Unrigging the Admissions System

The path to getting into an elite school has long been shrouded in mystery. It’s up to us, the admissions officers, to lift the veil.

By Asha Rangappa|Posted Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, at 12:01 PM

Unrigging the admissions

Students get more help than ever on their college applications. Should this be acknowledged in the process? (Photo by Pattie Steib/iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

With the new school year comes the frenzy of another admissions season, as students rabidly compete to get into the nation’s top schools. As the admissions dean at Yale Law School, I love getting the dirt on how much money people spend to game the system. Lacy Crawford, a longtime “admissions tutor” whose new novel is based on her experiences helping the children of the wealthiest families get into college, charged $7,500 for help writing the college essay, a modest fee compared to the $40,000 parents pay to Michelle Hernandez, “America’s premier college consultant,” for guiding a child from ninth grade to Ivy League admission. I’m not sure what’s more shocking: the price tag for these services or the fact that they’re in demand. But while it’s tempting to heap blame on these admissions consultants or the tiger parents who hire them, some of the responsibility for creating such an atmosphere lies with the admissions officers themselves.

The admissions process at elite schools has long been shrouded in mystery. Before the electronic age, the admissions black hole made sense—admissions officers had no real way of communicating with students, apart from generic paper application materials. But in an age of instantaneous information, the black box is anachronistic and counterproductive. Students know immediately, through Facebook and online discussion forums, when and where their peers have been accepted. They share essays at the click of a mouse and two minutes later feel that their own versions fall short. They believe everyone else is on an inside track that they don’t know about, or has some critical piece of confidential information that they need. It’s no surprise that so-called admissions consultants—who often have no actual knowledge of the admissions process at any school and whose only “credential” is that they happened to attend an elite school themselves—are willing to fill this void and make a buck doing it.

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