Friday, February 16, 2007

*** The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden

This is a sad but true tale about the reality of college admissions at some of the most elite universities in America. It proves what we've all come to know, that money talks, its who you know, and it pays to be famous. Working hard is for stiffs, especially if you're Asian. There are some beacons of hope to help root out such instituionalized corruption. Caltech is cited as the school setting the trend. But don't hold your breath for the system to change anytime soon.

The number of whites enjoying preference [for college admissions] far outweighs the number of minorities aided by affirmative action. At least 1/3 of the students at elite universities, and at least ½ at liberal arts colleges are flagged for preferential treatment in the admissions process. P6

Students without any non-academic preference are vying for only 40% of the slots at Ivy League schools. P7

Only 3 to 11% of students at America’s most selective universities come from the lowest income quartile. Asian American are disproportionately affected – rebuffed by what appears to be an informal quota system. P11

Senator Bill Frist, who opposes affirmative action for minorities, apparently did not object to preferential treatment for his eldest son… Princeton admission officers were taken aback [Frist’s son background]: his grades and test scores fell far below university standards. On a 1 to 5 scale (5 being lowest) – he was a 5… Frist was a Princeton alumnus and his family donated $25M in 1997… No wonder that the newly appointed Princeton president advised her admissions staff that Frist’s son was a high priority. His son was admitted. In 2004, his Sophomore year he was arrested for drunk driving in. At the time of publication, he had not yet graduated. P12-6

Harvard looks out for its own
Harvard admits fewer than 1 in 10 applicants, turning down more than ½ of candidates with perfect SAT scores. P25 So even if you ace the SAT with a 1600, you’ve only got a 50% chance of being accepted at Harvard. How do you like them apples?

Harvard enrolled 336 children of about the 340 eligible children from the families who serve on its fund raising committee – an astonishing enrollment rate. P26

Legacies [alumni chidren, donor children, famous children] account for 13% of the student body. P28

72% of the students on the z-list [admission is deferred by 1 year] are alumni children… For Harvard, deferral was a no-lose proposition: either it would discourage underqualified legacies from enrolling without actually rejecting them, thus preserving academic quality and donor goodwill, or the students would mature in their year off, readying them for Harvard. It turns out however that most z-listers are willing to wait for a Harvard education. P39 Why do the wait? Because their 2nd choice option – without having the alumni or donor connection to leverage– will be a huge step down from Harvard for most academically weak students.

For well connected students, the z-list isn’t the only roundabout route to Harvard. Harvard typically admits only 5% of its transfer candidates – but children of alumni and donors enjoy a marked preference. P40

It’s much tougher to get into Harvard than to graduate from it; 97% of those who matriculate emerge with a degree. Therefore honors awarded upon graduation offer a better yardstick for measuring academic prowess. Data show that donor children were far more likely to graduate without honors than the Harvard average. P42

Duke's fundraising engine
Great universities profess to safeguard the quality of their student bodies by constructing a firewall between fundraising and admissions. In reality there is no such wall – not even a shallow trench. Almost every university takes development admits… Like other nonprofits, seeking funding, they’ve discovered the easiest way is to admit the children of the rich. P55

Duke relaxed its standards to admit more than 100 applicants a year, with more than ½ enrolling (3 to 5% of the incoming class). Many of their grateful parents joined Duke’s fundraising group, which led all universities in 1990s in unrestricted gifts from non-alumni parents. P57 Quid pro quo alive and well in North Carolina.

Eager to place as many graduates as possible at top institutions, prep school counselors help colleges identify development admits, often through an unobtrusive phrase or two in a letter of recommendation stating that the parents have been generous to the prep school and are likely to give to their child’s college as well. The prep school’s fund raising office may call the college to reinforce the message. P59

How much does it really cost to buy your child’s way into college? $20,000 is enough to draw the attention of a liberal arts college with an endowment in the $100M range. At an exclusive college, it can take at least $50,000 with some assurance of future, greater donations. At a top 25, a minimum of $100,000; for the top 10, at least $250,000 and often over $1M. p60

For celebrity applicants like Lauren Bush – niece of President GW Bush, there’s no such thing as a deadline. A month after the Princeton deadline had passed, Lauren contacted the university. And despite SAT scores considerably below average for Princeton, and a ‘B’ high school GPA, she was admitted. P93

Brown: Hollywood U
Brown is the college of the famous and celebrity children. However, these celebrity students lag behind their more obscure classmates. 20% of Brown seniors graduate with high honors. 0% of the celebrity children do. 30% of Brown graduates receive distinction, but only 12% of celebrity kids achieve the same. P94

Notre Dame’s average of 1394 for admitted students is artificially deflated by the lower scores of legacies, athletes, and donors. Applicants without preference actually need a 1470 (that is the Harvard average by the way). P120

50% of legacy applicants to selective colleges boasted incomes in the top 25%, as against 39% of nonlegacy applicants. Princeton President William Bowen states “Legacy preference serve to reproduce the high income/high education/while profile that is characteristic of these schools.”… Legacies are more likely to afford private schools, tutors, test prep courses, etc. that usually translate into higher test scores… Alumni children should be high achievers; by definition, they start with the advantage of having at least one college educated parent. To equalize opportunity, alumni children would need to be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. P121

