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Something's Terribly Wrong with University Admissions, Judging by This Story:

Liming Luo is a high school senior who is both a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs. New York Magazine asked Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions consulting company, about her [and other students'] prospects for admission to MIT, the college of her choice. The answer:

Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket. She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she's a shoo-in—I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community.

Why should Ms. Luo be competing with "other Asian students in particular" as opposed to just "other students?" What does the fact that she's "Asian" have to do with anything? [I understand that this is just Ms. Cohen's opinion, but given that she's paid to read the minds of admissions officers, I think it's same to assume her view reflects their views.] Is there any other industry in the United States, other than higher education, where it would not be scandalous to suggest that one's opportunities will be limited because of one's "Asian" background?

Even for "diversity" fans, why is the category "Asian" relevant? What do Fillipinos, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Pakistanis [note: coincidentally, I recently picked up a magazine for Indian-Americans, which had an article expressing concern that Indians and other South Asians were being denied admission to prestigious universities for fear the universities would be "too Asian"] and so on have in common? Not religion, not culture, not even "race." There is incredible diversity within the "Asian" population, and the idea that the various subgroups are fungible would be considered the height of Eurocentric arrogance, but for the fact that it's the folks who are most likely to accuse others of Eurocentric arrogance who are behind such ideas.

Beyond the Asian issues, what sense does it make to require Ms. Luo to show that she's "giving back to the community?" She's a math genius, and has a perfect score on her SATs. Her name suggests that she is likely the child of immigrants, maybe an immigrant herself. She has a fair number of extracurriculars, but likely is focusing on developing her academic skills. She'll be giving back by creating wealth and knowledge when she invents the next Google, works on a cure for cancer, wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, or becomes a prominent investment banker. And some of those careers will allow her, if she chooses, to donate substantial sums to charity. But what's she supposed to be doing now, neglecting her intellectual pursuits and instead volunteering at a soup kitchen every Sunday? That's a very nice and praiseworthy thing to do, of course, but it would hardly be the most efficient use of her time and talents, and should have nothing to do with whether she's admitted to the school of her choice. The idea that Ms. Luo may not be worthy of admission because she hasn't proven herself sufficiently altruistic is the kind of thing that makes Objectivism look almost reasonable.

UPDATE: Some commenters seem to think that this post suggests that Ms. Luo is "entitled" to admission at MIT because of her test scores. I said no such things. I rather suggested that she should be judged based on her achievements and potential and not (a) whether there are "too many" other "Asians" with a similar admissions profile in the pool; and (b) whether she "has given back to to the community"--the relevance of her test scores is that clearly someone with her abilities is likely to benefit the community more in the long-run by honing her academic and other abilities than by spending time on "community service" for which she has no particular aptitude or interest. Ms. Cohen is looking for evidence that Ms. Luo is demonstratively altruistic, which I don't think should be an admissions criterion (and even if it was a good criterion for admission, it's much too easy to fake, with the advice and aid of consultants such as Ms. Cohen, and for that matter gives an unfair advantage to rich kids, who could afford to be demonstratively altruistic because they don't need part-time jobs, to babysit their siblings, etc.).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Something's Terribly Wrong with University Admissions, Judging by This Story:
  2. California Universities "Fill[ing] Their Entire Freshman Classes With Nothing But Asian Americans":
conservative college guy:
maybe they look for altruism because if they relied only on SAT scores there would be too many conservatives, and they want to make sure the campus is at least 90% liberal.
11.28.2006 2:06pm
Truth Seeker:
Liming Luo would probably have a better chance at admission if she changed her name to something like Lindsey Lewis. Or for an even better chance, to Quaaneesha Lewis. If the school wanted to meet her she could say she was too handicapped to travel. Or too involved with helping the handicapped to do anything in her own personal interest.

First racism in school admissions and now forced altruism. My sister says her son had to do thousands of hours in volunteer work for any hope of getting into college. We really need a revolution in higher education.
11.28.2006 2:07pm
december (mail):
Many years ago, when I applied to a college in Massachusetts, it was illegal to discriminate based on race or religion. I don't recall whether schools could legally discriminate based on national origin. In short, it may well be illegal for MIT to discriminate against Asians, even though it seems to be an open secret that they do so.
11.28.2006 2:12pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
I'm not going to touch the Asian issue, other than to point out that Ms. Cohen may well have been describing the applicant pool ("Lots of people in general, and in particular lots of Asians, have strong SAT scores") and not the selection criteria ("MIT will be viewing her scores through the prism of the fact that she's Asian.")

With respect to your second point, I think you are completely off base. MIT (like all universities) has a goal of not simply taking smart people and cramming their heads full of knowledge, but of turning out graduates who will be contributing members of their communities. They look at far than SAT scores and GPA -- they look at extracurricular activities, they look at recommendations, and they look at community service. Because in the grand scheme of things, it may well be better to have someone with marginally lower SAT scores but who is a part of the community at large than it would be to have someone with a perfect SAT score but who holds himself apart from the community.
11.28.2006 2:13pm
Tek Jansen:
Aren't you reading a bit much into some stupid, silly quote by a consultant who has the job of telling people how to improve their chances, in an article about someone who will get into any school they want?

Relax and smoke a j, cause you are way too wound up if you are reading something into this. I understand that reverse racism is a pet issue of yours, but geeze, can't you find a better example, or perhaps wait until she is turned down?
11.28.2006 2:16pm
Jeff S. (mail):
"I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community."

This qualifies as the most fatuous phrase of our fatuous age. Did she take something from the community? In fact, what do people (usually leftist activists) mean when they invoke "the community"?

Let's see how this works: first, establish uncritically that there's a singular "community" to which every individual owes a debt for his success. Then, righteously demand that each individual repay that debt if it looks like that success will enrich him monetarily. Lather, rinse, repeat.
11.28.2006 2:23pm
jos:
The young woman cited in your post is not as exceptional as you seem to believe. There's no evidence in the linked article that she's a math prodigy. She scored somewhere above the 95th percentile on the AMC*, and she did well on the SAT, but she doesn't seem to have taken BC calculus at an early age (of if she did, she didn't take the calc AP test) and there's no mention of higher level math work. She's certainly skilled, but it's doubtful that she would stand out from MIT's applicant pool.

*"The AMC 12 is one in a series of examinations (followed in the United States by the American Invitational Examination and the USA Mathematical Olympiad) that culminate in participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad, the most prestigious and difficult secondary mathematics examination in the world."

From the website. I can assure you that anyone considered a "math prodigy" by MIT based on this series would be at least a USA MO level competitor.
11.28.2006 2:23pm
MnZ (mail):
I understand that reverse racism is a pet issue of yours, but geeze, can't you find a better example, or perhaps wait until she is turned down?


Is racism against Asians now reverse racism? Boy, we've come a long way in 50 years.
11.28.2006 2:23pm
FC:

Because in the grand scheme of things, it may well be better to have someone with marginally lower SAT scores but who is a part of the community at large than it would be to have someone with a perfect SAT score but who holds himself apart from the community.


Why?

To the contrary: Norbert Weiner, Kurt Goedel, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton...
11.28.2006 2:26pm
paul (mail):
I am the parent of a very bright high school student. She and other bright student like her are beefing up their resumes with community service hours, in part, because this is how the admissions game and scholarship game are played. I think that my daughter is an altruistic person and she has generally enjoyed doing community service. She probably would do some volunteer work even if she did not intend to go to college. Nevertheless, I think college admissions officers are deluding themselves if they believe that "community service" is anything more than one more item on a "to do" list for student hoping to be admitted to elite universities. In any event I do not know how they distinquish between students who "volunteer" because of a genuine desire to contribute from students who "volunteer" because they feel they must.
On a related topic I remember when Robert Bork was criticized for not doing pro bono legal work. As if spending time defending indigent criminals was a good use of time for a first rate legal scholar.
11.28.2006 2:26pm
superdestroyer (mail):
Would it not be better for young Ms. Luo to attend a top flight state university on a full scholarship that usually go under the name of something like President's scholarship or Regents Scholarship. She would get all of the honors classes, special access, mentoring etc instead of paying full retail to attend MIT to be just another student.

If she is a math genius she can still go to graduate school at MIT.
11.28.2006 2:28pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
The 95th percentile on the test was 100, she got a 122, out of a self-selected groups of students interested in math. This almost certainly places her within the top fraction of one-percent of the population. Maybe not exceptional for an MIT student, but certainly someone who should be cultivating her talent in math, not wasting her time on activities she's not interested in just to please an arbitrary vision of admissions counselors of "giving back to the community."

With regard to an earlier comment, I don't see any evidence that Ms. Luo "holds herself apart from the rest of the community." I see instead that she seems dedicated to her particular talent and interest (math), and also is a champion debater. Perhaps MIT is filled with applicants who have her skill set and also do a lot more extracurriculars than she. But I don't see why the extracurriculars in question need to be overtly altruistic, as opposed to things consistent with her particular interests and talents.
11.28.2006 2:30pm
Truth Seeker:
One of the excuses for racism in admissions is that besides helping those admitted, it helps the whole school because other students in class can learn a lot from the views of minorities in the class.

But if unqualified minorities are let in just because they are minorities, isn't there a good chance that what the other students will come away with is the impression that minorities aren't as bright as the others? Wouldn't it be better to have one minority member in the class that is just as sharp as everyone else than to have a whole lot of them who are obviously not as bright as everyone else?
11.28.2006 2:33pm
jab (mail):
MIT's average SAT score is somewhere in the ballpark of 2200-2300... a 2400 is fantastic, but NOT as exceptional as you think in the MIT applicant pool... the fact of the matter is that MIT (and Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc) get very many applicants with SATs in the 2200+ range... many more than they have room to admit... so they have to resort to looking at other fcators to distinguish... participation in extracurricular activities, community service, leadership roles, etc. The fact of the matter is the competition is so fierce, you have to excel at academics AND extracurriculars...

Sad anecdote, but not at all a good example of what you're trying to insinuate. Exactly how should MIT distinguis all the 2300+ students if there is not enough room for them all???
11.28.2006 2:34pm
Nathan_M (mail):
I don't want to make any substantive comment, because I don't know anything about MIT's admission policy, but I would take anything the CEO of "a school-admissions consulting company" says with a large grain of salt. You can't sell consulting services to students who are shoo-ins, and spreading panic in New York Magazine seems like a great marketing ploy.
11.28.2006 2:35pm
jos:
@ FC




Because in the grand scheme of things, it may well be better to have someone with marginally lower SAT scores but who is a part of the community at large than it would be to have someone with a perfect SAT score but who holds himself apart from the community.





Why?

To the contrary: Norbert Weiner, Kurt Goedel, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton...


Surely you understand there are people that didn't excel at standardized tests, yet proved useful to society because of their compassion or skill in dealing with people. In any case, comparing this perfect-sat-scoring student to Goedel, who was not the best exam taker or Einstein, who said that 'not everything that counts can be counted' is absurd
11.28.2006 2:36pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

Because in the grand scheme of things, it may well be better to have someone with marginally lower SAT scores but who is a part of the community at large than it would be to have someone with a perfect SAT score but who holds himself apart from the community.


I'd rather she have more to "give back" than that she be willing to give it back for free. When someone cures cancer, the fact that he did it will be a lot more important than that that he did it to help the poor.

One more thing: membership in altruistic high school groups is a horrible analogue for a highly intelligent person's ability to play well with others.
11.28.2006 2:39pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
To be clear, once again, Ms. Cohen did NOT say that Ms. Luo doesn't have enough extracurriculars, she instead suggested that Ms. Luo has not shown sufficient evidence of "giving back to the community."
11.28.2006 2:40pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Admissions officers need something besides a dart board to choose between large numbers of almost identical highly qualified applications.

And, since they work for an educational institution, their selection of additional criteria will be based on current academic fads. That used to be athletics. Then it was race and ethnicity. Now it is "community service".

