Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | October 27, 2014

On College Admissions, Briefly

Blogger Thoreau:

I recall reading that the use of standardized tests for college admissions started with a noble goal in mind, to expand the net of higher education beyond people from the sort of social class that went to the “good” preparatory high schools, by identifying raw talent in places that would have otherwise gone unexamined. Of course, the tests became high stakes, and eventually became correlated with measures of advantage.

Thoreau asks if it is possible to design a test that does not fall into this familiar trap. As Admiral Nimitz said, the world wonders…

Speaking of admissions, essays, and kids with advantages, This American Life had a program back in September on the subject. I especially liked this segment, where Ira Glass is interviewing Clark (admissions director at Ga Tech) (emphasis added):

Ira Glass: Are there trends in what kids are writing about– where you feel like you see little fads and you get sick of them?

Rick Clark: Oh, well the age-old one that– I mean, again, pretty much anybody that you would interview who’s been in college admission for any period of time would be– you know, we just call it now the mission trip essay. And great to go on a mission trip, great to have a cultural experience. But inevitably, the way it reads is so predictable.

You know, we flew down to somewhere in Central America. And we got off the plane. It was really hot. And we got on the bus, and 20 miles outside of the village, our bus broke down. But we got picked up by like a chicken truck and taken into town. And then, over the course of my time there, I went expecting to help others. But it was, in fact, me who was changed.

And even just when you first start reading that essay, you’re like, oh, here it comes again.



  1. Thanks. Missed this particular This Am. Life program. (I don’t think I’m going to mention what my college admission essay was about, at least the one I remember, simply b/c no one will or shd care. But I will say it wasn’t about a mission trip. ;))

    • I’m embarrassed to admit that at least one college admission essay I wrote was structured around working on a Habitat house. I can only imagine how many of *those* the admissions officers read every year.

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