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College Cheating Scandal: An Admissions Officer Speaks Out (thecut.com)
136 points by jseliger 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments

I don't think it will really happen, but I can at least hope that this admissions scandal will shine a light on the scam that the "meritocracy" is, and I say this as a Harvard alum.

At any of the most elite universities there are many more qualified applicants than there are spots. For example, Harvard could fill its undergrad ranks with valedictorians alone, twice over. Thus, the fair thing to do would be to either (a) drastically increase the size of the incoming classes, or (b) set a minimum level of objective criteria (e.g. test scores, class standing, etc.) and then just run a lottery from those qualified students.

But instead, the admissions offices at schools run a system much worse than random. It's a system that's highly subject to pay-to-play access (and usually not the outright fraud kind, but more the endow-a-chair kind) while at the same time allowing the universities to keep up the charade that it is all merit based. Even if there weren't undo influence, the current efforts to maintain "diversity" (and not just the racial kind, but the kind where we need 5 cello players and 7 chess club champions, etc) means the admissions criteria is already completely arbitrary if you meet the basic (albeit still tough) academic requirements.

The reason this won't change, though, is the primary purpose of today's elite universities is to maintain social stratification. If universities did the fair thing and had a lottery for all qualified applicants, it would mean they would have to admit that they are not the objective arbiters of "potential" they purport to be.

I thought by "pay-to-play" you were going to point out the other opportunities to use money to perpetuate social stratification. It's not just "endow-a-chair" levels of wealth that improve the odds, it's also:

- Live in a rich metro area? Now you have access to things like internships & research opportunities not available in low-SES areas.

- Parents have high-status jobs? Now you have access to experiences offered by your parents' friends and colleagues, for example, to do research at a local university lab if your parents are professors.

- Don't have to work summers? Now you can take a "finding yourself" trip or volunteer to build housing in Africa or whatever it is these days.

It's much easier to engage in extracurriculars that show how great/community-oriented/socially-conscious/talented at music/sports/research/debate/whatever you are when you grow up in an upper- or upper-middle-class family in a wealthy-enough neighborhood to parents with strong social and professional networks.

This is the social stratification that's perpetuated by elite school admissions processes, it's the top-20%, not the top-1%. It's not any less dangerous, and in fact may be more so -- and the income numbers alone don't tell the full story.

Lastly -- those wealthy enough to endow a chair don't need Harvard to perpetuate social stratification, they will simply inherit enough wealth to do so!

It's my impression that the admissions officers (AOs) at these T10 universities are smart and don't care too much "self-discovery" trips to Africa which the applicants' parents have clearly paid for. Volunteer work in general is not good ROI for admissions.

That said, I think AOs do put too much emphasis on research/publications. In my opinion, being able to do research in high school usually means that your parents have connections to whatever labs nearby -- and students do menial work to just get their names on a paper. There are high school students who do conduct groundbreaking, impactful research, but they are much rarer.

like 15-20% of Harvard admits come from top 1% of household income. I think like 35-40% come from households making more than 300k.

A lottery will never happen as you laid out here. Not because it’s not a good idea but because it tarnishes the pedigree of the school. Being selected to attend Harvard and winning the lottery among those qualified to attend are so vastly different in the mind’s eye that there’s no way they’d take up this system.

Fundamentally, it risks their brand.

I think the real answer may still be the open sourcing of curriculum and teaching through online courses. Completing an education at Harvard should be inherently valuable whether or not you were selected for it. This is meritocratic but also realistic, I think.

The (magnet) elementary school I attended used a lottery to select among the top X% of applicants. It did not "tarnish the pedigree of the school" or anything like that.

There is already a lottery to select which students among the thousands who apply will be offered admission. It's just not uniformly random.

You can't compare the reputation of a local elementary school versus Harvard.

There are pre-schools in NYC that have tuition comparable to the Harvard ones.

The only thing it'll tarnish is Harvard's reputation for accepting the children of the elite.

The education doesn't matter as much as the pedigree. At some point we're defeating the point of the elite schools.