It will be something else in the not too-distant future - the trend right now indicates it will be male gender.
11.28.2006 2:43pm
Drive By Comments:
I hate the stupid fetish college admissions has for "community service" and "giving back" and "extracurricular activities" in general.

Whatever happened to good students?
11.28.2006 2:45pm
jab (mail):

To be clear, once again, Ms. Cohen did NOT say that Ms. Luo doesn't have enough extracurriculars, she instead suggested that Ms. Luo has not shown sufficient evidence of "giving back to the community."


I don't think you should put too much effort into ultra-fine parsing of the opinion of ONE consultant who has a vested interest in scaring parents and hyping how competitive admissions have become... and then try to draw some sweeping generalization to the whole process... grab a paper bag, and take a few deep breaths before you hyperventilate.
11.28.2006 2:45pm
Mike Keenan:
The comment is so remarkably offensive and said so casually -- in parentheses for God's sake.
11.28.2006 2:46pm
jos:

But I don't see why the extracurriculars in question need to be overtly altruistic, as opposed to things consistent with her particular interests and talents.


I don't think they necessarily do. But the guys MIT lets in on pure math geekiness usually win something big, take college level courses, display a tendency towards research, or some combination of these things in addition to having near-perfect board scores.

My guess is that Ms. Cohen was looking for a nicer way to say she's not a shoo-in than "her numbers aren't good enough that she'll get in on them alone".

High SATs + debating is great, but she'd need something else to set her apart before early MIT is a lock. I'm sure being a champion violinist or sprint swimmer would help more than Key Club in this regard.

In any case, we're probably making too much of a one-off comment by a consultant looking for a way out of making a guarantee.
11.28.2006 2:47pm
jos:

Whatever happened to good students?


There are too damn many of them to judge by conventional measures.
11.28.2006 2:49pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
It could be that other extracurriculars would be as valuable, or more valuable, than community service, and that Ms. Cohen is either on the wrong track, or her remarks were poorly edited. But judging from some of the other comments here, "community service" is indeed valued by admissions committees, in preference to actual achievement.
11.28.2006 2:52pm
DavidS (mail):
As commenters above have pointed out, Luo's mathematical ability is good, but probably not beyond the norm for MIT applicants and there is no evidence that she is a prodigy. Moreover, as a student at Hunter she probably isn't being held back by lack of opportunity. I certainly agree that Luo doesn't need to demonstrate any level of altruism beyond a basic ability to get along in society, but she needs to stand out in some way if she wants to raise her odds at MIT from "plausible" to "high". Competing in the USAMO and other Olympiad-level math competitions, performing original research, taking and excelling in college courses, lecturing on mathematical topics to other interested students or maintaining a piece of open-source mathematical software are all ways that she could try to build that mathematical credential and make it shine above other similar applicants. All of these things are hard and time consuming (and many of them also require luck); I wouldn't be surprised if the counselor is right and some sort of community contribution would have the best return per hour.

Look, Luo might get into MIT; there are plenty of students there with credentials comparable to hers. But she isn't so good as to be a shoe-in, and I don't see what's wrong MIT considering community contribution, among other factors, in trying to separate out the many students like her.
11.28.2006 2:53pm
M. Gross (mail):
Admissions officers need something besides a dart board to choose between large numbers of almost identical highly qualified applications.


Why? Using the available indicators to you, simply group by what relatively objective measure you have, and pick starting from the top of the list. Work downwards until all positions are filled.

This whole debate has more to do with university officials trying to carry out social conditioning than anything else. They want to admit people who will do what they think needs to be done, and show the attitudes they want people to have.
11.28.2006 2:53pm
superdestroyer (mail):
I am surprised that leadership was not mentioned. I thought that is what the elite universities were using to keep down the number of Asian-American admissions instead of community service. It is easier to go work at a soup kitchen than actually leading a community effort.
11.28.2006 2:59pm
jab (mail):

But judging from some of the other comments here, "community service" is indeed valued by admissions committees, in preference to actual achievement.


No one said any such thing. MIT has way too many qualified applicants who could all theoretically be let in on "actual achievement" alone... the problem is distinguishing them.
"In preference to actual achievement"? NO! As indicated by MIT's sky high average SAT score, they don't let anyone in who does not have stellar academic achievements.
Perhaps you should rephrase that as "in addition to actual achievement." Then perhaps yes. You seem stuck on her high SAT score, as if that is enough to guarantee admission... it is not.

By the way, we have no idea whether this young lady will be admitted... she surely has an excellent shot... she hasn't been rejected yet, so it seems silly to be getting so worked-up about some phantom rejection that hasn't happened.
11.28.2006 3:00pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Ditto what Matt L. and Tek Jansen (great name) said, although maybe minus the closing advice from Tek.
11.28.2006 3:00pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):

For whatever it's worth, I had a perfect SAT score and an AHSME score (predecessor to this AMC thing, I think) of around 120, and I was nothing like a "math prodigy." I was just good at math, but "prodigy" is a different thing entirely. Also, I have yet to cure cancer.


Probably because you're spending too much time at the soup-kitchen, you no-good altruist.
11.28.2006 3:03pm
Tek Jansen:
Reposted after DB deleted it, without the slight at the end.


But judging from some of the other comments here, "community service" is indeed valued by admissions committees, in preference to actual achievement.


No, but way to continue to misread things. The comments have been saying that community service is valued in addition to academic (not actual) achievement, not in lieu of academic achievement. If you have a point to make, you would be better off providing some evidence.
11.28.2006 3:05pm
Tom952 (mail):
There is incredible diversity within the "Asian" population

There is diversity within the "Caucasian" population, too.

This all makes sense if you accept that among leftists "diversity" is a code word for affirmative action, and stop expecting diversity to mean actual diversity of differing viewpoints, etc.
11.28.2006 3:07pm
Jeff S. (mail):
Matt L.:

Clearly you have not taken from the community an amount sufficient to enable you to cure cancer. Maybe the community owes you something yet.
11.28.2006 3:12pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
jab: What does "too many qualified applicants" mean? I hear it used all the time as if the level of objective academic credentials qualifying a student is binary, and necessarily set low enough to have a surplus.

That just seems like an excuse to consider additional factors without admitting that this compromises academic credentials to some extent. When stores have "too many paying cutomers," they raise prices. There shouldn't be any such thing as "too many qualified applicants."

I have no problem with the argument that certain less academic or less objective characteristics are desired in a student body. But let's just put that on the table and admit that considering additional factors means letting some applicants leapfrog others had they been ranked purely on academics.

Saying that there's a large pool of "qualified applicants" which can be chosen among without sacrificing any academic merits is silly. The only plausible usage I can see is if a school like MIT is faced with an applicant pool that is so exceptional academically that the school could pick its entire student body starting from the top and stoppping before it hit the margin of error.
11.28.2006 3:13pm
Matt L. (mail):
Yay, my first deleted post. Glad to see it got a few shout-outs before the axe fell.


Why? Using the available indicators to you, simply group by what relatively objective measure you have, and pick starting from the top of the list. Work downwards until all positions are filled.


Why? If you had a perfect objective measure of -- what, exactly? academic qualification? ability to profit from an MIT education? -- then maybe this would make sense. But you don't. So you optimize your "relatively objective" measures (which are probably multi-dimensional) however you can and then use some judgment to fill in the cracks. Simply saying "well, the SAT is the best objective measure we have, so we'll take everyone with a high SAT score and ignore everything else" just seems obviously foolhardy.


This whole debate has more to do with university officials trying to carry out social conditioning than anything else. They want to admit people who will do what they think needs to be done, and show the attitudes they want people to have.


This is true. But "what they think needs to be done" is largely "give money to MIT," and "the attitudes they want people to have" are largely "MIT is a great school!" Schools have a strong self-interest in creating an impressive, accomplished class of alums -- which means that academic ability is very very important, but other factors can reasonably play a role as well.
11.28.2006 3:14pm
Ragerz (mail):
First, I want to agree with a couple of things that Bernstein said before I tear into him. I agree that it is wrong to lump all Asians together and I agree that it is wrong to penalize Asians vis a vis white people in admissions. Second, he is right that those who are not altruistically motivated can benefit society if they get a Nobel Prize in a real science (i.e. not economics and not literature and not the peace prize) or cure cancer or invent some new technology. Sometimes people benefit society despite their selfish motivations (as explained by Adam Smith) sometimes people harm society because of such motivations (which seems to be overlooked by certain economists who think selfishness, i.e. "rational maximization of utility" is a good thing).

Now, for the criticism.

"I understand that this is just Ms. Cohen's opinion, but given that she's paid to read the minds of admissions officers, I think it's [safe] to assume her view reflects their views." (spelling corrected -- same transformed into safe).

This is very naive. Ms. Cohen only get's paid when people consult her on admissions matters. To the extent that people feel secure enough about their admissions prospects not to consult her company, she does not earn money. In contrast, to the extent they feel insecure about their ability to gain admissions on their own, she earn money. She gets paid when people believe they need her help, regardless of whether they actually do. We can't just assume her views reflect "the minds of admissions officers" when she has an interest in scaring up new clients! (Of course, maybe like certain economists, we should just assume whatever we want, irrespective of the accuracy of those assumptions.)

Finally, the next outrageous thing Bernstein writes is the following:

"[W]hen she invents the next Google, works on a cure for cancer, wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, or becomes a prominent investment banker."

Are you really comparing the work of a lowly investment banker to the founders of Google, someone who finds a cure for cancer, or earns a Nobel Prize in Chemistry? That is a serious lapse of judgment.
11.28.2006 3:16pm
dearieme:
"Whatever happened to good students?
There are too damn many of them to judge by conventional measures."

Then replace your conventional measures.
11.28.2006 3:18pm
Nathan Jones (mail):
My wife (MIT grad) says Luo should go to Cal Tech since (according to her) they are more interested in "math nerds" than "altruism."

MIT has also achieved something close to a 50/50 male/female student ratio whereas, if memory serves, Cal Tech was something like 90/10.

More quotas?

-nj
11.28.2006 3:19pm
als_24 (mail):
I recently heard a report on the BBC World service that suggested some top ranked schools were re-thinking their admissions criteria.

The idea was that the "cookie cutter" successful applicant (valedictorian, perfect SATs, captain of the track team, worked three jobs, and actively volunteered at the local homeless shelter.) is not necessarily the student with the most creativity, initiative, or leadership skills—the ones presumably more likely to be the future Nobel laureates and billionaire entrepreneurs.

I have my doubts as to how objective the new criteria will be. But, this reminded me of another story. I once read that the tech firm Bolt Beranek and Newman, a big player in the development of the Internet, had a policy of recruiting MIT dropouts. They apparently felt that people that were good enough to get in MIT were smart enough, and if they dropped out, they would be willing to work for less.
11.28.2006 3:20pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Ragerz,

If you'd like, read that as "EVEN becomes a prominent investment banker."
11.28.2006 3:20pm
Zac:
Has anyone considered the possibility that Katherine Cohen has no fucking clue what she's talking about?
11.28.2006 3:22pm
jos:
@HLSbert

That just seems like an excuse to consider additional factors without admitting that this compromises academic credentials to some extent. When stores have "too many paying cutomers," they raise prices. There shouldn't be any such thing as "too many qualified applicants."


one problem: once your customer offers, and you accept, you've sold an item. schools must offer first and they're dealing with silghtly more uncertainty.


Are you really comparing the work of a lowly investment banker to the founders of Google, someone who finds a cure for cancer, or earns a Nobel Prize in Chemistry? That is a serious lapse of judgment.


