kitchen table math, the sequel: Steve H on the mailing list

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Steve H on the mailing list

Have just read this comment by Steve H:
My son also has a college brochure stack two feet tall. He also made the comment that if you put your hand over the name of the college, you could not tell which one it is. (That would make a good YouTube video. Name This College.) I also liked the survey where they asked students why they got into a top college and the general response was: "I have no clue whatsoever." For others, however, it seemed like the extra oblong interest and special talent made the difference. It has to be special or at some particularly high level.

Unfortunately, the segment talks only about the most egregious application mistakes and stupid parents. I would like to be a fly on the wall when admissions people make the final decision. After they process race, gender, sports, and alumni parents, (grades are given), there will still be many to choose from - maybe one in five. what are the deciding factors? It might depend on whether you catch the eye of one of the strong or powerful admissions people. It might be your essay that does it, but it might also be your special talent.
Steve is in his year of viewing viewbooks are a world unto themselves.

My favorites were the ones from Grinnell, which were so striking, and so indecipherable in terms of who the intended audience was supposed to be and what message we were supposed to be taking away, that I kept scans.

What is the story Grinnell is telling prospective parents with these images?

After the mean girls reject your son, he'll gel his hair and take up violin?

And this is worth $50k a year?

By the way, if I were the parents of the three girls, I would have been furious. They are sisters whose parents -- both university professors in Kabul -- immigrated from Afghanistan. They're beautiful girls, and Grinnell had no business a) taking a photo like that and b) using it to promote the college.

Of course, maybe the parents weren't consulted. Which makes it even worse.


Anonymous said...

You missed the key point in the violin picture: The kid's shirt is for a science camp/competition/something. The kid is artistic (violin), math/sciency (shirt) and a bit of a free-thinker (hair)

-Mark Roulo

Auntie Ann said...

That's my alma mater. They went off the deep end long ago.

A couple of years ago, they asked alumni what they could do to improve fundraising, and I told them to stop positioning the school as uber-liberal/progressive, since there's a good chance at least a third of the alumni are totally turned off by that.

You can't treat moderates and conservatives as personae non gratae, then expect them to cough up large donations.

Catherine Johnson said...

Mark - nope, I didn't miss it.

Catherine Johnson said...

I told them to stop positioning the school as uber-liberal/progressive,

The thing is...just about everyone around these parts is uber-liberal/progressive, and I don't see them shipping their kids off to Grinnell (or even Oberlin, come to think of it. I know one family that has sent 3 kids to Oberlin, I think it is, and both parents are alumni.)

Speaking of uber-liberal, this is funny.

A friend of mine, who self-identifies as uber-liberal, told me that her son managed to come up with the ONE form of hair that she would actually object to.

She said she didn't think it was possible for her to object to a kid's hairstyle, but her son figured it out.

Catherine Johnson said...

We spent a fair amount of time around here joking about "international mean girls."

When you get done being banged up by your local mean girls, enroll in Grinnell College and get banged up by international mean girls!

ChemProf said...

Catherine, there's no chance at all the parents were consulted unless the kids are under 18. Having been involved with lots of college promotional materials over the years (my school likes busy lab students and we usually dig out indicators to make colored solutions), anyone over 18 can sign a release.

SteveH said...

The mailings have dropped off. My favorite one was from BU, which showed three kids; one a National Merit Finalist, one an 'A' student, and one who had 5's on AP tests (if I recall correctly). The mailing said that only one was admitted. Come to their admissions session to find out details. I wanted to find out what was horribly wrong with the other two. Everyone complains about the top tier schools, but all schools are playing this game.

At Yale, their promotional video (like a musical) said: "Why choose Yale?" We wanted to raise our hands to accept. Oops, it's not our decision. Again, it reminds me of "The Slug Club" from Harry Potter. Under activities, one might want to claim the ability to perform a superb Bat Bogey Hex.

My son's MIT interview was two hours long. I suppose that's good. He was surprised that she was 15 minutes late to the meeting - at a Starbucks, the speed dating and college interview headquarters. I don't know if he came across as quirky enough. He should have spiked his hair.

SteveH said...

My son's EA application is off (not Common App), so now he is deep into the details of the Common App. He has to fill in up to 10 activities, but each one allows only 150 characters for a description and list of honors or awards. Right. How many students start out by typing 1234567890123... to find out exactly how many characters are allowed?

My question is how holistic is it to allow space for 10 activities but only 150 characters for a description? That's breadth, not depth. MIT's application provides space for only 5 activities, but the character count is not much longer. After all of the essays were done and a sample PDF of the application was generated (with really bad formatting), there was not very much that was holistic about it. It doesn't show who my son is. Admissions people at top schools are guessing when they end up picking the last one out of three applications. They might as well use darts.

We took a picture of my son pressing the "submit" button for MIT. It came back with a confirmation and a note referring to his ID number. I called it his holistic number. They could have assigned each applicant a semi-random name, like "DuckBoat" or "PaulRevere".

Crimson Wife said...

My suspicion is that the 3 Afghani girls' picture is there to counteract the perception by applicants & their families living on the coasts that Iowa is totally whitebread "flyover" territory. Even though the demographics of Grinnell, IA show that it is 92% non-Hispanic white and only 2.7% Asian.

Barry Garelick said...

I suppose it's coincidental that the Afhani girls are wearing red, white and blue.