Penn explicitly links alumni child preference and early decision, urging alumni children to apply early for maximum consideration for the legacy affiliation. P122

Alumni contributed $7.1B to higher education in 2005, representing nearly 28% of all private giving to colleges… You gotta believe that some of that is donated in thanks for children already admitted to the alma mater, or in the expectation that a sizeable check will smooth future acceptance. P126

In 1952, Harvard admitted 63% of all applicants. In 2002, it admitted only 11% of overall applicants, but 40% of legacy candidates. P129

The more selective the school, the greater the admissions advantage enjoyed by recruited athletes. And once in college, recruited athletes in golf, fencing, crew, squash, polo, and other upper class sports often sink to the bottom of their classes academically. Why do colleges compromise their admission standards for athletes in marginal sports that don’t enhance ethnic diversity and rarely generate media revenues? The kindest explanation is that they are simply pursuing excellence in all their endeavors. P156 Or could it be that these sports preferentially filter out low income, minority candidates, allowing the university to recruit a wealthy, white student body? Nah.

Since most universities have faculty committees overseeing undergraduate admissions, and since it’s easier to replace an administrator than a professor with lifetime tenure, the last thing any admissions staff wants is to alienate faculty… Faculty children often receive an edge bigger than that given to alumni offspring. P179

33% of faculty children at research universities attend the parent’s institution if offers them a financial incentive to do so. If the institution pays the same share of tuition no matter where the child goes, then only 13% stay. P184

Are you smart enough to be rejected by Vandy?
Vanderbilt’s tuition reimbursement plan had a bizarre twist. It would pay 94% of tuition at any other institution only if the Vanderbilt had rejected the child. The concept was that a faculty child who aspired to Vanderbilt should not be penalized for being turned down, but in practice it offered a perverse incentive to fail. Brilliant Vanderbilt offspring contrived ways of being rebuffed so they could go to Harvard or Yale on Vanderbilt’s dime. Some students would apply to the music program when they couldn’t play a note, knowing that entry required an audition. One conniver showed up purporting to be proficient at the oboe, then surveyed an array of wind instruments before asking ‘Which one is the oboe?’. P186

An asian applicant needs to score 50 points higher on the SAT than other applicants just to have the same chance of admission. Being an alumni child, by contrast, confers a 160 point advantage… Black and Hispanic lag 100-125 points below whites. P204

UC Berkeley turned down 1421 Californians with SAT scores above 1400. 662 were Asian. Of the 359 students accepted with scores below 1000, 231 were Black, Hispanic or Native American. The UC Regents chairman accused his flagship campus of ‘blatantly’ discriminating against Asians. P211

We're number 1!
In 1999 US News anointed the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as the nation’s best university. How could a tiny engineering school surpass Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and even MIT? Yielding to critical pressure from the established elite, the magazine changed its criteria. Caltech, which otherwise, might have stayed on the top for years, instead slid back to the bottom half of the top 10, saving the Ivies and other powerhouses from perennial embarrassment. Yet there’s good reason for putting Caltech a notch above the rest: the Pasadena school comes closer than any other major American university to admitting a student body purely on academic merit. Caltech doesn’t compromise admissions standards to attract donations or foster to a wealthy alumni base. Nobody gets into Caltech because their families are rich, famous, or well connected; they get because of their talent, period. P261 I could not have said it better. – Ben Sharma, Caltech Grad, class of 1988.

Caltech admissions committees hold alumni and faculty children applicants to a higher standard. Being a legacy could have a negative effect. P262

Without underperforming rich kids dragging down the overall quality, the average SAT score in 2003 was 1505, including a remarkable 775 in math… About 85% of the students graduated from public high schools vs. 40-45% at the Ivies. P263

Caltech’s grueling curriculum leaves no refuge for less than brilliant minds – white, black, rich, poor. Caltech students take 6 classes per semester – 2 more than at most colleges. Rarely is credit granted for AP courses [I took over 8 AP courses in high school and receive only 1 semester credit in one course while the University of Arizona granted me admission into the 2nd semester of Sophomore year via AP credits]. Nor is a failing grade erased from a student’s transcript, as it is from some universities, if a person retakes the class and passes. ‘Everyone understands the enormous challenge represented by admission to Caltech’ Nobel laureate David Baltimore told me in his office. ‘Only the rare, special student can handle Caltech.’ Caltech professor David Polizter, 2004 Nobel prize winner in physics, said he would not have survived as an undergraduate: ‘I’m too slow. The pace here is outrageous.’ He is a Univ of Mich undergraduate, and Harvard PhD graduate. Caltech demands more gray matter than an Ivy League. ‘At Harvard and Yale, grades don’t mean squat. The goal is to become CEO of some Fortune 500 or President of the US. At Caltech, there isn’t much else besides academics.’ P278 [I can personally tell you that I never worked harder, or suffered more than my four years at Caltech.]


Anonymous said...

well said..i liked reading it.

Paula said...

I found this interesting as well. These so called Ivy League schools should be renamed to Schools for the Privilege. School should be for learning.

Anonymous said...

Ivy league, PrIvy League, seems same old game of mirrors casting back the flaws of our ultracapitalist democracy that surprisingly verges towards postmodern monarchies and plutocracies. Genetic addictions push the seemingly most reasonable people to make and accept the ludicrous offers.

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