Wow. I'd missed that. If you're gonna give financiers props, you gotta start with VCs.
11.28.2006 3:24pm
Vovan:
MIT

Middle 50% score range of admitted students:
SAT Reasoning Test - Critical Reading [670, 770]
SAT Reasoning Test - Math [730, 800]
SAT Reasoning Test - Writing [670, 760]
ACT Composite [30, 34]
SAT Subject Test - Math [740, 800]
SAT Subject Test - Science [710, 800]

Percentage of Those Ranked who were:
Applicants Admits Admit rate
in Top 5% 3703 818 22%
in Top 5-10% 713 50 7%
in Top 10-20% 536 24 4%
below top 20% 330 5 2%

Distribution of SAT Reasoning Test Scores (Critical Reading)
Applicants Admits Admit rate
750-800 2505 609 24%
700-740 2061 377 18%
650-690 1953 254 13%
600-640 1279 126 10%
550-590 643 46 7%
< 550 743 13 2%

Distribution of SAT Reasoning Test Scores (Math)
Applicants Admits Admit rate
750-800 4852 932 19%
700-740 2275 342 15%
650-690 1131 118 10%
600-640 512 31 6%
550-590 226 2 1%
< 550 178 0 0%
11.28.2006 3:24pm
gab (mail):
I second Ragerz. The "investment banker" stuck out like a sore thumb.
11.28.2006 3:25pm
Tom952 (mail):
HLSbertarian -
The only plausible usage I can see is if a school like MIT is faced with an applicant pool that is so exceptional academically that the school could pick its entire student body starting from the top and stoppping before it hit the margin of error.

That may be possible. While looking at graduate admission stats, I read that the average GRE math score at MIT is 800 out of 800. MIT might attract enough top students to fill all available openings from the top ranks. If so, the question is whether they should allow someone with lesser scores into the school to fulfill some mission other than educating the brightest students. And if they did, well, how would you feel sitting in a class of 800's if you only scored a respectible 660?
11.28.2006 3:25pm
Ragerz (mail):
HLSbertarian,

Do you really believe that SATs are a matter of "pure academics" when you write, "[b]ut let's just put that on the table and admit that considering additional factors means letting some applicants leapfrog others had they been ranked purely on academics."

If you have ever taken the SATs, the idea that they are a matter of "pure academics" is clearly wrong. SATs do not really resemble academics that well. The best that can be said for them is that they are correllated with academic success later on. But then, it could be that many other "external" factors are correllated with academic success.

Second, universities admit that they have goals and they exist for reasons in addition to advancement of academics. For example, to develop character and produce individuals inclined to contribute to society in non-selfish ways. It is no secret that universities weigh academic performance with other factors in admissions, even while weighing academic performance most highly. There is no secret conspiracy here.
11.28.2006 3:29pm
Houston Lawyer:
In addition to determining that Blacks and Hispanics are more qualified based upon their skin color, admissions officers now believe that they can look into somebody's soul based upon her "giving back to the community". I'm sure most high school students would gain more personal growth by working at McDonalds than by working at a soup kitchen. The more BS admissions criteria you add, the easier it is to convince yourself that you are any different from the KKK.
11.28.2006 3:33pm
Cato:
Objectivism isn't reasonable?

Am I duluded?
11.28.2006 3:33pm
Drive By Comments:
"There are too damn many of them to judge by conventional measures."

The SAT should be made more difficult then, in order to provide finer distinctions at the upper percentiles.
11.28.2006 3:34pm
Swede:
Oh, I'm sorry.
You must not have gotten the memo.
When in comes to "diversity", whitey and Asians need not apply.

It's because of their locksteppiness, or something.
11.28.2006 3:38pm
NUSL08 (mail):
I went to a very science/engineering-oriented school for undergrad, and I understand why it's very useful to pick an applicant for qualities other than their standardized test scores, especially when there are many more high-performing applicants who could thrive than there are spots in the incoming class.

To put it bluntly, I went to school with a lot of brilliant shut-ins. I saw them when I lived in the dorms. They studied very hard, filled their free time with video games and generally only showed their faces on the way to class and occasionally at the dining hall. When I moved out of the dorms, I didn't see them again until graduation. Sure, they brought our average SAT scores up, but they didn't do much else to sell the school to the top applicants who have a choice of where to apply.

Generally, community service work requires at least a little social interaction. People who can smile to 500 homeless people as they ladel soup on a chilly Saturday morning or who read to kids in an after school program are more likely to be out on the quad socializing, or starting clubs, or doing any of the other things college applicants look for when visiting a campus. Bernstein and many of the commenters fail to note that students fight for slots at top schools, but the top schools also fight for the top students.
11.28.2006 3:39pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

Do you really believe that SATs are a matter of "pure academics" when you write, "[b]ut let's just put that on the table and admit that considering additional factors means letting some applicants leapfrog others had they been ranked purely on academics."


Ragerz: "SAT" didn't appear in my post, so I'm not sure what you're arguing against. I was discussing the use of the term "too many qualified applicants" and its use to justify employing factors additional to "academic achievements." That language was in Jab's post, and I addressed mine to his.

Nor did I suggest a "secret conspiracy." I merely said that the phrase "too many qualified applicants" is silly and disingenuous, and that people who use this phrase would do better to use more honest language in making their (entirely arguable) point.

Your post seems to imply that you don't believe applicant characteristics can be divided into academic and non-so-academic. That's a fair point, though I disagree. And while I am a big SAT supporter and don't buy into the recent backlash against it, I never suggested it as the only "academic" factor for ranking applicants.
11.28.2006 3:42pm
Master Shake:

On a related topic I remember when Robert Bork was criticized for not doing pro bono legal work. As if spending time defending indigent criminals was a good use of time for a first rate legal scholar.
That's a joke, right?
11.28.2006 3:44pm
tefta2 (mail):
My kid's a theoretical physicist who spent every waking hour working on his "stuff" and his powers of concentration are such that he would have starved to death if not brought back from his own world to eat and sleep.

His first choice for undergraduate work was Princeton largely because Einstein was his hero. When we went to his interview, he was seen by the director who upon opening his folder, looked at him and said, "Thank God not another class president."

I find it interesting that people living on the kindness of strangers aren't forced to do anything at all. It's against their civil rights to require that they "give something back," yet we require that our best and brightest waste their time picking up trash and the like to show their altruism.

A commenter on another thread said that when Ronald Reagan was told if admissions to colleges were strictly on merit, the classes would be all students of Asian descent. His response, "So what?"

I couldn't agree more.
11.28.2006 3:46pm
DavidS (mail):
Just to add some anecdotes that look like data,
here
are profiles of some students who were admitted to MIT last year.


I don't know how representative these folks are (they seem a lot better socialized than my MIT friends), but I certainly see plenty of white, wealthy students who excelled in ways unrelated to community service.
11.28.2006 3:49pm
spork:


On a related topic I remember when Robert Bork was criticized for not doing pro bono legal work. As if spending time defending indigent criminals was a good use of time for a first rate legal scholar.



That's a joke, right?


The point is that Bork could better help out society by advancing the state of legal scholarship (something very few could do) rather than arguing a habeas petition (something a reasonably competent 3L (or pretty much any lawyer) could do). It would be an inefficient allocaiton of resources.
11.28.2006 4:00pm
Mark Field (mail):

Using the available indicators to you, simply group by what relatively objective measure you have, and pick starting from the top of the list. Work downwards until all positions are filled.


This won't work unless the differences between applicants are statistically significant.

It also ignores the fact that "relatively objective" measures leave out important characteristics of success. Universities are perfectly justified in using proxies for these, and that may include athletics or music or some form of voluntarism, etc.

In addition, nobody has yet mentioned a key point. Which is the more impressive candidate:

1. Someone who scores 2400 and spends every spare minute studying; or

2. Someone who scores 2400 and spends 30 hours a week playing soccer or working at the local food bank?

Finally, the discussion is too focused on the individual student. That's important, but there are other factors which make a great university. One is the interaction of those students with each other and with their professors. I don't see any reason why the admissions offices can't look for proxies in an effort to schieve this synergy.
11.28.2006 4:20pm
WHOI Jacket:
Speaking as a current MIT graduate student, I'm living proof that one doesn't have to be a wunderkind to get into the graduate programs. I got a 660 on the math section of the GRE, for what that's worth.
11.28.2006 4:23pm
mls:

"Whatever happened to good students?
There are too damn many of them to judge by conventional measures."


Then replace your conventional measures.



That's the whole problem with this discussion -- the notion that the ONLY appropriate measure, the ONLY thing that defines merit is performance on an objective test.

Do you find this to be true in your professional life? Are the best lawyers you know the ones with the highest LSAT scores? or the highest bar exam score?

Do you find this to be true in your personal life? Are the only ones whom you find beautiful the ones with "objectively symmetrical" features?

Absent illegal discrimination (and we have no idea whether this candidate will face illegal discrimination based on race), can't a university use ANY criteria it pleases to define merit? What would be wrong with that? Why should they be requrired to admit only students who had the highest scores on objective tests?
11.28.2006 4:27pm
Olof:
Every discussion of college admissions I've seen misses this point: Universities are not simply guessing when they evaluate admissions material. They have many years worth of history to learn from: they look at which students actually do well once they become a student and use this information to calibrate their admissions process.

The anecdote that I heard when I was an MIT student was that Asian male applicants underperformed (at MIT) relative to pre-admission standardized test scores, but that Asian female applicants outperformed relative to their scores on such tests.

In answer to David's original question, perhaps Cohen's comment makes sense in this context: that standardized test scores might be known to be poorer indicators of future success for one group rather than another.

- Olof
11.28.2006 4:29pm
Gil (mail) (www):
First of all, as others have indicated, it's very possible that the comment by Ms. Cohen does not accurately reflect MIT admissions policies.

But, even if they do, I'm not sure what kind of a problem this is.

I sympathize with David Bernstein's reaction to the use of race and altruism as factors for admissions to MIT.

But, accepatnce to MIT isn't a reward one gets for a certain level math/science/rhetorical academic achievement. It's a voluntary agreement between two parties, and either party can use whatever criteria it wants to when deciding whether to enter into the relationship.

Clearly, MIT can have values it (as an institution) would like to promote that differ from Bernstein's or mine. We might think that this makes it a less valuable academic institution; and we might be right. But it isn't wrong, or immoral, or unfair, for them to turn down students based on whatever criteria they choose.
11.28.2006 4:30pm
Hannah Grossman (mail):
No one has ever said that college admissions are fair or based entirely on "merit" (or if they have, they clearly are living in an alternate universe). In the end, the student in question has the best chance of getting into MIT if she has a family legacy (and her family gives significant gifts to the school) and/or if she goes to an elite prep school with ties to MIT (especially if her college guidence counselor worked in admissions at MIT or is related to someone in the admissions office at MIT. This is very true for all of the Ivy League universities and many of the elite liberal arts colleges.
11.28.2006 4:33pm
tefta2 (mail):
Just for the record, it was Leaky Leahy who berated Bork about pro bono work. Bork's reply was that he needed to make money so he could pay the enormous medical bills caused by his (by then deceased) wife's cancer treatment.

Leahy probably knew the truth, but it was too good a shot not to take. He got a lot of heat and eventually apologized for the remark.
11.28.2006 4:35pm
Brooklynite (mail) (www):
A commenter on another thread said that when Ronald Reagan was told if admissions to colleges were strictly on merit, the classes would be all students of Asian descent. His response, "So what?"

I couldn't agree more.


And who do you think is more likely to disagree with that rejoinder --- the forces of PC or the middle-of-the-road?

Schools that set limits on the number of people of Asian descent they admit do so primarily in order to protect white students' chances of getting in. Picking a white student over a more-qualified Asian American may be a byproduct of PCism, but it's hardly an example of it.
11.28.2006 4:36pm
JRL:
Now they have to admit her.

What a brilliant, Rovian ploy executed by the Luo family this is!
11.28.2006 4:55pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I don't know about MIT and I think using 'giving back to the community' as a admissions requirement is just dumb and counterproductive. You are just asking them to buy admissions with charity work but surely the sort of kids who are going to go to MIT could better serve society by pursuing academic interests and later being better able to produce skilled work.