> The reason this won't change, though, is the primary purpose of today's elite universities is to maintain social stratification. If universities did the fair thing and had a lottery for all qualified applicants, it would mean they would have to admit that they are not the objective arbiters of "potential" they purport to be.

This is incorrect, and risks imbuing agency to a thing that is really much dumber than that. Nobody is trying to maintain social stratification. The reason for the byzantine admissions system is that the universities are trying to maintain their own stratification. Harvard is Harvard because it's hard to get in, and the people who go to Harvard tend to get high status jobs, like President of the United States. Harvard has the admissions process that it does, precisely because it wants to maintain its own image, and for no other reason.

If they care about helping rich people or educating students, those things are ancillary to the prime directive: maintaining their brand. This is the axis around which all such decisions revolve.

> For example, Harvard could fill its undergrad ranks with valedictorians alone, twice over.

I think this is a valid argument overall but all valedictorians aren't made the same. My alma mater isn't high tier at all (NC State) but a huge chunk of my entry class was valedictorians...from tiny rural high schools with a graduating class of 50 (mine was a suburban high school with a graduating class of 40).

> the primary purpose of today's elite universities is to maintain social stratification

I think that this is their prerogative. But society should change, not the same ~10 universities.

> I think that this is their prerogative.

If that's their prerogative, then they should come out and say it instead of pretending it's not true. Also, shouldn't we as a society at large take a better look at whether Federal funding is best used to maintain social classes?

nobody who goes through the process believes it to be a true meritocracy

colleges make it very clear that there are certain factors that weigh heavily. one of the legal factors is race. one of the unspoken factors is having donor parents/alum. now we know that another factor is direct bribes to admissions staff, which one could have guessed was happening under the table already

everyone who applies wants to be in that club with, not the smartest or most “meritful”, but the most powerful families/children (sometimes the same, often not) - and why isn’t family money considered a merit?

many of these colleges are businesses/hedge funds and they are looking to increase their AUM and ROI. I agree that advertising this core business as a meritocracy seeking to educate the brightest is false advertising

Professor Alan Dershowitz addresses this issue.[1] He thinks that this is just "the tip of the iceberg" and that we shall find many other "mini scandals" at other colleges and universities. He also briefly comments on grade inflation at elite universities and the practice of giving athletes an unfair edge in the admissions process.

[1] Alan Dershowitz reacts to the college admissions scam


It sounds that the admission officers have never tried to backup 40Mb of files onto 1.2M or 720K floppy disks.

It is very easy: just keep increasing the minimum cut off point. If you have N spots and 2xN people met the admission requirements, you simply bump up the admission requirements until for the N spots there are only M candidates where M < N. Now you have (N-M) spots and 2xN-M candidates. So you relax the admission requirements until the spots are filled. If at any point you have more people that fill the requirements than you need to fill you repeat the process for the new N.

Or you could do a tennis tournament ( if you have more than 2x applicants). Randomly pick two applications. Compare them head to head. The winner goes to the next round. The loser goes to the 2nd pile. When the total number of the people in a round is less than the number of the spots, everyone in the round gets accepted. Now we repeat the same path for the second pile, etc.

So the question is what is the feasibility of (a) drastically increase the size of the incoming class in. What happens if Harvard leaned into managed, sustainable growth. At least grow at a rate so that selectivity levels and incoming achievement levels are maintained at historical levels versus getting twice as hard to get in every decade. Why not start a Harvard in Silicon Valley and double the campus and double the power of the Harvard network? That said, I think the key is not to try to double the number of students at an existing campus but instead create a similar physically distinct second campus.

Here's how Wharton is using its SF campus:


Nothing about this surprises me. Just another thing in the long list of ways that wealthy people are able to keep their wealth, and pass it on to their children.

I had college paid for in full by my parents, and they also were able to provide a good portion of the down payment on my house. My parents aren’t exceptionally wealthy, but they have been able to give my siblings and I a very good head start on life. And if they were wealthier, they would have been able to provide even more advantages to us. The whole system is rigged, and has been for a very long time.

What's stopping you from going full Siddhartha, selling your house/earthly possessions, and giving the wad to the first homeless person you see on your way out of town to live your best ascetic life?

