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The College Admissions Game

Colleges and universities across the country take great pride in their selectivity as an indication of their desirability.  They must be jubilant because this year was the most competitive in history ("Greater Competition for College Places Means High Anxiety, Too," The New York Times, Apr. 21).  I'd like to take a closer look at what I consider to be akin to a dating game.

Although selectivity is certainly important, it is only part of the story.  The other part is yield.  Both are related, but they are not the same.  The former describes how frequently a college rejects applicants; the latter describes how frequently applicants accept a college.  No institution wants to offer admission to a student but then be turned down.  It's the ultimate affront.  It's a little like a girl accepting a boy's invitation for a date, but then the boy changing his mind and begging off.  Humiliation for the girl could not get much worse.

Few admissions officers want to post their institutions' yield since that might be a sign of less desirability than their selectivity.  In fact, I maintain that they quietly conceal it.  But it's worthwhile considering.  It's also why early admissions came into being.  By locking in applicants early in the application process, institutions are able to avoid the shame of being rejected by those to whom they offer admission ("Finding the Right College," The New York Times, Apr. 24). Early admissions and its variants are for the benefit of colleges and universities, more than they are for the benefit of high school seniors.

Regardless of these facts, I expect competition for admission to marquee-name schools to intensify in the years ahead.  With it will unavoidably be high anxiety.  The truth of the matter is that in the long run, it's not the cachet of the institution that matters but what students put into their studies.  But try telling that to young people and their parents.

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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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