However, it is perfectly reasonable not to count SAT scores for everything. For instance I know at caltech the admissions committee definitely denied plenty of people with perfect or near perfect scores because they appeared to lack genuine enthusiasm for math/science or looked like they had gotten good scores/grades primarily through work ethic and not through intelligence. Work ethic is certainly good but HS just doesn't challenge people's brains the way caltech classes do so if you are just getting by on effort you are going to flame.

So if what they care about is interest, enthusiasm and self-motivation as opposed to just wanting to get a high paying job and become a doctor I'm all for that. I know that is why I got into caltech despite mediocre HS grades (HS was boring, rote memorization and I didn't like solving stupid algebra problems) and I did quite well and was accepted at a top notch math grad school.

However, I know at my HS there were tons of kids who spent hoards of time joining service organizations to suck up to college admissions and I suspect it must have worked or they wouldn't have bothered. Both this behavior and the colleges that encourage it make me sick. Also I despise the way this sort of admissions benefit unfairly penalizes atheists or others who have a more critical attitude to many of these service programs. I mean tons of the service types at my HS drove fancy new cars, surely it would be equally charitable for them to forgo some of their luxury goods and donate the money to charity, and likely more efficient too but absurdly just being interested in doing good doesn't get you points. No doubt there are hundreds of others contributions which aren't even considered at all.

What's worse is that this often most penalizes the kids who most deserve to go to the good school. If you have tons of friends who are also doing service organizations it is kinda fun but if your more of a nerd whose friends get together to play video games it's much more unpleasant, especially if you don't get along with the brown nosing service types (just like every other group in HS these people form a clique).
11.28.2006 4:59pm
Brian Garst (www):
This is the inevitable consequence of race agitators and their focus on "proportionality". When your idea of fairness is representation as closely proportional as possible to the population at large (the definition many leftists use) instead of simply equal opportunity to all, you end up with a lot of people focusing on something that should be irrelevent, race.
11.28.2006 4:59pm
Mark Field (mail):
I agree with mls (4:27pm).
11.28.2006 5:04pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Diversity -- of character, not of skin color, and certainly not as a codeword for dark skin color -- does make for a better academic experience.

I learned a lot more from my classmates, especially about important stuff, than from my professors.

While MIT is a top engineering school, as far as I know it has tried to encourage its students to be both excellent engineers and well-rounded individuals, and it offers liberal arts majors for those who choose them.

How well you performed for half a day when you were 15 years old is highly objective, but it might not capture how much you will add to your class as well as something interesting.

(And as for the comment about those who score just as well while spending 30 hours a week in a sport, I've come to see that the "dumb" jocks tend to have better life skills [the kind that let you become rich and then give lots of donations to the school], like discipline and people skills, than the "nerds".)

Of course like everything else, the overachievers will try to game the admissions system, and if ladling soup, or spending a year in the third world teaching natives increases the odds of getting in, they will do that. While I do take pleasure in my Harvard degree, because it lets me sit back and feel superior to everybody else, I suspect my children may go to second-tier schools, and not only will they have a more enjoyable four or five years enjoying things that are most enjoyable when you're that age, but they'll be more successful for the rest of their lives as well.
11.28.2006 5:07pm
NYU 2L:
Race shouldn't be an issue, but it's more a factor of this idiot guidance counselor giving lousy advice than university policy.

First, the SAT measures only one thing: your ability to do well on the SAT. I worked at The Princeton Review for 3 years, and we weren't getting kids 150 points/section improvements by teaching them math, reading or writing. You can get a 750 on the SAT Math knowing nothing more than 8th grade arithmetic and geometry, with the proper techniques. A 2400 is impressive, but anything in about the 2200-2400 range is more or less the same when it comes to qualifications. And MIT can fill its class a few times over with 2200-2400 range applicants. So, you have to distinguish them somehow.

A 97.2 GPA from Hunter is very impressive, but...her national scores aren't enough to get her in just in the role of "math prodigy." There's no Calculus, Physics, or Computer Science AP score to tout her as an early starter. An AMC score of 122 is very good, but it's not one of the scary top 200 type scores that act as an auto-admit (and what was her AIME score? That's more representative of her ability to do well on open ended college math tests.) I doubt it places her in the top, oh, 50 in New York State.

However, she will likely be admitted because a 122 on the AMC 12 probably puts her as one of the top girls in the country. Schools like MIT love to recruit girls who are top math students, even if they aren't quite up there with the ones on the IMO team. Schools like to take students who will fill niches, and "girl who keeps Honors Linear Algebra from overflowing with testosterone" is one such niche.

Beyond her math scores, there's enough there to make it clear she's not a shut-in. She's got some "community service" in there (teaching math to 8th graders), she can clearly speak, and she has some other interests. She shouldn't have too much trouble getting into MIT, as long as her essays don't suck (Based on what I've seen at Princeton, essays matter a lot. The star soccer player, top of the class, brother of a Princeton alum at my high school didn't get in, apparently because he blew off his essays. A more recent IPhO competitor with Bs and Cs in humanities courses did get admitted, but he wisely decided to go to CalTech instead.) If I were the counselor giving advice here, I'd say forget about doing more hours at a soup kitchen, and spend that time polishing essays and making sure they're appropriately exuberant and insightful.
11.28.2006 5:17pm
Justin (mail):
I am just writing to encourage everyone to read and consider Gil's insightful 4:30pm comment. It sums up my position perfectly.
11.28.2006 5:35pm
Justin (mail):
BTW, I did get a top 50 in NY state on the AIME and didn't even bother applying to Harvard or MIT. As Professor Bernstein should know, there are simply too many people with exceptional resumes, deserved or not, to fill up the limited spots of America's most elite schools.

I'm hardly crying for Ms. Luo. If she's capable of curing cancer, she'll cure it whether she gets in to MIT or has to settle for Cal Tech, Michigan Engineering, or Stanford.
11.28.2006 5:38pm
Constantin:
Brooklynite, not even close. Limits on Asian students are placed to give slots to "more deserving" minority applicants. And by "more deserving" I mean from racial groups that tend to vote for Democrats. Just ask any Hispanic student who now is asked to check a box to indicate whether she is of Cuban (Republican!) descent.
11.28.2006 5:41pm
RMCACE (mail):
I think DB meant this as an example of the phenomenon where lesser qualified whites and asians are passed over for other minorities, just because of the their skin color. The data on these things is frightening.

"In last year's entering class, a Michigan native with neither parent a U-M alum, a cumulative SAT of 1240 and a 3.2 high school grade-point average had a 9-out-of-10 chance to be admitted as an undergraduate to the University of Michigan — if the applicant was black or Hispanic.

For whites or Asians, the chances were 1-in-10."

source


"Asians applying to elite schools don't benefit from minority preferences — because they are not regarded as underrepresented. At the same time, The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Golden recently documented that because Asians are often first-generation immigrants, they don't qualify for legacy preferences either. The result is they lose out both to less qualified black and white students. They need to score at least 50 points higher than non-Asians on standardized tests just to be in the game."

source
11.28.2006 5:48pm
Egon (mail):
What exactly did she take from her community that she needs to give back?
11.28.2006 5:51pm
totochi:
I agree with the content of Gil's comment but the problem is that MIT (and other schools) are not willing to state their criteria. The schools should just come out and say that they don't want too many Asians (or whatever) if that's what they believe. Instead, they use all this PC-speak... probably afraid to lose their federal funding dollars.
11.28.2006 5:54pm
James So and So (mail):
For what it's worth, I got a perfect score on my SATs, am a white male, was president of several clubs at my high school, did no charity work, and did not get into MIT.


Also, MIT wants to pick the best students for MIT, not just the best students. Maybe charitable students give more $$ as alumni?
11.28.2006 6:03pm
Nobody (mail):
What exactly did she take from her community that she needs to give back?

She goes to Hunter College High School (my alma mater), one of the finest high schools (public or private) in the United States. HCHS is part of the City University of New York--it's a "public school" in that it is free to attend, but is part of the CUNY system rather than the New York City Board of Education. She got a free education better than that given to 99.99% of the kids in New York City (if not the country). So that's something she took from the community. Not that she shouldn't have taken it, but she took it.

If you omit the word "back" from the consultant's comments, the meaning is the same and the offense to "objectivists" would perhaps be mitigated: "I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving to the community."

When I attended Hunter (I graduated in the early 90s), nearly every senior who was at all serious about math or science took AB Calc or BC Calc. (I even took AB, even though I knew that I had no interest in math or science--I knew from about 10th grade that I wanted to be an English major.) There were several sections of each class offered. Very likely, she is taking BC Calc now, but has no AP score listed because she won't take the AP exam until the end of the year. (If I recall, the exams are given in April or early May.) If she was a "math prodigy," as is suggested above, she might have skipped a year or two in math and have taken Calc as a junior. (In very rare cases, Hunter students will place out of high school math entirely and take math classes at Hunter College.) More likely, she's just a very smart girl (like most of the students at Hunter) who studies more than is probably healthy (ditto) and is really good at math. Not a "prodigy."

Incidentally, Hunter has always been known as a school that emphasizes the humanities and social sciences much more than math and hard sciences. This is partly due to its less-than-stellar facilities--the school simply doesn't have the lab space or the science funding that a school like Stuyvesant gets. Hunter students who are super-serious about math and science often transfer to Stuyvesant (or Bronx Science) after 8th or 9th grade.
11.28.2006 6:18pm
just me:
Things that count as "giving back to the community":

-- Interning at the DNC
-- Working for NARAL
-- Sitting at meetings of some Coalition to Change the World saying self-congratulatory things but not actually doing anything

Things that don't count:

-- Helping pregnant teens at a pregnancy crisis center that provides material support but does not peform abortions
-- Working on a campaign to end racist admissions policies

Real meaning of diversity: ensuring that we have the right ratios of skin color and ethnicity, and that under our multi-colored faces we all think alike.
11.28.2006 6:24pm
BobH (mail):
HLSbertarian says: "The only plausible usage I can see is if a school like MIT is faced with an applicant pool that is so exceptional academically that the school could pick its entire student body starting from the top and stoppping before it hit the margin of error."

That is exactly the situation schools like MIT face. The super-elite schools (MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, etc. -- particularly Caltech, which admits fewer than 200 a year) receive more applications from kids who are so academically exceptional that they are essentially indistinguishable (e.g., all of them with high-school GPAs of 4.3+ and SAT scores of 2300+) than there are seats in their freshman class. So what are they to do except rely on other indicia?

By the way, if you were to discuss this with college-admissions officers, most would tell you that the most important other indicia are (1)teachers' recommendations, (2) applicants' essays, and (3) applicant interviews. These are more important because they reveal something about who the kid is, rather than what he or she has done. Extracurriculars and community service, while not unimportant, are further down the list.
11.28.2006 6:58pm
Jeff S. (mail):
To Nobody:

Maybe if you omit the word "community" the sentence would start to mean something. But, "Giving back to the community" is how altruism is almost always defined by those who either expect to benefit from the giving or who are convinced of my (or your) obligation to give. The words "back" and "community" are consequential. "Back" implies a debt. One is morally obligated to repay a debt. The use of the word community means the debt is broad, indeed limitless, because the users of this phrase rarely define "community" even in the roughest terms. Overall, the phrase means that you couldn't possibly have succeeded because of your own efforts, or your fortunate genetics, or because your parents motivated you, or because some other more circumscribed group of individuals than the "community" was looking out for you.

As for Hunter, I don't know anything about it so I can't comment. How does a high school student get into Hunter? Thanks.
11.28.2006 7:08pm
Mark Field (mail):

And as for the comment about those who score just as well while spending 30 hours a week in a sport, I've come to see that the "dumb" jocks tend to have better life skills [the kind that let you become rich and then give lots of donations to the school], like discipline and people skills, than the "nerds".


