Zhu Zhu Pets and their nefarious influence on college admissions


Since the general public really doesn’t understand the admissions process, and since it’s a topic that stirs a frenzy of anxiety, it shouldn’t surprise me that the popular media (i.e. the outlet for all the news that’s fit for bottom feeding) tend to feed a broad range of misconceptions. Chief among these is the annual (actually it’s becoming more like weekly) series of articles saying that admissions is MUCH more competitive this year, will be even more competitive next year, and that the year after that you will need to either own a magic lamp or perform ritual sacrifice to stand a CHANCE of getting into the school of your choice. Cue dramatic music and scenes of devastated students sobbing over their deny letters.

I’ve so come to expect these doom and gloom articles that I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to find a few reports this year that the admissions process may NOT actually be more competitive. Of course, the articles were pretty short and still tended to start with implications that the competition could still be increasing. Take the one below from Inside Higher Education, for instance:

“Applications Increase/Hype Season in Full Swing
Applications are up! It’s that time of year; the press is full of reports about colleges — mostly the elites but others too — reporting surges in applications, and there is detailed analysis of the relative size of the increases at Princeton vs. Harvard and so forth. A few words of caution: Most of the colleges capturing headlines were very difficult to get into last year, and the year before, and the year before that too, so the shift is less dramatic than it might seem. At the many colleges a notch or three below in competitiveness, college presidents will freely admit when not being quoted by name that they have more applications because lots of families are shopping for the best aid packages possible, and that applying doesn’t necessarily mean serious interest. At many of these colleges, in fact, the number of applicants admitted may actually go up in anticipation of lower yields (the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll).”

It all depends, I suppose, on what you consider “competition”. Yes, there are far more students applying to college, and each student on average completes more applications. There are, however more spaces in college than ever before. The standards at the most competitive institutions haven’t really changed all that much – it’s still REALLY hard to get admitted. There are also lots of ups and downs – individual schools that for whatever reason get hot, or not. (Shameless plug – yes, Mason is in that “hot” list so yes we are more competitive – but don’t hate just because we’re popular!). Many schools, for instance, found that the shift in the economy left them scrambling to admit students – in fact some schools that were our direct competitors for students just a few years ago were offering scholarships last admission season to students we denied!

What does that mean for you? As usual, the admission process remains terribly opaque. As in the article above, presidents and deans only admit to lower competition or that students might be less interested when they are off the record since we all realize that you want a school more if everybody else wants it too. It’s that kind of mentality that leads parents to search frantically for fake hamsters that, as far as I can tell, cost far more but do even less than real hamsters…but they must be good if EVERYBODY WANTS THEM. Be seeing you.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting post. Thanks for the useful information. I look forward to more in the future.

  2. Seriously, in reading the latest entry about the lying Harvard wannabe student acting only for himself and the honest but duped admissions staffers, acting for a huge rich institution – I mean where’s the match there? But I digress, in reading said latest entry I came across the Zhu Zhu pet and was forced, yes, forced (guns to your head can be invisible) to go there. I feel some responsibility to enlighten the esteemed author. Zhu Zhus are quite an improvement over nature’s version of hamsters. They don’t require food of cages, or toys, or cleanup and come in colors quite pleasing and when their little batteries run out, one just pitches them without remorse.

    Pitching them without remorse brings me back to Harvard. Students Lie? Naw. Not those young, close to nature, innocent , hungry for experience and learning, (and group housing) fresh things. Why should they beat the law of average in the mendacity category? Pitch ’em, but gently. They’re not so good at it yet and might actually turn out one day to be the real thing.

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