from dreamers they’re about to gleefully squash) and it was a fair hardship for me to come up with those fees while making $5.25 an hour when I couldn’t really afford the 2-3 days pay to apply. My parents were so paycheck to paycheck I did not even dare to suggest they pay for any such fee anywhere along the process. Another excellent deterrent to successfully stop poor kids while also generating revenue from desparate more well off parents. 

 

Edited by lokisnow

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51 minutes ago, lokisnow said:

It’s about wealth, privilege and like everything else in America, race.

that is, rich white schools have created AP courses that are strictly segregated and allowed access only to those on the college prep track (which often means de facto racial segregation rather than de jour) they have all agreeed by silent compact to count AP courses as worth 5.0 rather than 4.0 (meaning kids the guidance counselors have excluded from the college prep track also cannot screw up the all important class rankings by getting As in non college prep classes). To further segregate the elite college bound students from the merely college bound students, the incredibly valuable college dual credit classes are valued at merely 4.5 rather than 5.0. This pushes only the most intense and highest wealth kids into AP courses and inflates a schools performance on the AP metrics and puts further distance between elite universities and less wealthy kids, all desired outcomes of the tracking system.

our valedictorian, for instance, mapped out her entire eight semesters of high school two weeks before our freshman year started (summer 1998) so that she could maximize her GPA with AP courses, and she did not deviate from that plan, including taking and acing AP music theory in spite of not playing any musical instrument. 

And of course since urban and ESL and minority heavy schools are less likely to offer AP courses the 5.0 AP system as implemented by all the white and wealthy parts of the country is an extremely useful way to segregate such undesirables out of “their” system.

SAT subject tests are another useful tool of the rich to keep the non coastal elites out of their schools, SAT subject tests, for example, three such tests were required by several schools I applied to, but my school had never held even one such test and the guidance counselor had never heard of it at my midwestern middleclass high school when I brought it up.

A very very good way to exclude the undesirable ACT swaths of the country and further make the process difficult or totally inaccessible to more of The poor nonwhites these schools despise so much.

i remember most of the colleges I was targeting had $50-85 application fees (pure glorious revenue mined from dreamers they’re about to gleefully squash) and it was a fair hardship for me to come up with those fees while making $5.25 an hour when I couldn’t really afford the 2-3 days pay to apply. My parents were so paycheck to paycheck I did not even dare to suggest they pay for any such fee anywhere along the process. Another excellent deterrent to successfully stop poor kids while also generating revenue from desparate more well off parents. 

 

A few things, having recently spoken to a few people in college admissions*

1. I believe that "economic diversity" is one of the new buzzwords.  One of the people I was talking to was saying that they feel like they are "missing out" on good candidates who are not aware that the University in question would pretty much cover tuition.  There is a lot more outreach to capture high performing students who aren't from wealthy** suburbs of major metropolitan areas.  My understanding is that the application fees can be waived.

2.  Elite schools are starting to abandon the standardized tests.  I'm not sure if this is for good or for ill.  But they are.  I'm curious to see what this looks like over time.  Also, my sources assure me that admissions directors are well aware that grading scales differ (I mean, different places have different scores required for A's, B's and C's) and take that into account in evaluating candidates.  They aren't as dumb as this scandal makes them appear.

3.  When I graduated high school over 20 years ago, you got an extra half a credit for AP tests, so, in fact, my GPA was right at 4.0, but I did not have straight A's (I'm looking at you AP Calculus BC).  I personally think that the AP test thing is a racket.  That said, I was ready for, and needed to have, the stimulation of more advanced classes.  But my understanding is that, again, elite schools are starting to focus less on the number of AP credits obtained, but rather the quality and thoughtfulness in the student's program.  They are also definitely not looking for success in every area, but rather deep engagement in subject matter and activities and "curiosity" and "contribution to community" (less than "leadership").

4.  And actually, all of this adds up to the parents of students in wealthy suburbs in major metropolitan areas (and other wealthy privileged parents everywhere) anxious, because it is interrupting what they thought was their right - what Lokisnow describes above.  That is, if you look right, play the right games and tick the right boxes, the access to the elite is guaranteed.  Well, it's not, because, in fact, schools are caring less about past indicators of who the "right sort of student" is.  

*  Full disclosure, my cousin's wife is senior in admissions at a pretty good state school (but not the (world-class) flagship)

**  Meaning, often, white

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Posted (edited)
34 minutes ago, Mlle. Zabzie said:

A few things, having recently spoken to a few people in college admissions*

1. I believe that "economic diversity" is one of the new buzzwords.  One of the people I was talking to was saying that they feel like they are "missing out" on good candidates who are not aware that the University in question would pretty much cover tuition.  There is a lot more outreach to capture high performing students who aren't from wealthy** suburbs of major metropolitan areas.  My understanding is that the application fees can be waived.