I suppose a comment like this serves me right for not stating what I thought was the (obvious) answer: that the soccer player was clearly the better candidate. Why? Because s/he got the same score without trying as hard. In addition, as the quoted passage shows, s/he probably developed other skills which are likely to be equally valuable in life.
11.28.2006 7:15pm
Nobody (mail):
HCHS runs from grades 7-12, and new students are admitted ONLY in the seventh grade.

Students are admitted to HCHS in one of two ways:
1) they graduate from Hunter College Elementary School (which is in the same building) or

2) they pass an exam given to exceptional 6th-graders from throughout New York City.

I don't know the numbers off-hand, but as I recall, passage rate on the exam is very low--the school only takes about 200 new students (other than the HCES grads) each year, out of a few thousand (?) who take the exam. I think students have to be recommended by their elementary school principal, district supervisor, or the like, before they're even allowed to sit for the exam. I think the exam is (or was--I took it about 20 years ago!) similar to the SSAT--kind of a baby SAT, with math and verbal multiple choice questions and a short written portion.

More info available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_College_High_School
11.28.2006 7:15pm
exhelodrvr:
Gil and Justin,
Would you have a problem if MIT stated that they have found that blacks tend to underperform relative to Asians or whites, and thus they require a higher test score/GPA/etc. from black applicants than from whites or Asians?

And more importantly, how would the NAACP, Democrats, media, etc. react? I have a pretty good idea what the answer to that is.

I am totally in agreement that it is wise to give "extra points" to well-rounded applicants. In the long run they tend to perform better.
11.28.2006 7:23pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
universities admit that they have goals and they exist for reasons in addition to advancement of academics. For example, to develop character and produce individuals inclined to contribute to society in non-selfish ways.

Maybe the students who are the consumers of the education should be able to decide if they want to be indoctrinated into the altruist philosophy.
11.28.2006 7:26pm
MIT2007:
Hello, People. As someone who got into MIT, allow me to comment.

MIT's admission staff has an enormous problem every year. If they admitted everyone with amazing SAT scores, a near-perfect GPA and a bunch of leadership in school extracurricular's they would find that they had more acceptances then they had spots and also not the admission pool they are looking for. All those things can be extremely deceptive as they are essentially meaningless.

Also, good performance in these categories does not always track to the admission pool that MIT really wants. People who do everything very well within the confines of their high school (i.e. president of everything there), tend to not be as innovative or dynamic. They are typically careerist and go into fields like consulting and high finance. Though MIT is happy that they are highly regarded in that competitive field, there mission is not the production of consultants! What MIT really looks for in their applicant pool is evidence that the person has done personal projects that reflect well on them.

For example, prior research experience is attractive (having published a decent paper, or doing well in a research competition will with very high probability get you into MIT. As a research institution, doing research is well appreciated. But also, doing things like building your own boat or pretty much any cool side project is extremely attractive to MIT. Those sorts of people are the sort of people that get into entrepeneurship, and MIT, being an extremely capitalist place, looks for those a lot.

Also, my observation, is that asian people tend to be tools who just want to work for big pay more than non-asians. And I'd also note even though MIT does discriminate against asians, the non-asians at MIT are not dumber or less sucessful than the asians.

My 2 cents
11.28.2006 7:33pm
Maggie:
Coincidentally, my children's school sponsored a college night last night at which we were briefed on current admissions criteria. According to the college counselor there (independent private school which sends 100% of graduates to 4-year colleges all over the country) elite colleges, in general, look at the following factors, ranked in order of importance:

rigor of curriculum
high school grades
SAT/ACT scores
teacher recommendations
essays (not ranked higher because of the possibility of plagerism)
interview
extracurriculars/volunteer activities
legacies

She said that the most recent trend she's seen is more interest in numbers (grades/scores) and less on breadth of out-of-classroom experience. The non-academic emphasis now is (according to her) more on demonstration of a passion for one area of concentration--sports, music, volunteering, entreprenuership, whatever--rather than a one-from-column-A-one-from-column-B approach to building a college resume. "Well-rounded" has given way to "interesting" and colleges like to say that they're looking for a well-rounded class rather than a well rounded student.

FWIW.
11.28.2006 7:37pm
asdfjkl; (mail):
I read the other day that Blacks tend to die earlier in life and have more medical problems, so insurance companies charge them more. Disgusting.
11.28.2006 7:39pm
exhelodrvr:
ASDFJKL,
"I read the other day that Blacks tend to die earlier in life and have more medical problems, so insurance companies charge them more. Disgusting."

Why is it disgusting to charge higher risk groups more for insurance?
11.28.2006 7:46pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
What if she lived in community that did nothing but abuse, sabotage, and undermine her? How about actually violating her rights and trying to force her to leave? Let's call it a "criminal community", "pathological community", or a "defective community".

Does a "criminal community" deserve anything in the way of "giving back"? I don't think so.

Granted this is an extreme example, but it is plausible.
11.28.2006 7:50pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I suppose a comment like this serves me right for not stating what I thought was the (obvious) answer: that the soccer player was clearly the better candidate.

Absolutely -- but that's not so clear at the time to the nerds who are living the pure intellectual life.

I'd go a step forward: the athlete with the discipline to put 30 hours per week into his sport, while maintaining an A- average, is probably the better candidate than yet another non-athlete with an A+ average.
(The worst candidate for a school that emphasizes the University Method may be the student who maintained an A+ average without studying any more than was fun and also without any other disciplined activity: when he gets hit with the fire hose of knowledge, especially if he believes that his grades and tests were meaningful and takes a couple of sophomore-level courses, none of his past strategies will work and what's left of four years may not be enough to regain his footing.)

At least in the Ivies the marquee athletes do tend to have somewhat worse academic credentials: the schools want to have winning teams and will admit students on the basis of athletic ability, and not just because his application essay talks about his expertise in Panamanian Saber Dueling polished during a summer in the Andes. (The league sets a floor for the football team's average credentials relative to the class as a whole. This has an evening effect, as the more selective, and therefore attractive, schools have a smaller pool of athletes from which to recruit.)
11.28.2006 7:53pm
Jeff S. (mail):
American Psikhushka,

Unfortunately the perverse thinking prevalent is this: if she succeeded in one of the communities you describe, she probably did it at the expense of the criminals, (read: disadvantaged), the socially pathological or defective or whatever. Come to think of it, her success and their failures is prima facie evidence of some unjust transfer. She now has a special obligation to give something back.
11.28.2006 8:10pm
Justin (mail):
Would I have a problem with it? Sure. I'd have a problem if GM didn't hire African-Americans as well. But that doesn't detract from Gil's post at all. Only David Bernstein and a few others see this as a race issue where there is none, the real interesting question is that people like DB see college acceptances as a reward for good quantitative scores.

The idea of dessert has nothing to do with this. William Buckley wrote many years ago that it was an outrage that someone with the same scores from a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio would get into Yale over an Andover protege, but isn't it clear that Yale would have great justification in thinking the person who achieved just as much with a lesser background would go on to do more impressive things with their Yale education?
11.28.2006 8:10pm
RobD (mail) (www):
That's how academics works. Now I am looking for a full-time faculty position. Guess what they want? Research, teaching, and 'community service'; in fact for most universities these three criteria in various weights determines eligability to tenure. That's what the American education system is all about, how 'rounded' a person you are, not necessarily if you are a math prodigy. And the article is right, do we really need another brilliant chinese math prodigy? How does MIT know that their huge investment in this person will be to promote American interests? I think this is a core issue with foreign applicants; they could easily flee to their native country upon getting their education, often for free at the hands of American taxpayers (I'm mostly referring to American graduate science programs). Further, people need to realize that not getting into MIT or whatever is not the end of the world. I graduated from a state university (undergrad), got into a top-notch graduate program and finally got my PhD last year. Not everyone is a rhodes scholar.
11.28.2006 8:29pm
Mark Field (mail):

Maybe the students who are the consumers of the education should be able to decide ....


It's just as true that the students themselves become products produced by the university. Those who consume that product -- generally employers, but the rest of us in a more general sense -- get to decide what characteristics they value. Students who don't have those characteristics may find no market for their services.

Is the phrase "altruistic philosophy" some Objectivist jargon?
11.28.2006 8:39pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"I'm sure most high school students would gain more personal growth by working at McDonalds than by working at a soup kitchen."

My, my. Such scorn for community service in this and other comments! What happened to the much-vaunted conservative idea of private-sector charity and volunteerism replacing all our nasty government give-aways? Gone so soon? I guess your tax dollars will have to make up the difference after all...
11.28.2006 8:41pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I don't have much to add re: the racial/ethnic issue, but I do want to comment on Prof. Bernstein's apparent belief that Ms. Luo's test scores alone make the idea of denying her (early) admission absurd.

I have been interviewing applicants for Columbia, my alma mater, for almost twenty years. Its admission process is probably much like those of other top schools, though MIT's likely works a bit differently due to its emphasis on engineering and science. Hopefully I can offer some insight by discussing the process as I have seen it.

Columbia's undergraduate college gets almost ten times as many applicants each year as it can admit -- not just ten times as many as there are seats in the freshman class, but ten times as many as the number of offers it must make in order to fill all those seats. Because of self-selection, the vast majority of these kids are very strong academically. The number of high school valedictorians alone exceeds the number of places available.

But Columbia's admission criteria go beyond numbers. Its most important classes are taught in seminar format and it seeks students who will thrive in that kind of environment -- students who are excited about ideas, who do not jump to conclusions, who are able to defend their beliefs articulately yet also willing to modify or abandon those beliefs if additional information says they were wrong. It also wants students who are going to make a difference in society down the road, and not just those who want to make as much money as possible (though there is room for plenty of them, too).

Columbia also values a range of backgrounds and interests. Being a gifted violinist, for instance, helps, though how much it helps will depend a lot on how many other gifted violinists apply in the same season. The same is true of having grown up on a family farm, survived a debilitating illness, lived in a war zone, or whatever else sets a student apart from others. After all, the discussions in a seminar filled with students of similar backgrounds won't be be nearly as interesting or as valuable as they would if the students had a wider variety of experiences.

These qualities aren't very well correlated with test scores or even high school grades. Columbia learns how well its applicants seem to measure up in these areas by reading their essays, reviewing the teacher and counselor recommendations, evaluating their extracurriculars, and considering the reports of interviews by alumni like me.

As it turns out, a lot of valedictorians don't excel in these areas. Many students with very high test scores don't do so well on these criteria either. The result is that many of these students are denied admission in favor of those with somewhat lower numbers who seem more promising.

Columbia gets quite a few applicants each year with perfect SAT scores and it rejects most of them. Why? Because being good at what the SAT measures isn't the only thing the admissions committee cares about, and because enough applicants do better in other areas that the available slots are filled before the admissions committee gets to some of the students with the highest test scores.

Many people -- including, regrettably, the editors of U.S. News -- seem to think grades and test scores are the be-all and end-all of admissions and are all that admissions committees should care about. Prof. Bernstein's question suggests that he sees things this way, too. Someone who is more familiar with the process wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that a 2400 SAT score does not guarantee early admission to a top college.

[One more thing -- my scores on standardized math tests when I was in high school were nearly perfect. I don't consider myself even remotely a math prodigy, so I don't see Ms. Luo's scores as proof that she is one either. I now make my living as a lawyer, and math skills aren't particularly useful in my line of work (though logical thinking definitely is). I'm glad my future was not decided by my test scores, since they do not sum up who I am.]
11.28.2006 8:46pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Saying that an Asian applicant specifically has to compete with other Asian applicants isn't a "race issue?"
11.28.2006 8:47pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I don't know where anyone has gotten the idea that I think the applicant is "entitled" to be admitted to MIT based on her test scores. Rather, the point is that given her academic achievements and potential, the idea that her admission to MIT should be dependent on her proving that she's altruistic through community service is a sign of warped values. That's not to say that someone with lower test scores but a range of skills different than hers wouldn't be a better candidate. But spooning soup at the local homeless shelter isn't a skill.
11.28.2006 9:10pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
nor is it an achievement.
11.28.2006 9:11pm
CVGoebel (mail):
A few remarks about Caltech, I happen to use my altruism to serve on the alumni admissions service organization. We essentially talk to prospective students and try to either encourage or discourage them...telling them that MIT is a good second choice (heh).

