A Radical Proposal to Fix the Admissions Process


A high school student wrote a recent article in the Washington Post suggesting that colleges and universities opt into a system like the one hospitals use to place residents so that we can get a better idea who is REALLY most interested in each institution. On another end of the spectrum, a couple of years ago a professor (I can’t remember where he was from) wrote an article suggesting that we move all admissions to a random lottery system – suggesting that this method would be no less effective and far less expensive. And on the national admissions list serv recent posts worrying about students committing to more than one institution have led to a suggestion to move to a national clearinghouse that looks something like the NCAA uses for athletes.

Frankly, I don’t think any of the scenarios that requires colleges and universities to cooperate are likely to happen, and it may not even be in your interest for us to do so. Imagine if the car companies all got together to share which vehicles you’re considering – if they knew which one you REALLY wanted they’d probably go ahead and just charge you more. While many schools continue to play with financial aid based on student interest and negotiate packages, it’s hard to believe you’d benefit from colleges knowing for sure which institution you want!

I also doubt a lottery system is the answer – although there are certainly moments when it seems tempting! Be seeing you.

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3 Responses

  1. Dean Flagel,
    The prof who suggested the lottery was Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore. Schwartz has written a (somewhat related) book entitled “The Paradox of Choice” which uses psychological research to support his idea that having too many choices results in higher consumer confusion and decreases the likelihood of action.
    On another matter….Jay Mathews is interested in exploring the use of the SAT Subject tests in admissions at some point. I was thinking that a general discussion with him in his Class Struggle column about use of standardized tests in admissions might be interesting.

  2. I submitted a comment. Not sure if I need to do anything else since it apparently didn’t go through.

  3. I not only enjoyed the Barry Schwartz article, I also enjoyed the responses provided in the Chronicle of higher education from three prominent admissions deans (I was not one of them!). It felt a bit like having cooks actually respond to Jonathon Swift’s modest proposal.

    I always enjoy the discussion on standardized testing. Here in the D.C. area I’d encourage Jay to intereview William Sedlacek at University of Maryland (that’s another suburban D.C. school, in case my faithful readers might have supposed Mason was the only one. They like turtles there.) Sedlacek’s book, “The Big Test,” offers one of the most comprehensive views of standardized testing in admissions. For a more neutral view, although almost ten years old, I think the National Research Council’s Myths and Tradeoffs provides the best insight, and many of the researchers from that work are available as well. My research has been limited to my own institutions, and to reviews of the literature, so I think those who have conducted the national studies themselves would bring really interesting viewpoints to the discussion.

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