Caring for and providing as much of an advantage to your kids as one is able is a basic human (one could even argue 'mammalian') behavior. I'm disappointed that the narrative is trying to label such hard-coded behavior as everything from 'evil' to 'frowned upon'.

> "I'm disappointed that the narrative is trying to label such hard-coded behavior as everything from 'evil' to 'frowned upon'."

The problem isn't so much that it is frowned up or declared evil, but it's that we have somehow built the worst of both worlds: we are most definitely not a "privilege-free" meritocracy, but we like to pretend that we are. The British aristocracy gave their kids all the advantages they could, too, but at least everyone knew that system was unfair and the concept of "noblesse oblige" came out of that knowledge. We've replaced noblesse oblige with "I got all my success through my own brilliance so screw your lazy ass."

I'm not suggesting we return to an aristocratic system, but I am suggesting we fully acknowledge the role of unfair advantage, and luck, in anyone's success, in addition to their own skill and hard work.

One of the things I found most interesting about the current scandal is that one of the parents paid over a million dollars to commit this fraud. With numbers that big you have to wonder why they just didn't give a donation that large - probably would have had a similar effect. I think one main reason is that a donation would make everyone say "Oh, well your kid got in because of your huge donation." (See Jared Kushner). Committing the fraud allows the fiction that it was just skill and hard work that was the reason for the acceptance to continue.

I think you have an overly rosy view of the aristocracy of old. That social institution involved a hereditary monarchy, and you don't have to go very far back before the term divine right was being thrown around. Talk about entitlement...

If you go back in history, I believe you'll find that most socially advantaged people simply thought they were inherently better than others. "I worked harder", whether true or not, is a better narrative.

If you go back in history, I believe you'll find that most socially advantaged people simply thought they were inherently better than others.

That's true now, is it not? It's certainly a common view. People who are rich deserve it; they are more deserving. They're better people. They must be, because how else would they be rich? In the US meritocracy (and indeed, many others), anyone who has done well must have done it through merit because that's how the system works, so they must be a better person.

My understanding is that a few hundred years ago most wealth was inherited land. Aristocracy was something you were born into. I'd love to see some statistics, but I believe the percentage of "self-made" people is much higher today.

Modern society may have its flaws, but I do think this particular historical trend is positive.

Although the trend is now heading back towards that (in some places, including the US and the UK); the wealth of your parents is a stronger indicator of future success than it was fifty years ago.

I don't think people in Britain do realise the system is unfair.

The political system is currently having a meltdown because it has done an excellent job of eliminating the non-rich, but an absolutely terrible job of finding rich people with real merit.

So we've had a few years of entitled morons - not an exaggeration, in any way - from all the best schools and universities doing and saying incredibly stupid things.

And yet... the polish remains untarnished. Oxford and Cambridge are still considered ivy-festooned havens of academic excellence, and not bought-and-paid-for finishing schools for academically mediocre plutocrats.

A handily supportive media means many voters still trust and respect the plutocrats, in spite of the evidence that they're essentially just self-serving wasters, and not too bright at that.

It's too late to return to an aristocratic system, because we already have one. So, by all accounts, does the US - although both are camouflaged by an expediently deceitful narrative of tough self-made meritocracy which is wholly dishonest.

Did noblesse oblige ever really do any good for the lower classes?

I wanted to respond to this because I feel that a lot of reply's are black and white when the real scale is very much a shade of grey.

I agree with you that providing with your kids is a basic human behavior. My fiancés parents fled their country to come to the USA to give themselves and their kids a better live. A lot of people work hard because they want to provide that for their family. I think that is productive and great.

But there is the opposite side of it shown here. People abuse their power and wealth to provide a very clearly unfair advantage. And to make it worse, a lot of society rewards it. I have been in conversations where company X only hires from Ivy Leagues and 4.0 GPAs, and there is a very perceived notion that having such an education will get you places you can't otherwise do it.

One of the brightest and best coworkers I worked with had an average GPA from a state school (he was from that state), and was rejected by several employers. Personally, I look for the ~3.0 GPA student who worked through college, or can show more than just school and a 4.0 GPA. I know that student worked hard to get where they are, and that they have hit their heads against the wall to figure out something.