First, Caltech undergrad is approximately 38% Asian American. Female undergrads are between 30-35% of undergrads, depending upon the particular class.

Hispanics run between 10% to 15%; blacks are practically less than 1 to 5 per class. The last is not a percent, it's actual numbers.

One-third have perfect scores in both Math and English (whatever the latter is called nowadays). Half the class have perfect math scores.the lowest math score I'm sure of is at the bottom of the first percentile. Humanities scores tend to have a lower bottom, but still high.

Freshman and sophmore years tend to be drop-out time. The course are so heavily into math that unless you are REALLY into math, you can't take it. (And shouldn't take it...life is more than math, albeit not much more. Heh)

What the admissions people look for is interest in research (NOT high school science fair level) and a willingness to work independently at everything. There are no make-up courses, so if you start to sink, you generally stink without a trace. UCLA makes a nice change of pace. (Heh to Professor Volokh!)

After four years, things leave their mark. A headstrong streak of independence is the chief psychological trait, with a firm belief in one's abilities and a pechant for your own interests.

I leave it for the amateur and professional psychologist to analyze the above. That's what I think are the characteristics I have observed.
11.28.2006 9:11pm
CVGoebel (mail):
Amusing thought...my younger son works at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). He told me the following.

MIT grad says: "I have a device that will solve your problem.".

Caltech grad says: "Just tell me your problem and I'll solve it for you.".

John might even be right...
11.28.2006 9:19pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Rather, the point is that given her academic achievements and potential, the idea that her admission to MIT should be dependent on her proving that she's altruistic through community service is a sign of warped values."

WHY? Have the your commenters been talking to the air here? Why can't you accept that schools employ other criteria to cull the students they want from the many qualified applicants?

And what's wrong with working in a soup kitchen? Have you ever done it? One doesn't do it to gain a "skill," one does it for the opportunity to help others. The experience one gains in seeing the world through different eyes is a side benefit. (Though I might add that working with the homeless and hungry on a regular basis does indeed require certain skills.)

Do you think it's a waste of time to teach our kids the value of volunteer charity?
11.28.2006 9:49pm
Justin (mail):
Warped values? Altruism? I've heard of "greed is good," but this is taking it to a whole different level.
11.28.2006 10:00pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Throughout this entire thread, everyone seems to be assuming that the problem of too many superbly qualified students trying to get into too few slots for freshmen at first-tier universities can only be solved by finding some magical, indisputably correct formula for distilling the best of the best of the best from the larger pool of the best of the best.

This seems to me to be an obvious supply-and-demand problem, and yet everyone seems to be advocating solutions worthy of a Stalinist command economy. The problem shouldn't be solved by rationing, it should be solved by increasing the number of slots for incoming freshmen at first-tier universities. Face it, this country needs all the educated brainpower it can get!

We have roughly the same number of first-tier universities now that we had in the first half of the twentieth century, when the United States population was only two-thirds of what it is today, far fewer male high school graduates were expected to go on to college, and damn few females went to college at all. What is wrong with us? Why haven't we created new first-tier institutions of higher learning, either by upgrading the admissions standards and the curriculum rigor of existing universities, or by creating new MITs, Harvards, Caltechs, and Stanfords ab initio? (And don't all these private universities make money doing what they do? "Bill Gates, I have a proposition for you ...")

Wouldn't it be nice if Ms. Luo lived in a would in which she could tell the MIT admissions board, "I've just received acceptance letters from six universities better than yours, so now you're free to choose some other applicant more in line with whatever qualifications you'd like to use."
11.28.2006 10:04pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Only David Bernstein and a few others see this as a race issue where there is none,
Yes, with the "few others" including the subject of this post. ("(and a lot of other Asian students in particular.")
the real interesting question is that people like DB see college acceptances as a reward for good quantitative scores.
The real interesting question is that people like you want to dodge the racial issue because it makes you uncomfortable. It's well known that there's an Asian quota at many schools, the way there used to be (is?) a Jewish quota. (The motives may be different, but the methodology -- the touting of "diversity" -- and the result is the same.)



My, my. Such scorn for community service in this and other comments! What happened to the much-vaunted conservative idea of private-sector charity and volunteerism replacing all our nasty government give-aways? Gone so soon? I guess your tax dollars will have to make up the difference after all...
This has nothing do with "charity." This is about checking the box on a college application for "did charitable things." I think any charity will tell you that while it can always use more resources (including manpower), a high school student who's there primarily to be able to tell colleges he "volunteers" is unlikely to be useful, and may be more of a distraction than a help.
11.28.2006 10:05pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Do you think it's a waste of time to teach our kids the value of volunteer charity?

I think it should be taught that charity can be a good thing. But it should never be coerced. And teaching children that you should use coercion and force for "good" things other than absolutely necessary self-defense is very wrong. "I should get to force my opinions on you because I think they're 'good'" is a recipe for disaster.

What our children really should be taught is that a healthy, unhampered, growing economy increases overall wealth and employment to the point where you actually may be able to close a lot of soup kitchens down. And that big government, high taxes, and high spending are the largest obstacle to this. Funny - I don't think the educational system would do that in a million years.
11.28.2006 10:06pm
Jeff S.:
Grover Gardner:

Nonsense. Actually working in a soup kitchen, or a food bank, versus using the example of it reflexively as the shining example of volunteerism, are two different things entirely. Working in a soup kitchen is a waste of time, especially for a high schooler. Soup kitchens generally don't need the help. Every year around this time we witness a giant spasm of guilt among the public which sends it rushing to volunteer for one day or less at their local soup kitchen. In fact, the extra volunteers largely just get in the way. Most high schoolers would in fact get more out of working at McDonald's than in a soup kitchen. But I'm not scorning volunteerism generally, even by high schoolers. It's just a lame criterion for college admissions, especially when it's couched in the utterly meaningless but politically charged phrase "giving back to the community."
11.28.2006 10:09pm
triticale (mail) (www):
I am totally in agreement that it is wise to give "extra points" to well-rounded applicants. In the long run they tend to perform better.
So now BMI gets thrown into the equation?
11.28.2006 10:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Do you think it's a waste of time to teach our kids the value of volunteer charity?
The lesson that current college admissions policies teach is the exact opposite of the one you're talking about. The value of volunteer charity is in helping others. What this teaches is that the value of volunteer charity is in helping oneself get into a good school.

What gets even sillier about the whole thing is that some school districts are now requiring mandatory volunteerism [sic] as a condition of graduation. So that vitiates the lesson even more. Now one is doing it not for the benefit of others, nor for the benefit of oneself, but simply because one is required to do so.
11.28.2006 10:12pm
Jeff S.:
Justin,

No one's saying altruism is warped, just that having to prove you're altruistic to get into college is. I'm glad I don't yet have to go around proving my altruism to everybody, although in my neck of the woods it's very difficult to have sex if you don't.
11.28.2006 10:15pm
DK:
Part of the problem here is that the SAT has been watered down to obscure its meaning. When I went to college (1990), less than 20 people a year got perfect scores. Now, several commenters have mentioned schools where a significant fraction of the student body have perfect scores. Based on this I don't find Ms. Luo's scores impressive or sufficient to prove she should be admitted. What she needs is a test with a wider range and a greater ability to distinguish between the very best and the somewhat best.
11.28.2006 10:15pm
Jeff S.:
David M. Nieporent,

Why do you "sic" the word "volunteerism"?

Anyway, advocates of "it" would argue that even if you volunteer for selfish reasons, your initiation into volunteer work will imbue you with the volunteer ethic, which you'll continue to develop throughout your life. "The experience one gains in seeing the world through different eyes is a side benefit."
11.28.2006 10:30pm
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Many students get extra time on the SAT, usually for diagnoses like ADD. I would presume a substantial percentage - perhaps a majority - of perfect SAT scores derive from students who obtained the extra time. There is no reason to believe such a student would be an asset at MIT.
11.28.2006 10:36pm
Justin (mail):
Siona, I can tell you that as of 1997, those scores were tagged, destroying the advantage.

Look, this is easy. People with Luo's scores are, relatively, a dime a dozen. MIT needs to pick between two people with her scores, they're going to go with someone who at least appears to espouse the values of the school, which, last I checked, *is* a nonprofit and *has* a core mission that is more than being ranked #1 in USNWR.

So, what DB (and others) is (are) essentially saying is that MIT having those values are warped. And I stand by my original comment, which is such a belief is what is warped, and I apologize for my earlier (charitable) assumption taht you guys wouldn't make such an assumption, which led to my misinterpretation.
11.28.2006 10:44pm
Justin (mail):
DB, that terrible misinterpretation of the comments was quickly and summarily dismissed. Nobody has shown that MIT or any other school uses quotas or otherwise discriminates against Asians vis a vis causcasians or other non-underrepresented minorities. This is true however much you want to intentionally misinterpret a quote written by a nobody who has no affiliation with MIT or any other place of higher education.
11.28.2006 10:50pm
MnZ (mail):
Actually, I don't think that universities looking at volunteer work in which the student engaged is bad. However, universities should remember that volunteer work relatively easy to fake, poor students have a harder time engaging in volunteer work, and various areas of the country have more or less organized volunteer activities.
11.28.2006 10:53pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
David--

"What gets even sillier about the whole thing is that some school districts are now requiring mandatory volunteerism [sic] as a condition of graduation."

You mean, like making them take their science classes and learn to write a decent essay--so they can get into a good college? The fact that *you* think it's just a cynical waste of time says more about you than about what the kids might or might not learn from such an experience.

Catholic schools regularly require community service, at *all* grade levels. Is that cynical or misguided of them?

Jeff--

"But I'm not scorning volunteerism generally, even by high schoolers."

You certainly fooled me.
11.28.2006 10:56pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
Sorry, Jeff S., I jumped on you a little prematurely.
11.28.2006 10:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
I see instead that she seems dedicated to her particular talent and interest (math), and also is a champion debater.

Being both gifted at math and highly articulate is a rare combination to get in the same person (EV notwithstanding). She seems like a great candidate for MIT to me and aren't universities supposed to be concerned about the relative lack of women in the sciences? How are they going to get more women if they don't admit students like her?
11.28.2006 11:00pm
Cornellian (mail):
The point is that Bork could better help out society by advancing the state of legal scholarship (something very few could do) rather than arguing a habeas petition (something a reasonably competent 3L (or pretty much any lawyer) could do). It would be an inefficient allocaiton of resources.

Have you read many law review articles? Many of them read as if they were written by 3L's or reasonably competent (at best) lawyers. How many good law review articles do you think it would take to equal the value of freeing someone who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison?

Personally, I don't think lawyers should be required to do pro bono work and I don't hold it against any lawyer if he doesn't do pro bono work. But to suggest that writing law review articles is automatically more valuable than habeas work is vastly to overstate the value of law review articles.
11.28.2006 11:08pm
Jeff S.:
Justin,

What "values" and "core mission" is MIT "espousing" by being a gigantic non-profit? Certainly not charity. This line of thinking of yours is not a defense for asking prospective admittees to prove their volunteer bona fides. Unless the professors, admissions counselors, etc. are volunteering their time at MIT.
11.28.2006 11:12pm
Jr HS Parent (mail):
My 12 year old just gave me a link to this thread with the comment "Tell me again why good grades matter?"

Sadly, he is of Korean ancestry (adopted, if it matters.) He now believes that no matter how hard he works, no matter what grades and scores he gets, he won't get into a top university.