2.  Elite schools are starting to abandon the standardized tests.  I'm not sure if this is for good or for ill.  But they are.  I'm curious to see what this looks like over time.  Also, my sources assure me that admissions directors are well aware that grading scales differ (I mean, different places have different scores required for A's, B's and C's) and take that into account in evaluating candidates.  They aren't as dumb as this scandal makes them appear.

3.  When I graduated high school over 20 years ago, you got an extra half a credit for AP tests, so, in fact, my GPA was right at 4.0, but I did not have straight A's (I'm looking at you AP Calculus BC).  I personally think that the AP test thing is a racket.  That said, I was ready for, and needed to have, the stimulation of more advanced classes.  But my understanding is that, again, elite schools are starting to focus less on the number of AP credits obtained, but rather the quality and thoughtfulness in the student's program.  They are also definitely not looking for success in every area, but rather deep engagement in subject matter and activities and "curiosity" and "contribution to community" (less than "leadership").

4.  And actually, all of this adds up to the parents of students in wealthy suburbs in major metropolitan areas (and other wealthy privileged parents everywhere) anxious, because it is interrupting what they thought was their right - what Lokisnow describes above.  That is, if you look right, play the right games and tick the right boxes, the access to the elite is guaranteed.  Well, it's not, because, in fact, schools are caring less about past indicators of who the "right sort of student" is.  

*  Full disclosure, my cousin's wife is senior in admissions at a pretty good state school (but not the (world-class) flagship)

**  Meaning, often, white

At 1: that’s good, when I did this whole process nearly twenty years ago, it never once occurred to me to mention in any college essay that I was working thirty hours a week at a minimum wage job while taking 5 AP courses (the only kid with a non vanity job in the college prep track). Isn’t that shameful? would have probably been my overwhelming mental thought about it, if I had considered it, and still I had a ton of angst over the personal hardship essays since being poor never occurred to me was something to be exploited for advantage rather than something to hide. The admission fee waiver was a process when I was applying, the guidance counselor had to call each school to request the form and the you had to fill out that form along with an explanation of why you were so poor that the fee was a hardship, it also slowed down your application and had to be accompanied by a letter from the counselor affirming you were in fact poor and it was a burden to pay the fee. It was all so fucking irritating and humiliating I just paid the fees instead: which is the point of the waiver process.

2: that’s really good. I actually read the fine print on my college applications and they all demanded you report unweighted GPA, but my counselor said to put just the weighted GPA because the best number is what you want. When I said that it maybe wasn’t worth the risk of being disqualified she told me they could change the weight themselves but what they really were interested in was that I came from a school with weighted GPAs which was more important to them than the actual GPA. We compromised at my insistence of putting both weighted and unweighted GPA on my applications.

I did not have an unweighted 4.0 either because an emergency appendectomy in my freshman year meant I sat on the bench in gym class for six weeks, and my coach rather gleefully informed me after the mid term that I was going to get a C since I didn’t dress out for six weeks. He didn’t much care that I wasn’t medically allowed to do anything because the main thing was that he was allowed to dock my grade daily for not dressing in gym clothes to sit on the bench for the length of the period before dressing back into my school clothes. When this came up my senior year, my college track peers were all astonished and were like “why didn’t you appeal and have your grade changed” to which my mind still boggles that a kid can get their grades changed. As far as I was concerned it was a fair implementation of the grading rules and extremely unfair and malicious to not give me heads up for weeks upon weeks, but change a grade! Insanity!

3: sounds nice, but most of the rich kids were the ones with extra curriculars, for such deep and varied backgrounds. My focus was on advancing through education (and earning money as soon as I could get a minimum wage job), not creating some kind of years intensive monkey dance for college admissions people. Requiring a deep and systematic investment of years in being a marionette is part of the problem and one that will deliberately exclude the economic diversity they’re now claiming they want. Because the people with “economic diversity” don’t know how to play the game or even know there is a game. For instance, I didn’t qualify for a national Merit scholarship because I had no idea that it was a requirement to take the PSAT as a sophomore and score a certain level. Just one of the secrets kept from the wrong sorts of people. And I had no time for the fake rich kid volunteering my classmates dicked around with on weekends for years to bolster their college admissions process.

 

 

Edited by lokisnow

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24 minutes ago, Mlle. Zabzie said:

2.  Elite schools are starting to abandon the standardized tests.  I'm not sure if this is for good or for ill.  But they are.  I'm curious to see what this looks like over time.  Also, my sources assure me that admissions directors are well aware that grading scales differ (I mean, different places have different scores required for A's, B's and C's) and take that into account in evaluating candidates.  They aren't as dumb as this scandal makes them appear.