Auntie Ann said...

Back in the late 80's, when I was there, Grinnell had a very large international contingent of roughly 10% of students. Also, after Iowa and Illinois, I think New York sent more students than any other state.

froggiemama said...

Grinnell is famous for undergraduate science research. They get a mess of funding from the NSF for this, and have a great track record at producing kids who get into top STEM grad programs. I see that photo as saying "yes, we are known for science, but our students are actually kinda well rounded"

Anonymous said...

I had a university photographer in my class 2 weeks ago (I teach), taking photos to promote my school. I don't know if he asked the students to sign releases, but he sure didn't ask me!

Niels Henrik Abel said...

IANAL, but if you work at the university, there might be an "implied consent" that covers the situation you described, Anonymous. It might be interesting to see how they counter your objections if you push back.

Hainish said...

Catherine, I'd leave to the students themselves to determine whether to be furious (or not) at having their photo used in the brochure. Legal adulthood does begin at 18, no matter who pays the tuition.

SteveH, maybe, after admitting the very top students, colleges should choose the remainder of the class by lottery. I don't think they could do much worse than what they're doing now.

SteveH said...

When people think of a holistic process, they usually think of final decisions that are difficult to reduce to weighting values. However, with the huge demand for many colleges, the holistic decision point can be reached when you have to choose one out of four or five applicants. I would like it better if the process included the sensibilities of professors, not just those in admissions.

The constant refrain I hear is that academics are not everything. Just yesterday, a Harvard interviewer I know reiterated that point. It's almost as if being ranked first in your class is a negative point. I get the feeling that many assume that really good students must be trading off some sort of social skills or that they are just grade robots. And if you are also shy or introverted, that's a big double whammy against you. However, many of the top students I know are also very nice people. I couldn't rank them in that category. Do very massaged essays or almost equal recommendations give that answer? Most everyone has a passion for something, but they might not write well about it. It's clear to me that passion is judged based on how well you write.

Colleges may not go into a holistic decision process with a pre-defined set of weighting values, but one could define what those weights are after the fact. After colleges have pulled out the automatic acceptances and the automatic rejects, they should take the rest and give them to two groups; one from admissions and one made up of professors from different departments. They should see what different choices are made and extract key weighting values.

SteveH said...

What I would find interesting is to see how colleges pick out the automatic acceptances. It's clearly not just academics because for some top colleges, the acceptance rate only gets up to 20% for the top academic group. What's so bad about the remaining 80% that they couldn't survive the more holistic analysis process?

What we heard over and over at top colleges was that admissions people look to see if one can academically handle the material. Once you make that fuzzy cutoff, then it's almost as if academics are taken out of the picture and you compete completely on other factors.

Holistic is fine as long as you define and own up to the weighting factors you do choose. Unfortunately, I think holistic is used to hide all sorts of things colleges don't want to make public. The Harvard interviewer told me that my son had only one issue. He was a white male.

Anonymous said...

That seems like a very unlikely thing for a Harvard interviewer to say. Females actually out number males among Harvard undergrads so it's hard to see why being a male would be a problem. Beyond that, it's just so alien to the way that an someone associated with an ivy league school actually speaks. You do realize that if the interviewer really said that and you reported it, he would almost certainly lose his job. Why would he take that kind of risk?

You have intimated that your son is not a very good writer. Don't you think that this might be an issue?

SteveH said...

Yes, she(!) said that, and yes, she is a Harvard interviewer. She is also a very nice person. Perhaps the male part is not quite an issue, but nobody should be surprised about the other part. Holistic is just a way to hide all sorts of factors.

My general comments were not reflective of my son. He writes very well. Even if he didn't, we would never know, essay-wise, whether it was a problem. I'm saying that essays are so massaged (my informal poll finds that for most schools in our area, English teachers go over students college essays) that they are almost meaningless.

Anonymous said...

As anyone associated with admissions at Harvard would know, Harvard's acceptance rate for legacy students is 30% while the overall acceptance rate is 5.8%. The value of being a child of an alum is around 160 points on the SAT. Being from a wealthy family, or better yet, a wealthy donor family, gives an applicant an additional bump. Minority students make up only 6.7% of the legacy pool.

We have already established that being male is not a disadvantage for Harvard admissions.

So why is this woman saying that your son's only issue is being a white male? Your son's biggest problem is that he is not a legacy student from a wealthy family.

Crimson Wife said...

Being a legacy is NOT worth 160 points at Harvard! Maybe if you're an ultra-wealthy "development" admit, but for regular legacies, the advantage is nowhere near that large. The overall average SAT for legacy admits is a mere 2 points below that of non-legacy admits.

Crimson Wife said...

The source for the 2 points lower was Harvard Admissions Dean William Fitzsimmons as quoted in this Wall St. Journal article:

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that the article you cite gives being a legacy student an even greater advantage with a 40% admittance rate. The 160 point advantage that is cited by Business Insider comes from the lowest SAT score that will get a legacy student admitted as opposed to the lowest SAT score that will get a non-legacy student admitted.

It is an open secret that Harvard students who are admitted on merit have an open disdain for legacy students, particularly the notorious "triple + legacies (grandpa or even great grandpa was an alum) and the heavy donor admits. If you are willing and able to make a donation in the millions of dollars, your child is pretty much auaranteed an opening even if you are not an alum.