It was a funny headline: “Dark Future Beckons: Pandemic Will Bring Capitalism to the Heart of Academia.” The article, which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, reported that colleges may be forced to heed market pressures, given their high tuition fees and the reduction in education caused by Covid- 19. The truth, however, is that capitalism arrived at the ‘heart of the academy’ a long time ago, and nowhere is this more evident than in the admissions arena, where competition and a pricing mechanism (well that skewed by the government) have long been in place. As Jeffrey Selingo expertly documents in “Who Gets In and Why,” the admissions market is becoming increasingly competitive, driven by forces that make it both more transparent and more complex.

Who comes in and why

By Jeffrey Selingo

(Scribner, 306 pages, $ 28)

The college conversation

By Eric J. Furda and Jacques Steinberg

(Viking, 249 pages, $ 28)

Mr Selingo, former editor of The Chronicle, begins with two benchmarks that play an important role in admissions, in part because they affect university rankings so much: “selectivity” and “performance.” As the ratio of successful applicants decreases, the prestige of a school increases; thus, increasing the number of applicants is a permanent objective of the admissions office. Likewise, if more students, once accepted, choose to attend rather than decline in favor of a “better” school, the rate of return will rise and the rank of a school will rise. Admissions offices use direct mail and data analytics to improve both. In contrast, Mr. Selingo, who has an ear for dialogue and an eye for detail, describes a Boston College admissions secretary explaining to her boss 50 years ago why she didn’t care to keep names. students who called for information. about school. “If they are interested, they will apply and we will have a file. ”

In the 1990s, Mr. Selingo tells us, a man named Bill Royall, whose company had helped politicians and nonprofits raise funds, revolutionized the admissions industry. Among other things, he encouraged colleges to send letters to juniors (not just seniors) and to offer students free admission “tips” if they returned an attached response card. In our day and age, when students receive bins of glossy catalogs and constant e-mail notifications from schools, these strategies seem strange, but they lead the way. In 2010, the College Board sold the names and contact details of over 80 million students per year. To gauge student interest (and improve performance), colleges track how often applicants visit their websites and even how quickly they open schools emails.

As compelling as “Who Gets In and Why” is to disinterested observers, parents of high school students will particularly appreciate (or desperately look to) the sections where Mr. Selingo offers insight into the University admissions process. Emory, Davidson College, and the University of Washington. Will a student with a 34 on his ACT (placing him in the top 1% of applicants) and several AP courses, including Chinese and Physics, be admitted to Emory? Those multiple B’s on his transcripts will make his entry into the premedical program unlikely, but his painting and ceramics classes are unusual for someone with a scientific bent and can put him on top. Mr. Selingo describes the thought process of an admissions officer: “He imagines the candidate as a student of Emory. . . . What would he specialize in? What kind of member of the university community could he be? “

In conversation after conversation, Mr. Selingo documents the “holistic” admissions process, in which students are assigned numbers not only for their test scores and grade points, but also for their activities. extracurricular activities, their levels of difficulty and their degree of intellectual curiosity. Gender, race, heritage status, athleticism, and geographic region are also in the mix. Yet, as Selingo writes, colleges use a system “analogous to that used to judge Olympic figure skaters – it gives an aura of precision to what is largely abstract.” It is now easier for students to predict their chances of entering a school, given the published statistics, but many aspects of the system are difficult to pin down. As Mr. Selingo notes, Royall, along with other marketers, “has not only broadened the horizons of students, he has also broadened our collective anxiety.”

Mr. Selingo’s advice to families that they can reduce their anxiety and debt by attending a non-elite school will likely fall on deaf ears. While he is correct in saying that many lesser-reputable schools offer equally good if not better education, the imprimatur of a selective and prestigious school seems to matter more to students and parents, and their preferences. guide the whole process.

“The College Conversation” is a self-help guide and parenting handbook combination from Eric Furda, the Dean of Retirement Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jacques Steinberg, a former New York educational writer. Times. A family new to the process will be delighted with the book’s detailed timeline and instructions for writing essays, testing, and applying for financial aid. Recognizing the value of a range of options, the authors discuss the wisdom of starting at community college, entering the military first, or, if the first year doesn’t work, moving on from college. to another. Such discussions are rare in books of this genre and therefore particularly welcome.

That being said, it seems a bit silly to advise parents, as the authors do, to engage in free association games to figure out what is really important to their child. And readers may tire of lofty metaphors – for example, about how an app is a ‘mosaic’ and a ‘work of art’, or how letters of recommendation, seen through the ‘stained glass’ of the experience of a child, are “brilliant”. beams of light passing through a range of colors. MM. Furda and Steinberg suggest that students bring water bottles, umbrellas, and comfortable shoes on college visits – rare college admissions advice that’s both unmistakably wise and easy to follow.

Ms. Riley, resident researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “The Faculty Lounges” and “God on the Quad”.

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