I'm curious how they control for this. I'm gearing up to go back to school, but I've been wondering if going to a state school  is going to harm me, especially if I'm in the range to go to an elite program. Having a 3.9 GPA with honors at a state school could be viewed as less than having a 3.5 GPA at an Ivy.

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1 hour ago, Deedles said:

@Isk, how would you value the Leaving Cert \CAO points vs the American system? While I see the value of a good Liberal Arts basic in college, I like the LC /blind CAO. I certainly prefer a State wide exam. I certainly see merit in courses ascribing more points to LC courses, (e.g. chem, physics, biology getting a 20% boost for Sciece, English, history etc boosting Arts).

I would prefer the Irish Leaving Cert/CAO points system because it is academic only, more objective, less prone to gaming (everyone does the same exam and there is no extra credit available for those with greater access), requires full comprehension at the end of the curriculum, and it does not put pressure on students to be perfect every single day throughout high school. 

American grades are based on every single homework, group project, quiz, mid term test, end of semester test, etc.  It's not enough to develop your knowledge, do some revision/synthesis when the class is complete and then demonstrate the knowledge effectively at the end of the curriculum.  American students getting an A in many subjects have to maintain incredible diligence and juggling every single day to never get a bad score on a single test/quiz/homework/project (which has a large gender bias, BTW), and this encourages them to do shallow rote memorization of each mini segment of the curriculum without ever demonstrating a capstone comprehension of it all.  They do this simultaneously in several subjects and keep this juggling act going for years.  It must be very unhealthy to their cognitive development.

And then, after all of that work, it turns out that straight-A students are a dime a dozen now and you'll only get a spot in a top college if you fulfill all these additional intangibles that are largely outside your control, especially race and parentage.  (The current system works best for wealthy legacy students and upper middle class black/latino students)

OTOH, I know there is a campaign in Ireland to get rid of the existing final state exam and replace it with continuous assessment.  The downside of the single final exam is that it moves all the pressure to that one day at the end of high school, which some students don't handle well.  On balance, I would keep the single state exam across several subjects.  

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, maarsen said:

My experience is with Canadian universities and as just about all are publicly funded there is not as much that can be done to ensure that your kids get into the 'right' school. Canada does not have sports scholarships so lying about athletic ability is useless. Admissions are not based on SAT scores as again we don't do that up here. The universities all will swear up and down that your high school marks are what they look at for admission. As for writing an essay for admission, am I ever glad that we do not do that here also.  When I was a teenager, I was great at finding creative ways to suggest that what they were looking for in the way of answers in exams and essays was a load of bullshit. Yeah, a few times I was called on it, but usually they were cool with the fact that I had the courage to do so.

The original point is that a meritocracy doesn't work if it is privately run as there is every incentive to cheat and no real disincentive to doing so. The people you want to keep out, don't have the money to get in and would probably do better at public universities. There is an upside to all this and that is the reputation of the 'elite' schools is taking a real hit as knowledge of how easy it was to game the system comes out.

Khaleesi, I want to address your comment. If you are following the UK politics thread, I think you can see what the result is of having a so-called elite upper class, aka the Conservative Party, whose parents spent well but not wisely.

Well, as I think is often the case in politics you have to be careful to not take bad outcomes for the country as evidence for stupidity among the politicians. I would guess a lot of what has happened regarding Brexit makes sense if you view it from the perspective of maximizing potential career outcomes for individual statesmen, rather than what is best for Britain. 

I don't know. All the people I have met that went to Oxbridge have seemed pretty smart. Maybe it is the accent that does it though. 

 

Edited by Khaleesi did nothing wrong

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Circling back to the varied academic program colleges are looking at now, eh wtf?

My high school had seven periods, over four years and eight semesters that is 56 grades you can earn, 40 are your required four years of math, science, history, English and foreign language, another 6 are required health, gym, finances, art etc required for graduation “electives.”

That leaves ten electives, to create a deep and varied course program for college but

The kids that had music/band/choir used up eight of the remaining ten, so really they only have two electives their entire high school career. If you weren’t in music you could load up with a bonus science class (like AP bio or physics or chemistry if you’d only done two of the three), our school didn’t offer bonus math classes, AB Calc was the max

Two electives I chose my senior year were one semester of German and one semester of English lit. Not because I wanted to do either but because I had a hole in my schedule that i could not fit with any other class available in that time slot.

And I was in a school that used tracking and the guidance counselors designed the schedule of the college prep track so that we never had a two hour block of non college prep track classes.  This is important because most of the classes available to the rest of the school (like metal shop or auto mechanics or home ec type stuff) were available only in two hour blocks. It was another way of enforcing de facto segregation, but the overall point is that we had extremely limited choice in crafting an academic program and really could not do so. You stuck with the same twenty five kids for at least five to six hours a day for four years.