Hardcoded behaviours that successfully allowed small clans to thrive are not necessarily the best use of resources in large scale societies.

Something that is good for the individual is not necessarily good for society. Such as wealth-based admission to college, which is good for the wealthy but terrible for society.

Its only reasonable that individuals do it but it isnt healthy for society as a whole, as it leads to an entrenched class system.

I don't think the parents are evil. But nepotism isn't a desirable attribute for society. It doesn't award innovation and fosters dissatisfaction. It's self reinforcing, which is always a dangerous attribute.

As with other antisocial trends, we just need to implement strategies to counter it. This is already something we do -- eg. scholarships --, so while it might sound harsh, it isn't particularly controversial. We probably need to intensify our efforts.

It is normal behavior, everyone does it. But as that passed down wealth becomes more and more essential for a good life, society at large should stop pushing the myth that it is largely meritocratic, especially as lines between social classes become more rigid by the day.

There is plenty of human or mammalian behaviour that we don't view as axiomatic virtues in the way you do, and take steps to curb or change them.

This is one we can and should change.

Citation needed. We are monkeys with drugs and guns. Any attempt to deny that basic premise is doomed to failure.

We deny that basic premise every day by building and maintaining a civilisation.

Groundhogs, dolphins, whales, monkeys (other 'great primates'), etc, all have a regular social order with shared/close living quarters. Just because they don't have specious (pun intended) arguments with strangers over an electronic communications network doesn't mean they aren't some value of 'civilized'.

A friend was discussing that inheritance is the root of a good deal of inequality in the world - and I agreed. But if the alternative is giving it to a corrupt government to redistribute your wealth, then I still prefer to give it to family. And I say that as someone who doens't plan to have children.

I don't think it's unreasonable to act in your best interest within the rules set out by the system, while simultaneously recognising that the system is unfair and wanting to change it.

As the kids these days say, "don't hate the player, hate the game".

I would do that... but I like my house and my stuff. Plus, my wife wouldn't approve.

I am not saying that it is 'evil' but it does contribute to the wealth gap in our society. I definitely don't want it to go away, I want my children to get the same benefits that I had!

I guess my point is that the entire system is rigged and because so many people have benefited from it, including me, it's not going to be fixed anytime soon. It's important to recognize the ways in which the system is rigged so that we can level the playing field where we can.

Social cohesion is also a basic mammalian and human behavior. Power disparities make it really hard to trust people.

Your comment treads close to the pitfalls of this regressive framework of "privilege".

The default state of nature is open-world. It would be nonsensical for parents to not provide for their children. At what age should parents leave babies outside to fend for themselves? When someone passes away, should their dwelling be bulldozed? These sound nonsensical, precisely because our implicit motive is to build things for subsequent generations. We have gotten to our present state due to the hard work and planning of past generations - "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." and all that.

The "rigged" bit you're referring to is that society itself operates on a closed-world paradigm based around positional goods. The winners of this zero sum game gatekeep their position, extracting work from the losers. Setting up a general race to the bottom will not affect those winning this game, for they will always find a way to mitigate any "corrective" action and keep themselves on top. But buying into the paradigm actually makes it harder for those not on top to escape it!

You should appreciate the advantages you were given, but not view them as some sort of baggage or original sin. I guarantee you the people above you certainly won't.

And as far as general reform, focusing on general "wealth" is simplistic dead-end idea. One must always be looking for ways to make specific facets of society open-world. eg focus on increasing access to education in general and ousting credentialism, not simply trying to make the beneficiaries of the status quo less predictable.

While this is axiomatic: "It would be nonsensical for parents to not provide for their children." It is equally true that governments, if they want the best-performing society and economy, should heavily counter-balance the privilege of the children of the wealthy with scholarships, public education, training, tax policy, and anti-discrimination policy.

Keeping your wealth is what's good about our society. It makes us want to work hard to pass our wealth on to our children. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

There's also nothing preventing you from creating wealth.

