Elite College Admissions Is Now An Arms Race. And That’s OK.

The deadline to apply to the Regular Decision Round for several selective schools is now either a matter of days away or already passed.

For college seniors across the country applying to these elite institutions, their next four years will be determined in the following couple of months.

The waiting game begins.

And without missing their cue, prominent reporters from prestigious publications decry the college admissions process as a whole. Some liken the process to ‘ The Hunger Games”. Others freak out about the plummeting admissions rate into the Ivy League colleges and its peer universities.

Yet, none of them admit to not caring to solve the ‘problem’ of selective schools admission. Let alone consider if it is even a problem or not.

The most eminent of these worrywarts on the subject of college admissions is Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist whose magnum opus is titled “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.”

I haven’t read the book. And I won’t bother reading it.


The reality is that the problem of applying to selective schools isn’t actually an issue at all for the majority of Americans. The disproportionate coverage on selective college admissions does a disservice to actual issues that the average senior in high school faces while applying to any institution of higher learning, financing their education, and finding gainful employment after graduating.

Two major issues come to mind when these journalists take to their bully pulpits. One, these reporters tend to characterize the parents of these ‘overachieving’ students as crazy, irrational, and most commonly, helicopters in their style of parenting. Two, the obsession around elite colleges doesn’t even come close to representing the typical issues of high school seniors who apply to less selective schools.

On the first point, why should we call these parents insane when it comes to pushing their offspring to succeed in an increasingly competitive world? Should they not challenge their children to excel in school? When you live in a society that tolerates and even promotes excessive income inequality, wouldn’t you want your children to be a have instead of a have not? Our society does not fail to promote education as the ticket to a good middle class. If there are colleges (such as these select institutions) that are better at lifting students and their families into the middle class, then why is it seen as irrational for parents to want their children to attend and graduate from these institutions?

I personally do not agree with helicopter parenting, nor do I want this portion of my argument to come off as a defense of their child rearing skills.

Nevertheless, these obsessed parents are acting rationally in the face of a seemingly irrational college admissions process.

For these journalists to paint these parents and children as insane for striving to do well in a society that adamantly demands success is unfair and ludicrous.

Ironically, these journalists who criticize the elite college admissions practices are most often graduates of the same schools themselves. Bruni himself is an alumnus of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill for his undergraduate years and Columbia University for his graduate schooling, respectively. ( Feel free to click on my LinkedIn profile to see where I went to school.)

Year after year, they offer critique of a ‘monumental problem’ that only affects roughly 4% of all college students nationwide. This graph below explains the ‘problem’ that journalists are in a frenzy over, versus significant proportion of high school students who struggle in applying and entering college.

Graph of 21-year olds according to BLS survey data. BLS;Kevin Carey (Courtesy of The Atlantic)

I’m not bothered by hearing that Timmy got into Yale or that Sally got rejected from Brown. The types of students applying to these colleges are not representative of the whole pool of high school seniors applying to colleges all over the nation. Those students who are applying to less selective colleges face a host of problems, which are more common to the whole population of college applicants, that needs to be addressed.

And they are surprisingly absent from the discussions surrounding student loan debt and dismal graduation rates from colleges nationwide.

Their ignorance of these real, pressing problems for a majority of high school seniors can only be matched by their narrow-minded obsession to see who won the ‘rat race’ of getting into Harvard or Stanford.

This new year, let’s try and turn our attention to how we can make college admissions easier for those who are not applying to selective schools, and give less attention to these journalists who peddle an imaginary ‘crisis’ in order to be read.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on January 5, 2017.

Forbes Under 30 Contributor, 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice, Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures

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