How to Reform College Admissions

  • Standardized Tests
  • Elite Universities and Connections
  • The Value of Variety
  • Emphasize Satisfaction
  • Verify

The college admissions scandal known as “Varsity Blues” has caused some debates about how to create a more honest college admissions process. Changing how college admissions operate and what they mean will require a multi-pronged effort on the part of schools, families and the larger culture.

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1. Standardized Tests

One element of the college admissions scandal was enabling cheating on standardized tests. This included having someone else take the tests on students’ behalf, supplying students with answers, changing answers after the test was taken and getting concessions, such as extra time, by falsely claiming the student had a disability. Research has shown there is not a strong link between successful standardized testing and either academic or career success, and colleges could discourage cheating and make the college admissions process more honest by reducing the weight these scores carry. Some colleges already make these tests optional.

2. Elite Universities and Connections

One of the reasons parents push their children so hard to go to certain schools, and one of the underlying causes of the admissions scandal is the belief that people who attend lower-tier schools will be at a disadvantage. However, according to an article in The Atlantic, it is actually in those families with wealth and connections where the college attended matters the least. These are also the families who had the money for the bribes in the admissions scandal. It is students from low-income families and families that do not have a tradition of attending college who tend to benefit most from going to elite universities.

3. The Value of Variety

Some experts have criticized college admissions’ emphasis on “well-rounded” students. While this may sound like a good criterion on the face of it, it can force unrealistic expectations on students who are expected to excel academically, socially, athletically and in extracurricular activities. Furthermore, it may eliminate students who have deep but narrow interests. Universities might end up with a better balance in their student body if they are as welcoming to a student who might be obsessive about computers or languages as one who is adept in many areas.

4. Emphasize Satisfaction

An article in The Washington Post points out that a broader criteria should be used by high schools to show student success in college. While many schools currently emphasize how many students went on to elite institutions, studies show that college satisfaction is a better measure of success. By focusing on these types of measures in the college admissions process, high schools could take some of the pressure off students and teachers.

5. Verify

It would be unrealistic to expect universities to verify every detail of every application that comes their way, but an expectation of some verification or of random verification could reduce the temptation to lie on college applications. Some of the students in the college admissions scandals were promoted to admissions officials as elite prospects for their athletic programs despite not playing the sport at all. Universities could have a policy in place to monitor these kinds of claims and bring more honesty to the process of college admissions.

Ultimately, the system relies on a commitment to ethical behavior on the part of parents, students and college officials. However, the above changes could lead to significant strides in creating a more honest college admissions process.