Like laws, forcing you to redistribute the wealth you created to people that didn't. Other than taxes, anyway.

I find the nuance in the reporting to be quite fascinating depending on who the perpetrators are.

When it was rich Chinese international students doing the cheating, most articles would almost always allude to how it was cultural and how it reflects on the general population.

Now that's it's rich American students, the reporting focuses on wealth and class and how it's an isolated incident.

Well yeah. The poor certainly don't have the means to bribe Ivy League schools.

Fraud is rampant in every university. If you locked a class in a room and force them to write a three page in class essay, a good portion will be unable to replicate the quality of their previous written content

>I saw these decisions flipped frequently for students from affluent backgrounds, and rarely for students who’d applied for financial aid.

>Although our school advertised our “holistic” review process, our director typically used test scores to screen applicants. His rationale was that these were “riskier” students. The only time he didn’t? If the student could pay full price to attend our institution, or a “full pay” student.

My main takeaway from this is a reminder on how reliant schools have become on gigantic, bloated tuitions to finance a large part of, if not all, their operations. Whee you need to keep paying for pricey administrators, new dorm buildings, and other likely-not-vital-for-education pieces but your state budgets have been slashed, endowment isn't paying out as much this year, and lower income students don't have access to as many loans - of course schools are going to put a preference for students from a wealthy background.

I think if you want to keep colleges fair, you need to keep their budgets more bare bones and focused on the essentials of schools (teaching and research), OR charge those who can afford the vast tuitions out of pocket with even higher tuitions to offset the payments for more qualified, but less able to pay students.

Students have slowly been reframed as customers - it's no surprise that admissions may turn into form of customer screening.

It is the Ivy League - there is no "turning" about it. Many practices were goal-post moving to keep model minorities out including ridiculously biased vocabulary in test questions like yaucht sailing vocabulary which is covered nowhere in even the most in depth historical or literaty sources.

What is the value of a college education? This is a contentious question that I believe more and more people should be asking, and debating about.

Is the value in the education that one receives, or in the the network that one gains access to? They're really both sides of the same coin: they both represent opportunity.

Ideally, we could have both – just admit all the high-achieving students from upper middle-class backgrounds. When there's no more space, just simply expand: build some dorms, hire a few more professors, etc.

But in reality, where resources are already scarce, schools face a tradeoff: do we admit the bright student from a poorer background, or the wealthier, albeit not as academically-inclined, student? Here, admissions basically become a zero-sum game.

I guess it boils down to an argument of whether intellectual capital is to be more valued, or of social capital.

I would rather hear from an admissions offer from HYP and Stanford, where average admit rate is 5 to 6%. This guy worked for schools whose admit rate ranges from 60 to 75%; so, the target for such schools is different from that for HYP.

I heard exactly the same from a friend who worked in admissions at an ivy league university. Applying for financial aid materially damages your application. Ability to pay is factored in just like test scores. The rich continue to get opportunities poor kids will never have.


It seems like there are only a few dozen U.S. colleges (43 by my count) that officially have need-blind admissions, so at any school not on this list ability to pay should be expected to be a factor.

I can tell you that list cannot be trusted. The university I spoke of is on that list, but seeing as someone who was in the room making admissions decisions said they consider financial need, it’s clearly bullshit.

It's shocking to read justification of the bribery and fraud in this case as being just a manifestation of the drive to impart advantages to one's offspring.

I have that same drive. I can't imagine living with a morality that would enable me to pay bribes and falsify athletic achievement, or disability. I can't imagine involving my children in federal crimes.

There are lesser unfair practices, such as the ones the admissions officer in the article describes, and these should be fixed, too. But these lesser unfair practices are different from committing federal felonies. Especially when you are in technology entrepreneurial management, investing, or running a major law firm. It makes one wonder how deep the ethical rot goes.

My family was part of that "full pay" segment of the population, at least when I was in school - it makes me wonder if my skew to private college (vs public) acceptances could be part of this, since I was an average student.

Is it actually a bad thing if people who pay for it can get a good education?

Shouldn't we rather at the other end of the ladder, people who can't pay, and see to it that they can get a good education?

