Thursday, December 18, 2008

My philosophy of the American school admissions process

Let's turn to university and school admissions, as there is an interesting article on current admission philosophies in today's New York Times:

Many years ago, I worked in admission offices at two universities and learned completely different practices at both, at the University of Oxford (for graduate students) and at The Ohio State University (both grads and undergrads), I can say with some authority that the students with the best marks in the hardest courses have an advantage, regardless of where they went to school. It's safe to say, but true.

My daughter was featured in an article in a competing national newspaper a few years ago about getting into university. Parents tend to be very hungry for current admission updates. There is a never-ending stream of mystery surrounding the process and most parents have valid questions about admission into the most selective universities in the United States.

With all the money involved, it's little wonder parents usually get involved to the point of obsession in America. They want to know how much it's all going to cost, how long it will take and where their children will be accepted, and they want to know now. But the system is so complex, and there are so many choices, that the application process and subsequent wait can be extremely stressful for students as well as parents. The process leads to a senior year of high school usually fraught with tension within families, as parents sometimes constantly question students for news. Students can keep parents aware so that they can be helpful, and not meddlesome or nosy, and clear the air in between application deadlines.

There is this sense that school admission is a judgment of parenting effectiveness and the way it reflects on parents and will reflect on them where the children attend school and university. In my view, where the student can get into at the secondary level does not show their ability as much as it is a practical decision made by the school for reasons only they know. Student admission decision-making is a private process and my understanding is universities cannot be legally faulted if they don't accept a student.

Some of the time where someone goes to school is a reflection of the money that parents can free up for education. In some families, there is a philosophy that no amount is too much to pay for education while in others no more than absolutely necessary should be spent on education and that education is not the best investment of their finances. For the latter students, financial aid is of paramount importance if private and continuing education is desired.

There was an interesting special show on CNBC television yesterday evening about the Harvard Business School, exploring the admission process for an M.B.A degree, the education students receive and whether the education is important today. I thought it was an excellent try and exceptionally well researched with many interviews of alumni, students and faculty about this secretive process.

I can just say from experience that while reading applications can be quite interesting, the repetitiveness of applications can be rather monotonous. It is definitely stressful keeping all those students applications together and remembering them, and then making correct decisions.

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