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College Admissions Process Is Unavoidably Competitive

The intent of "Turning the Tide," a new report by Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is laudable, but its effect will be negligible ("Educators Seek to Ease Pressure in College Admissions Process," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 20).  By urging admissions officers to place less weight on standardized test scores and extracurricular activities, the author hopes to shift the focus to intellectual ability and ethical behavior.

The problem is that marquee-name colleges and universities are unique brands that students and their parents will always be willing to pay more for in one form or another.  It's a question of supply and demand. If the report's recommendations are adopted by admissions officers, then applicants will do everything they can to demonstrate that they possess whatever is in vogue.  In other words, competition will not abate; it will simply shift from one set of factors to another.

Calling the report a revolution is hyperbole because human nature has not changed.  If applicants can't stand the heat, then they should apply to less selective schools.  It's possible to receive a solid education at those schools and avoid the stress associated with getting into and graduating from elite colleges and universities.  I received a first-rate education from the University of Pennsylvania, but I was willing to compete for admission and for graduation.  But not everyone is willing or able to do so.  There should be no stigma attached to their decision.

It's time to end the fiction that there is no bright future without a four-year college degree or a college degree from a brand-name institution. I've seen this time and again in the countless students I taught and in the many students I still keep in touch with. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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