In that case you could make it more transparent and outright make it a bidding war over who gets in, rather than the whole charade of test scores and what-not.

TLDR; The admissions are heavily affected if students expressed need for financial aid. The OP worked at two schools, one that had little endowment liberal arts college not requiring SATs. This one doesn't surprise me. The other one is state college with 75% acceptance rate for in-state students. This one doesn't seem like problematic. OP isn't clear which school he/she is accusing of.

Overall, its well known fact that rich people's kid can chose great college as they prefer. Everything from Stanford to Harvard have seats reserved for donors.

I have friends that worked in admissions office of a state university. Normally, admissions rate will be high for in-state students because college-prep would have started long before application time. And through local alumni, teachers, and counselors students will have a good idea which state schools they’ll be accepted into. But out of state and international admissions is completely different. When state budget cuts roll down that admission rate jumps from 10-15% to 25% and up. And if you can pay full freight that rate jumps to 100%.

When I found that out I was less shocked than I thought I would be. It just confirmed thoughts that I observed but failed to see.

Peter Thiel has been warning about education turning to exclusive clubs since years ago. i dont know if much can change though

I read in an article somewhere that, American system heavily emphasis the brand of an Institution, which is markedly different from European institutions (Is this true?). This brand is valuable to people because they believe that the outcomes in their lives will become markedly different based on it. I think if we can somehow design a system which is indifferent to pedigree of an institution and rather afford opportunity based on individual merit (maybe university blind job admissions at the top companies), then the need to attend prestigious institutions will lessen.

European schools are taxpayer-funded, so students don't have to think as much about 5-figure differences between in-state tuition at a public university and full tuition at a private school.

The "pedigree" of US schools developed because the top schools have gigantic endowments from rich alumni, which allows them to build better facilities, hire top teaching talent and fund research. This is a cycle that is reinforced by alums (many at successful companies) who choose to recruit at those schools, thereby creating a new class of well-paid employees who're in a position to contribute to the endowment down the line.

For some industries like investment banking and finance, it's extremely important to do your undergrad at a "target school", where banks come to campus directly to run info sessions and do preliminary interviews. Otherwise you may not have a real shot unless you do an MBA, this time at a target school.

In this article, we report on the fact that businesses preferentially seek out customers who pay more.

“75% in-state acceptance, 25% out-of-state” yet out-of-state usually pays double? Are 75% of applicants “affluent”? I’m sorry but a lot of these recent biased articles smell a bit of BS lately...

Already accepted students on first pass are likely not then questioned, so make up majority. The Deny/Check students that are affluent are subsequently 'reviewed' and allowed would be a percentage of the 75%

It seems like there is a balance of meritocracy and capitalism which is fine, but society should have a say in where that balance lies.

Especially since the top American schools are not-for-profits and aren't taxed on tuition fees received.

Make the SAT so difficult that on average 1 person gets a perfect score each year. Then do not allow any other criteria for admission.

To prevent bribery randomly sample 1% for a retest under much stricter security.

If you must, lower standards for protected classes to even out demographics.

Rich people can afford to burn their children’s childhood on the enrichment activities and “volunteer” work Harvard requires.

Standardized testing is by far the most fair way to do this. SAT prep is not that effective and besides SAT prep is now available online for free.

Half of the bribery scandal was cheating on SATs, so the more you emphasize test scores the more you elicit that kind of behavior.

The College Board and its executives make millions selling test prep materials and running a monopoly over US higher education. There's a good chance we're only beginning to discover the inherent corruption here.

I disagree. In India the IIT-JEE, for admissions into the IITs, are super hard, so hard that I can bet no one can repeat performance between years, thereby removing almost any chance that someone else taking the test would be able to provide any kind of performance guarantee.

In fact the problem with the US college admission system is that it's not at all objective, rather is completely subjective, thereby giving the admission committee a lot of leeway. Students, who are good in academics, are unnecessarily (biased opinion) forced to spend time on extra curricular activities, volunteering, sports etc. Not that they are not important, but I'm not convinced that they should be part of the admission criteria.

By making admissions dependent on some standardized test you will remove all, or at least most, of human involvement which leads to corruption.

