Why do we force prospective college students to engage in exorbitant exaggeration?
Here’s a fine piece by Megan McArdle on the absurd play that is acted out around elite admissions. Both applicants and admissions officers know this is a sham and a waste of resources. And the criteria obviously favor families with the wealth to supply their children with the “enrichment experiences”. Excerpt:
A high school student [Suzy Lee Weiss, Ed] has penned an open letter to the colleges that rejected her, published in the Wall Street Journal.
(…) I also probably should have started a fake charity. Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.
(…) Then there was summer camp. I should’ve done what I knew was best—go to Africa, scoop up some suffering child, take a few pictures, and write my essays about how spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life. Because everyone knows that if you don’t have anything difficult going on in your own life, you should just hop on a plane so you’re able to talk about what other people have to deal with.
Or at least hop to an internship. Get a precocious-sounding title to put on your resume. ‘Assistant Director of Mail Services.’ ‘Chairwoman of Coffee Logistics.’ I could have been a gopher in the office of someone I was related to. Work experience!
(…) This entire thing is absurd. I understand why kids engage in this ridiculous arms race. What I don’t understand is why admissions officers, who have presumably met some teenagers, and used to be one, actually reward it. Why not give kids a bonus for showing up to a routine job during high school, like real people, instead of for having wealthy parents who can help you tap their affluent social network for charitable donations? Why have we conflated ‘excellence’ with affluence, driven parents, and a relentless will to conform on the part of the kids?
Elite colleges would be better off with more kids like Suzy Lee Weiss and fewer kids like Blair Hornstine. Unfortunately, the admissions system seems to be primarily geared towards fake sincerity and ersatz enrichment.