What am I supposed to tell him?
11.28.2006 11:15pm
Jeff S.:
Jr HS Parent,

Hand him a ladle.
11.28.2006 11:20pm
U.Va. 2L (mail):
Jr. HS Parent: The correct response is "You're in seventh grade. Stop worrying about getting into MIT now, and live the life of a seventh-grader."
11.28.2006 11:29pm
XXX:
Yo give Bernstein a break,

Shiiiit, he just pissed cause he gotta teach those losers at that TTT Crooklyn who only got in with a 140 cause they serviced the community.
11.28.2006 11:32pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I've never been helped by anybody working in a soup kitchen. I am regularly helped by people working for McDonald's, who give me and my family good quantities of tasty food at reasonable prices.
I've volunteered, and I've done minimum-wage work. Minimum-wage work is a lot harder, and you get to actually meet people (as opposed to ladling soup into their bowls) from different backgrounds. (Many kids could benefit a lot by working at a somewhat real job [not a volunteer job where they better treat the volunteers nicely, because they're not getting paid, and not a summer 8-weeks-and-it's-over-so-who-cares job] before college.)

(I guess that makes me Objectivist-leaning if I can think there is anything comparable about feeding people with other people's money and feeding people in return for money.)


Many people -- including, regrettably, the editors of U.S. News -- seem to think grades and test scores are the be-all and end-all of admissions

Apparently the colleges have also bought into a US News measurement: yield rate. A generation ago a college would admit those who were qualified, and be satisfied that their yield of over-qualified would be low, as most would go to better schools, not what for them is a safety. Now (I'm told by the savvy parent of high schoolers) a school that's not itself top-10 would rather turn down an over-qualified applicant they believe will go elsewhere. Too many games for me.
11.28.2006 11:43pm
Chinese Guy:
I think it is despicable that you would draw an inference that he is a recent immigrant based on his name. What a covert way of shaming people away from traditional ethnic names.
11.28.2006 11:46pm
Pink Pig (mail):
One should keep in mind that MIT is located in Massachusetts, which has a long-standing tradition of demanding that other people perform community service.
11.28.2006 11:48pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"What am I supposed to tell him?"

Tell him not to believe everything he reads on the internet.

Tell him no one in the course of this entire thread has suggested for an instant that you could get into a top school *without* good grades.

Tell him that if he's still reading this, his father needs to supervise his time on the computer.

But most importantly, tell him to talk to his school guidance councilor, since his father can't answer the one question *every* kid asks about school.
11.28.2006 11:49pm
Tek Jansen:
"What am I supposed to tell him?"

That if he keeps thinking like that, he'll wind up as a blogger with a persecution complex.
11.28.2006 11:55pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Jr HS Parent-

Tell him that there are better male/female ratios at other schools anyway. Heck, with the "males are evil" agenda going on by that time even the liberal arts schools will be 75% female. He'll have to beat them off with his pocket protector.
11.29.2006 12:02am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"I've never been helped by anybody working in a soup kitchen."

I'm glad to hear that. Few of us would want to be helped by somebody working in a soup kitchen.
11.29.2006 12:03am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Very good, Tek.
11.29.2006 12:04am
MIT:
This is an official statement from the MIT:

"Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard, but I am fair!
There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless! And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to study in the MIT!"

This has been an MIT presentation.
11.29.2006 12:10am
Truth Seeker:
The number of high school valedictorians alone exceeds the number of places available.

Some high schools have 50 or 75 valedictorians these days! Wouldn't want someone who came in second (third, fourth, 49th) to feel bad, would we???
11.29.2006 12:13am
Truth Seeker:
How many good law review articles do you think it would take to equal the value of freeing someone who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison?

How many people are wrongly convicted? Almost NONE. Most defendants are guilty as hell and trying to get them off a la OJ, is not pro bono it is evil.

Our criminal justice system should not be one that looks for loopholes to let the guilty off. It should be one that looks for truth.
11.29.2006 12:16am
Siona Sthrunch (mail):
Justin,

To the best of my knowledge you are incorrect, and scores of students who get extra time are not tagged. If I am incorrect on this matter, and I may be, then my comment as to the minimal significance of such scores is, just as you said, totally incorrect.
11.29.2006 12:44am
Elliot123 (mail):
I hope some high school kids somewhere have figured out a way to game this silly system. Perhaps they could just make up a bogus do-gooder orgnization and sign each other's time sheets. Say, the American AWCM (Ain't We Community Minded)

I'd love to see some stats on the percentage of college bound high school seniors who toil away giving back to the community compared to the number of college freshmen who do the same. I suspect most of it ceases at the campus edge.
11.29.2006 12:51am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> of turning out graduates who will be contributing members of their communities. They look at far than SAT scores and GPA -- they look at extracurricular activities, they look at recommendations, and they look at community service.

In another thread, we heard the argument that personal giving is inferior to "giving" by advocating for govt programs.
11.29.2006 1:13am
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
DK wrote:
Part of the problem here is that the SAT has been watered down to obscure its meaning. When I went to college (1990), less than 20 people a year got perfect scores. Now, several commenters have mentioned schools where a significant fraction of the student body have perfect scores.
When I was in college (1983-1987) I heard similar figures, but it turns out these numbers came from the College Board and included only students who got perfect scores on both halves of the SAT on the same day. Many more students got an 800 on the verbal section one day and an 800 on the math at a different administration. Most colleges would credit applicants for their highest score on each section regardless of how many times they took the test, so the College Board was basically alone in counting only 20 perfect scores per year.

Even so, the scoring system was "re-centered" about twelve years ago to raise the average score. Whatever the statistical reasons for doing this may have been, one consequence was that it raised the percentage of students with high scores, including those with perfect scores.

I believe the recent addition of a written portion of the SAT was not accompanied by adjustments to the scoring system applied to the other sections, but I'm not sure of this.
11.29.2006 1:20am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"I'd love to see some stats on the percentage of college bound high school seniors who toil away giving back to the community compared to the number of college freshmen who do the same. I suspect most of it ceases at the campus edge."

You'd be partly right. Many colleges have similar programs, but one study has noted that volunteering declines after graduation—which is natural as students take on full-time jobs, start families, etc. Among high-schoolers there seems to be a lack of discernible long-term effects but noticeable short-term benefits. It's also important to understand the difference between "community service" programs and more highly-structured "service-learning" programs. Here are a couple of links you can investigate:

http://www.learnandserve.gov/pdf/lsa_evaluation.pdf

http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/PDFs/HSLAS/HSLAS.PDF

You can find more by googling "service learning impact"

You also have to ask what the impact is on the *communities* whose students are involved in community service programs—because that's an important measure of their effectiveness as well. It isn't *just* about the students. For an example, see:

http://www.northern.edu/ASLP/impact1.html
11.29.2006 1:55am
Michael9930:
There is no racism here. You are reading way too much into the words of this consultant. MIT does not use ethnicity as a factor in admissions. The consultant meant that there would be plenty of other Asians as well as other ethnicities that have high scores as well.
11.29.2006 1:57am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"In another thread, we heard the argument that personal giving is inferior to 'giving' by advocating for govt programs."

Well, here's your chance to strike a blow against the nanny state, Andy.
11.29.2006 1:58am
David M. Nieporent (www):
David M. Nieporent,

Why do you "sic" the word "volunteerism"?
Because it ain't "volunteering" when you're required to do it. (It's unpaid, but that's not the same thing at all.)
Anyway, advocates of "it" would argue that even if you volunteer for selfish reasons, your initiation into volunteer work will imbue you with the volunteer ethic, which you'll continue to develop throughout your life. "The experience one gains in seeing the world through different eyes is a side benefit."
There is no "volunteer work" if one isn't volunteering!
11.29.2006 2:07am
Jr HS Parent (mail):

You're in seventh grade. Stop worrying about getting into MIT now, and live the life of a seventh-grader


That's unlikely. He does linear algebra. His math skills passed mine when he was 8, he doesn't even try to explain what he's doing now. He doesn't particularly like math, it just comes easily. He's much more interested in history and politics, I'm trying to steer him toward economics.

Too bad he's just not MIT material. Chicago's gain.
11.29.2006 2:11am
David M. Nieporent (www):
There is no racism here. You are reading way too much into the words of this consultant. MIT does not use ethnicity as a factor in admissions.
Sure they don't. And I'm Derek Jeter.
The consultant meant that there would be plenty of other Asians as well as other ethnicities that have high scores as well.
Look, if you want to argue that the consultant is mistaken or lying, as some people above have done, that's one thing. But don't try to tell me that they "meant" something entirely different than they said. The quote makes no sense with your interpretation. There would have been no reason to mention "Asian" unless it was relevant to the admissions process. And she didn't just say "Asian"; she said "Asian students in particular.

(Some above are deliberately pretending it means something entirely different because like any dogmatic liberals they don't want to admit that affirmative action is racist in intent as well as effect.)
11.29.2006 2:23am
mjstl:
The dozens of self rightous posts expousing that community service is a good thing miss the point. Of course these efforts are admirable, even perhaps helpful. However, the community service concept is a red herring.

Go back to the top and reread - Mr. Volokh's blog is talking about admissions criteria to elite schools.

If elite schools use objective criteria as the standard of eligibility, the freshman class they must admit based on actual merit will injure their tender sensitivities. So some other, subjective basis must be invoked - oh, lets say, maybe community service. It doesn't really matter what the criteria is so long as it is subjective and not subject to unbiased measurement. This squishy, subjective criteria provides the cover to admissions officers to select less qualified applicants over more qualified applicants.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines racism as "discrimination or prejudice based on race". Using that definition, college admittance officers are one of the most racist groups of individuals on the planet, since they are using race as the criteria for making decisions on college addissions. They may think what they are doing is right and admirable but I imagine that the KKK felt the same way.

I have two daughters who have recently run the gauntlet of this admissions crap at selective schools. We found that when you look at the admissions forms/criteria/essays it is apparent that my kids had two strikes from the start: 1) they were white and 2)they were upper-middle class living in the suburbs.

I will undoubtedly get a bunch of comments that I'm a racist. After all, I'm just anotha cracka. However, for those with some courage and a brain, check out "Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement" by John Ogbu. Mr. Ogbu was a social sciences professor(recently deceased, I believe) at Univ of Calif - Berkeley - not exactly the vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Professor Ogbu found that affluent black kids in an affluent suburb (Shaker Heights, Ohio) performed worse acedemically than their next-door white neighbors. Mr. Ogdu determined that the black kids were smart enough to figure out that college adission standards were lower based on their skin color so they performed in accordance with expectations.

The group most hurt by these practices are minorities who can make it based on the merit of their own abilities. How is society to distinguish between a minority person who legitimately made it based on the merit of his own efforts vs. the minority person who was promoted on skin color in lieu of merit??
11.29.2006 2:28am
SnarkMeister:
I must be the only person who read "give back to the community" as "will be an interesting person to have in the freshman class". As such, it's not a comment on her volunteerism (or unpaid labor, whatever you want to call it) as much as "Is this a person who won't hide in her dorm room?"

When I was at Harvey Mudd (93-97) I think the goal of the admissions staff was to offer to a group of students who (after MIT and Cal Tech skimmed off their take) would a) feel at home in one of the campus subcommunities and b) pay a sizeable fraction of tuition. A very hard problem, made harder when the wealthy, long-established universities have many "full ride" scholarships to throw at particularly desirable students.
11.29.2006 3:19am
bellisaurius (mail):
As part of this is about ensuring a freshman class with people who'll make the college stay refreshing, I'd like to forward a person I want to go to school with

Application:

GPA 4.0
36 composite on ACT's

Activities:
*Volunteered as late night party coordinator at local forest preserve, helping up to 50 people a session treat depression and feelings of alienation through alcohol related teenage rituals.

*Devised and ran free lonely hearts club dating service for socially inept math/science students.