There are people offering IIT jee scores(usually at really expensive coaching institutes). hell the best IITJEE instructors take the test every year(to see the difficulty changes) and manage to get roughly the same high score everytime

The SAT/ACT is no longer standardized testing. All the determined parents abuse this. They find a sympathetic doctor to diagnose their kid with a nonsense learning disability, then that gets them double the time for the test or more. The test vendor isn't even allowed to disclose this inequality to the colleges; there was a lawsuit over that.

So you may play by the rules, but other students are getting twice the time to complete the test. Some students are more equal than other students.

This pretty much invalidates the whole concept of the test. Unless sanity prevails, the only way for test vendors to fix the problem would be to give an absurd amount of time to everybody.

> If you must, lower standards for protected classes to even out demographics.

As a member of a "protected class" that is able to get very high SAT scores, I would be extremely pissed if that criterion was applied.

> I would be extremely pissed if that criterion was applied.

It isn't a matter of "if"...that is the standard now, lower scores for certain demographics...that is why I don't put Asian on anything...as a mixed-race Filipino, I can pass as some kind of Latino which is what I now "identify" with since it helps me in nearly every case imaginable...it kind of sucks, but that is the world we now live in.

> that is the standard now, lower scores for certain demographics

I was talking about the opposite case: belonging to a class whose scores are artificially raised. If I can get excellent scores and get admitted by myself, but then everybody thinks that I got admitted due to my ethnic background, not due to my merits. Infuriating!

> it kind of sucks, but that is the world we now live in.

That certainly does not seem to be the case in Europe.

> I was talking about the opposite case: belonging to a class whose scores are artificially raised. If I can get excellent scores and get admitted by myself, but then everybody thinks that I got admitted due to my ethnic background, not due to my merits. Infuriating!

I think I follow you...that must not be fun...having everyone think you didn't deserve the spot you earned because of other undeserving "diversity applicants"

> That certainly does not seem to be the case in Europe

I was talking about the U.S. because the author of the article was talking about the U.S...I should have been more specific

In Australia the final year 12 exams, which are used as University entrance ranks are standardized. It works exceptionally well.


In Korea and Japan, they use the one test system and have the highest suicide rate among high school students. It also makes their high school lives hell and their education system lackluster at best. I would advise caution.

The test also means next to nothing. I know people who failed badly at the test and still got in to uni.

I know people who got to uni with exceptionally high marks on their HSC and absolutely no problem solving skills to speak of. Doing well on an exam does not necessarily mean someone is more intelligent or capable, it means they were good at that exam.

And the cut off for course admissions are adjusted up and down based on supply and demand.

That seems unfair to the students who apply for admission: if supply was high the previous year and low the current year, a student in the current year may not be admitted even if they demonstrated identical academic performance (assuming "academic performance" just means standardized test score here) as an admitted student from the previous year.

Sure, but this is just life isn’t it? A university decides to change the courses it offers, or the number of places offered within a course, just because things change. There also might be a new course offered this year which the student would not have had the opportunity to apply for last year.

What a terrible idea. Ignoring the fact that not everyone can take the test for economic or mental health reasons, and the fact that being able to prep for this test effectively skews in favor of wealthier folks, there are so many experiences that shape us. How does learning to overcome adversity because you had to survive homelessness show up in the SAT? How does being raised in a multicultural background? How does music? The arts? Your ability to engage people around you and spark imaginations? Or your inventiveness or compassion?

There are so many types of people I would want to be around in college who might not do great in a standardized test. I'd rather have a rich set of people around with different ideas and experiences than filter down to a single test result.

I still agree with his main point. I got an 800 in Math SAT I & II, and I am far from a Math genius. I don't think you need to implement the Putnam exam, but the SAT is structured to make it very difficult to discern a college player from a pro basically. More than 25% of MIT has an 800 SAT and 75% has at least 780 Math SAT.

Here’s a solution. Make college free for all. Anyone with a HS diploma can get in. But, you MUST attend the classes and do the work or you’re kicked out end of semester.

Totally based on merit. No biases on income or anything else.