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25 minutes ago, Tywin et al. said:

I'm curious how they control for this. I'm gearing up to go back to school, but I've been wondering if going to a state school  is going to harm me, especially if I'm in the range to go to an elite program. Having a 3.9 GPA with honors at a state school could be viewed as less than having a 3.5 GPA at an Ivy.

Transcripts are generally required and report letter grades as well as weighted values, so it’s fairly easy to calculate a GPA from transcripts.

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I don't recall there being any such thing as prep classes for the SAT, to be honest. This was in the mid 80s. You took the PSAT, then the SAT. If you weren't happy with your score, you took it again and that was that. I was in a program called Centers for Advanced Studies, what would now probably be equivalent to AP classes without the college credit...you actually had to attend college classes to earn those credits. I took two classes at the local community college, and Chem 1 and 2 at Pitt for a total of 14 college credits. I had 3 study halls my senior year and I was also a 4 sport athlete.

I also don't recall it being so cutthroat. For a lot of my classmates, we were the first ones to go to college. The steel industry had just collapsed, so for many it was college or the military (my high school was an ROTC and law magnet school). It was still frowned upon for girls to go to the military, so most of us opted for college or some kind of training program like beauty school. Boys had other options, like the trades. 

By and large, our parents didn't go to college, so we had to navigate that process on our own. I learned the hard way when prior to sophomore year, I didn't get my FAFSA in on time. What a mess!

The school district I live in is very good--insane, but good. Almost every single student takes AP classes, something I do NOT agree with. 

I didn't push my kids to take them. My son knew he was going to be a chef, so he had no need for all that. My daughter, though bright, looked around at how stressed everyone was all the time and decided it wasn't worth doing that to herself. She took the SAT twice, no prep.

She got accepted to every school she applied to. It helped that our district was so rigorous that the colleges added points. Her sophomore year was also eliminated in their considerations because she had mono for the entire school year, and they don't penalize the kids for chronic illness.

All the stress and aggravation just isn't worth it. They'll get in somewhere, and if they don't there's always community college. 

Not everyone is cut out for college and we need to stop making our kids think if they don't get into Harvard they're worthless and their lives are over.

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11 hours ago, Ice Queen said:

 Not everyone is cut out for college and we need to stop making our kids think if they don't get into Harvard they're worthless and their lives are over.

I agree with this. Whenever I talk to somebody or read somebody's opinion in the papers, the only thing I really care about, ultimately, is does the person have clue to what they are talking about and not what school they went to.

I didn't go to elite schools. In fact me getting in college in the first place was pretty much a fluke, as I wasn't that good of a high school student, my only talent being I was pretty good at running down and tackling people. I didn't take my education seriously until about my third year as an undergraduate. I had to do a lot of catch up.  I got into a fairly decent master's program, eventually, but again, I think it wouldn't be considered "top tier."

And yet despite having basically gone to little ol'  "cow college", I know enough to know when certain professors at elite universities have screwed the pooch. Something I have ranted about before. I've also corrected people that went to elite schools. It's not enough for them to say, "but I went to an Ivy League School!, so I'm correct". LOL, no. It doesn't work that way.

I've never looked at my degrees as the end of my education, but only a begging. I'm pretty much committed to life long learning, but a lot of that need not take place in a formal classroom environment, in my opinion.

Which now gets me into your comment that not everyone is cut out for college. In a nutshell, I agree. Right now, there is a lot of talk about providing everyone with a free college education. And while, I do in fact believe that being committed to life long learning and expanding one's skill sets is important, particularly if they want a fairly lucrative career, or a route out of poverty, I do wonder in fact if talk about free college for everyone is framing the problem correctly. Perhaps, we ought to de-emphasize the traditional college degree as an indicator of being "sufficiently intelligent" to do a job. I'm a pretty big fan of CLEP test, as it seems to me that is a much cheaper way for a student to demonstrate their basic competency with particular subject matter, rather than paying $1000 per credit hour or whatever. I guess what I'm getting at is that I would like to see an expanded system of test that allow people to demonstrate their competency in particular areas, rather than necessarily having to compete a traditional 4 year degree or whatever. I have no problem, obviously, with the state spending more money to help people continue their education. But the problem is that the supply of reputable colleges is limited. It's not a secret that the real price of a college education has significantly increased since the 1970s. In short, if you are going to give people more money to get an education beyond their high school years, you need to figure out a way to increase the supply of education. It seems to me that a way out of this is to de-emphasize the traditional four year degree and to put more emphasis on skills based testing, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs and so forth.

 

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