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Pamela K. Pik College Consulting, LLC

Away From the College Admissions Rat Race

College Consulting College Admissions Blog PostWelcome to my new college consulting blog! A couple times a month, I will write on topics relating to colleges, admissions, students, and the application process. Hopefully, you will find the information helpful.

I am titling this first edition “Away From the College Admissions Rat Race.” It’s a bit of an opinion piece.

Some of you may have seen, a month or so ago, a front page article in The New York Times, regarding a senior admissions officer at Claremont McKenna College, a highly regarded liberal arts college in southern California. This officer was found to be “tweaking” CMC’s reported average SAT scores of admitted students, about 10-20 points higher on both Math and Critical Reading.

Why would someone risk his or her job by falsifying such information? The actions apparently did not affect which students were admitted. In fact, a quote from Claremont McKenna Admissions in the 2011 Princeton Review “Best 373 Colleges” states that CMC, as a small, selective institution, can “devote much more energy to determining whether the candidate as an individual fits instead of whether a candidate has the appropriate test scores.”

It is widely believed that the over-reporting of SAT score data was done in order to boost CMC’s rankings in such publications as U.S. News & World Report’s Annual “Best Colleges” edition, which generates a great deal buzz among colleges officials, students and parents. An algorithm of statistical data, such as admissions percentage, alumni giving rate, and – yes – average SAT scores of admitted students, is combined and weighted to come up with a list of U.S. colleges and universities in ranked order, from best to worst. Claremont McKenna is currently ranked by U.S.N.&W.R. as 9th among liberal arts colleges, just below Wellesley College, and just above Haverford College.

What if CMC’s actual SAT scores had been given to the institutions putting together these rankings? Would Claremont McKenna have dropped to 11th place? Would students and their parents have preferred another school over this one, solely based on a magazine report, not on visiting the school, fitting in with the student body, and seeing four years of academic excellence? Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? In my short experience in college consulting, only a few parents have brought up the meaning of these rankings, and I firmly believe that they mean little to nothing to prospective students. Personally, I find that someone would collect all this data fascinating, but that’s about it.

More disturbing to me is the SAT/ACT cheating scandal, which took place in Long Island, and has unfolded in the media over the last year or so. In that situation, desperate high school students paid a recent grad, now in college, to take the SAT or ACT exam for them. They reportedly paid him, as well as four others, up to $3,600 to falsify his identification, and sit through five hours of math, critical reading, and writing. Presumably, the college guy was known to have scored well enough in the past, that the scores would be better than the high school student would get if he took the exam himself.

Why would either side in this dishonest transaction take the chance of being caught, a felony for the test-takers, just for a chance of higher SAT scores? Clearly, the motivation for the fake i.d. test-takers was financial. But for the desperate high school students, this is “a telling reflection on the college admissions rat race”. (NY Times, 12/1/11)

I don’t know many, or any, 16 or 17-year olds who have close to $3,000 of their own money to pay for a test impersonator. I do know that these kids were likely under enormous pressure from their parents to achieve in high school and be admitted to a prestigious college or university. Am I saying that the parents are in on this? I think that it is possible.

At any rate, falsifying SAT scores to get into a better college could potentially take a spot away from an honest student. According to the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, about 3,000 scores are cancelled each year for suspected cheating, about 150 of those involving impersonation.

Both of these incidents fall under what I categorize as “desperate measures.” If we can teach our kids, or students that we know, that it is important to present yourself in a genuine light, and to choose a school based on where you think you will thrive and learn and be happy, then perhaps we can move slightly away from the rat race aspect of college admissions.

What are your thoughts?  Share below in our comments area or post on our Facebook wall here.

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