Independent Research:
*Devised method to increase hydroponic yields of Cannabis Sativa utilizing selective breeding tecniques.

The essay would naturally cover their eagerness to learn chemical engineering in order to one day work for Miller Brewing, and improve the world, one bottle at a time....
11.29.2006 4:49am
Public_Defender (mail):

I must be the only person who read "give back to the community" as "will be an interesting person to have in the freshman class". As such, it's not a comment on her volunteerism (or unpaid labor, whatever you want to call it) as much as "Is this a person who won't hide in her dorm room?"


You are not the only person. Being boring is a disadvantage. When choosing between two people with excellent test scores and grades, colleges should choose the one who has done something besides study.

I also don't think this "an unfair advantage to rich kids, who could afford to be demonstratively altruistic because they don't need part-time jobs[.]" Kids who had to work (I was one) can use their work experience as a plus.

Of course, using test scores also gives rich kids an advantage because they can go to prep courses while the other kids are busy working to pay for college.
11.29.2006 5:14am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Uhh, Mr. Defender-

If the poor kids can't afford to be altruistic, don't you think it will be difficult for them to afford to be exciting?
11.29.2006 7:03am
Cato Renasci (mail):
Back many years ago, around 1970, I was involved in the debates over how to fairly structure "affirmative action" programs at the University of California. A number of us - the losers in the debate, unfortunately - thought the way to do reasonably fair "affirmative action" was to identify potential minority recruits at the high school level and then put them into the junior/commuity colleges to get whatever remedial or preparatory work they needed, with academic support, so that they could compete on an even playing field in the regular admissions process and then be successful at the University. Didn't happen that way, and we have all the nonsense that followed.

Perhaps the best and fairest way to do admissions - at public and publically supported (i.e. take federal money in any way) universities at least would be to assign a number to each applicant and remove all identifying information concerning race, religion, ethnicity, etc., and admit the applicated based on a blind review of their qualifications. Only after the admissions decision is made would their names be matched with their files so the letters could go out. You could even do this with athletes -- since you know you want certain athletic skill sets, you could choose some students on that basis and offer scholarships to them without knowing their names. Financial aid decisions could also be anonymous based on the factual information with names redacted.

It would be very interesting to see what the student bodies would look like - especially if people knew they would be judged solely on their record.
11.29.2006 7:12am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Jr HS Parent-

If you're trying to steer him towards economics, have him check out "mises.org" - they're economists that actually know their posterior from their elbow. There is a lot of beginner material, reading lists, on-line books, multimedia stuff, etc. - it's very good at educating the layperson. (Don't be put off because the names sound german and some people claim they are "right-wing". They're the Austrian School of Economics, and the site's namesake was an Austrian Jew who had to flee the Nazis because he was pointing out their socialist, interventionist claptrap. They're basically libertarian, laissez-faire capitalists - and they know what they are talking about for the most part.)
11.29.2006 7:13am
JK:
Obviously the real libertarian thing to do would be compel MIT, a private University, to accept a student that they would prefer not to accept. Why do people whine about these things so much? If MIT (or Harvard, etc) doesn't want to accept the best and brightest, then some "lesser" school will; top schools can either learn their lesson, or suffer in quality.
11.29.2006 9:38am
JK:
This also strikes me as similar to arguments that the legal system is broken with examples of ridiculous things that people have been sued over, with no reference to the outcome of the case. Furthermore, you don't make money as a consultant if you don't make recommendations; the student asked the consultant what she could do to improve her chances, and the consultant told her. It would be bad business (and generally bad advice) to simply say, "don't worry about it, you'll get in anywhere."
11.29.2006 9:44am
sbron:
A story about standardized tests. Back in the
mid-70s, I told my father that colleges were
beginning to de-emphasize the SAT in favor of
extracurricular activities in admission to achieve
the proper racial balance. He
relayed to me this story. In 1938, he had
returned to Poland and was told to take a test
for military service. He scored very highly on the
math part and was thus ordered to report for duty
with the artillery. (It turns out artillery shells
do not follow a holistic path, but rather are governed
by equations from calculus.)

When he reported to the artillery commander, he was
immediately rejected, since "We already have too many
Jews in the artillery."

I'm not saying that Poland could have staved off the
blitzkrieg with more Jews in the army, but
certainly Europe was losing massive amounts of talent
even before WW II due to the numerus clausus and
anti-Semitism in general. Of course, being rejected
for service was a blessing for my dad, who wound
up in France in 1939 and was then able to escape
on a refugee ship.

So are Poland and Malaysia really the examples we
want to follow regarding college admissions and
ethnic/racial preferences in general?
11.29.2006 10:41am
Recent MIT Alum:
Some thoughts from a recent MIT alum:

1. Above commentors are right that a 122 on the AMC 12 is not a "prodigy"-level performance. It would put her in the middle-to-upper-third of the MIT student body. In short, it's a positive thing, but not a very significant one. MIT undergraduate admissions has certain cutoffs for people it informally considers academic superstars: the math one is more competing in the USA or International Math Olympiads. With a 122 on the AMC 12, she qualified to take the AIME (American Invitational Math Exam); if she got a high score on that, it would help her much more than her AMC 12 score.

2. As others said, her SAT and AP scores are impressive, but not *that* impressive for the MIT applicant pool. They will get her in the door, but they will not get her admitted.

3. So what will get her admitted? It sounds like the admissions counselor quoted in the article thinks it's evidence of giving back to the community. And at Harvard, Brown, etc, that may be true, but I think it's largely irrelevant at MIT. MIT admissions has been quite open about the dilemma they have faced in recent years: lots of qualified applicants who look about the same on paper, with little to distinguish them. What they have said they do is look for evidence that the person would fit into the MIT ethos: evidence that they're excited about and genuinely care about science and engineering, that they like pulling things apart and tinkering, and so on. They're looking for people who will get more out of MIT than a random Ivy League school.

4. MIT has a *lot* of Asian students. I don't think they're discriminated against in admissions. Now, they may be at a disadvantage compared to African-American or Hispanic students, but compared to white students (who in general come from similar socioeconomic groups and have not been at a disadvantage in background and schooling) they're certainly not treated worse.
11.29.2006 11:25am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"This squishy, subjective criteria provides the cover to admissions officers to select less qualified applicants over more qualified applicants."

What does "qualified" mean?
11.29.2006 12:39pm
submandave (mail) (www):
The idea that a high school student should be judged based upon what he/she has "given back to the community" is ridiculous. At the risk of inciting the ire of many, I will delve into my anecdotal evidence and contend that providing scholarships or admission on the basis of expected return on investment would result in lower admission of women, since, in my experience, I've known far more women than men to contribute to society as a stay-at-home parent, a very important and, often, more socially important than building widgets, but a pursuit for which higher education is not a prerequisite. I just know if I were in a business and proposed investing four years of undergrad and three years of law school to raise children I don't the ROI document would get past the first cut.
11.29.2006 1:09pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Mark Field suggests that a student with perfect SATs who also plays soccer or volunteers 30 hours per week is a better candidate than one who got the perfect SATs by doing nothing by studying for them.

I agreed, and added that the student who spent the time on something else also gained useful skills like discipline.

Mark clarified his point that the soccer player was clearly the better candidate. Why? Because s/he got the same score without trying as hard. (and agreed about the life skills.)

What do you think, Mark, about a student who is equally good on paper as those two, but who spent all that time in recreational activities, and got those grades without really trying? I was that student, and I discuss it here.
11.29.2006 1:31pm
Seerak (mail):
DB:

Rather, the point is that given her academic achievements and potential, the idea that her admission to MIT should be dependent on her proving that she's altruistic through community service is a sign of warped values.

It sure is. Hell, Dave, that sounds almost... reasonable. Like an Objectivist. Almost. All it's missing is a description of *what* values are warped, and *why*. But I suspect that would be more, uh, "reasonableness" than many of the posters here could stand.

Anyhoo, were I in Ms. Luo's shoes, I'd not worry so much about getting into an absolute "top" school. There have to be other schools that are nearly as good... enough to serve as a springboard, so that once she's graduated, she can go as far as she can on the motor of her own ability.

And I certainly wouldn't make terms with the altruists. They have no moral claim on Liming Luo, or on me. As others have pointed out, "required volunteerism" is a contradiction in terms, and the arguments for the value of volunteering ignore the fact that, if there is such value to be had therefrom, wouldn't that make volunteering a selfish thing... an instance not of "giving back", but of selfish gain?
11.29.2006 2:25pm
Mark Field (mail):

What do you think, Mark, about a student who is equally good on paper as those two, but who spent all that time in recreational activities, and got those grades without really trying? I was that student, and I discuss it here.


This is getting mushy and subjective (just like a real-world admission process), but my view is that the student you describe is almost certainly the brighter of the candidates. At some level, though, I like to see students (and athletes, for that matter) show that they've had to overcome some difficulty. Even the brightest kids are likely to find things a little harder in the top colleges than they did in high school. I'd hate to have that kid give up just because s/he faced an obstacle for the first time.
11.29.2006 3:32pm
Mark Field (mail):
David, I posted the above before I read your blog post (deliberately). I think your blog gets it pretty much right. There is one typo. You say:

"Commenter Mark Field suggested that a candidate who achieved perfect SATs by spending every spare minute studying was more impressive than a candidate who had perfect SATs and had spent 30 hours a week playing soccer or at a volunteer job."

It should read "less impressive".
11.29.2006 3:40pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
David M. "Past the Diving" Nieporent said ....

No point really, but I'd have been happier if you had said that you were Miguel Tejada.

And who screwed up the Primer domain ownership?
11.29.2006 4:01pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"As others have pointed out, 'required volunteerism' is a contradiction in terms."

Indeed it is. Which is why some schools *require* a certain number of community service credits. They consider it good training for the students and helpful to the community. Other schools offer optional, volunteer programs. A college admissions officer might well look beyond a "required" community service credit to see if the student had opted to volunteer.
11.29.2006 4:02pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"At the risk of inciting the ire of many, I will delve into my anecdotal evidence and contend that providing scholarships or admission on the basis of expected return on investment would result in lower admission of women..."

Most of the studies I've read indicate that more female than male students participate in service-learning programs.
11.29.2006 4:12pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Grover Gardner wrote:
A college admissions officer might well look beyond a "required" community service credit to see if the student had opted to volunteer.
True, but a student who participates in required community service (there's no need for quotations since only required volunteerism, not required community service, is an oxymoron) might well have done volunteer work even without the requirement. High schoolers are so busy these days that it's not reasonable to expect such a student to have the time or energy to do additional volunteer work just to prove her willingness to work for the benefit of her community.
11.29.2006 4:25pm
corwin (mail):
FOlks
11.29.2006 5:12pm
hey (mail):
Grover: When it's well known that demonstrating "volunteer" experience is essentially a requirement of university admission, it's no longer volunteerism. It's called box ticking BS, that very, very many of us did in school, but it's not really volunteering since it's not voluntary (btw the entity with the requirement that counts is the university, not the high school).

Most people stop lots of extracurrics in uni thanks to an increase in workload, an increase in partying, and much less need to impress socialist admission committees.
11.29.2006 10:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Frankly, I'm surprised that so many people on the liberal side of the political spectrum are so enthusiastic about colleges taking community service/volunteering/[insert euphemism here] into account in admissions. Who does that benefit? People who (a) know more about what colleges are looking for, and (b) can afford to trade work time for unpaid service time. In both cases, the more well-off.


And John, Jeter was more accessible to the non-baseball audience.
11.30.2006 4:05am
Chenyu Lin:
I would like to refer you gentlemen to this link: http://www.jackpo.org/

Here, you might find a reason why she wasn't accepted into MIT (a little scandal, perhaps?)

Furthermore, a perfect SAT Math score hardly qualifies someone as a mathematical prodigy. Otherwise, there must be very many prodigies nowadays.

Sincerely,
Chenyu Lin
11.30.2006 7:27pm