Who pays the utility bills? Professor and administrative salaries? Is anyone allowed in just due to having a diploma? What keeps rampant cronyism and end of year cost splurges to keep high budget levels for the next year? Who sets the budget? How does enforcement work, government employees doing enforcing?

In short how do you pay for it given the already spiraling out of control costs of higher education?

All fairly simple issues that many countries have solved.

I suppose so, but it's worth noting that no other nation's tertiary education system holds a candle to the United States.

I would rather everyone have access to great education rather than the top 1% have access to outstanding education.

Because of a few flagship institutions who are valued quite a lot in comparison to the average institution.

Are you saying charging high tuition is responsible for making US universities better? Correlation alone does not equal causation. Is there any evidence for this statement?

Of the top 5 universities in dentistry, oral surgery and medicine in the world, 3 are in Brazil and are completely free:


Switzerland and England both have schools in the top 10.

Those schools don't admit everyone, and certainly not everyone for free.

I can't speak for Switzerland but all universities in England charge the same for UK students with nothing upfront. Sure they don't have space for everybody who meets the minimum but that's inevitable. There are no legacy admissions, athletic admissions, positive discrimination etc. Everybody goes through the same process.

That's fine, I was just disputing that "no one holds a candle to the US education system".

Why for Americans trivial problems seems more tricky than climbing the Himalaya?

If Spain, Italy, Germany and Sweden did it; US can do it too.

Some problems are easier to solve if you have a declining population and restrictive/merit based immigration policies.

Also, weeding out people from attending university at 14 years old helps too.

If someone doesn't attend or do anything why does it mater. If they never show up then they take no space and they use no teacher time so they cost nothing to "educate"

They get taken off the roles, lose any student privlidges like their amazon prime discount! and in the vietnam era would be eligible for the draft.

This is effectively what Czech STEM universities do. The supply is way bigger than the demand and as such getting even to the "top" study program is trivial.

Not sure it's very effective seeing the 60%+ failure rates in the first year. These people could spend that year doing something they are more suitable for.

Sounds awesome.

Who gets into Harvard?

Nobody. It gets shut down and turned into a museum of historical examples of corporatism.

Ok. Who gets to go to UC Berkeley and who has to go to Cal State Chico?

Or who gets to go to University of Washington and who gets sent to Eastern Washington University?

Did you go to college? Its not a school, your attendance is absolutely meaningless.

I selfishly love standardized testing because I have mostly done well on it. but SAT prep is ABSOLUTELY effective. I have my own personal anecdotal experience as well of that of my peers, but there are countless prep courses that boast impressive scores (unless they are lying through false advertising, but I believe it). The price of private tutoring and multiple rounds of simulated live exams is prohibitive and an absolute difference maker.

Effective for passing a test, maybe, but in my view 'passing tests' (that can be prepared for especially) is well down the list of 'important life skills.'

If a good SAT score is required to get you into a good college, and a good college is required to land a well-paying job, then passing the SAT with a high score is definitely an important life skill.

It pushes the burden to the people that have to teach these all these little box-checkes

That biases admissions for people who can afford extra tutoring and preparation for the test.

Yes. Case in point, the daughter of the lady in my town who ran the SAT and SSAT prep courses got all 800s. ALL 800s. She was smart, but not that smart. It is possible to be completely prepared for the SATs.

A perfect score on the modern SAT is not very impressive. The bar has been lowered considerably in the last 40 years.

[edit: seems I was very clearly wrong about this]

With respect, what in the world are you talking about? A casual search on the topic shows that 2 million people took the SAT last year. Of those 2 million, fewer than 500 achieved a perfect score.

Being part of the 0.025% isn't impressive to you?

Yes. False memory on my part it seems. I was very clearly wrong. The current SAT is clearly selective enough for my very popular scheme.

Ah, there it is. The "this generation has it so much easier" mentality.

Got any citations to back this up? Or just feel like grousing about millennials?

Nope. Seems I was wrong.

Isn't the difficulty tuned to produce a histogram close to that of a normal distribution? Yes it's true that the contents of the test have changed (removing analogies, and then recently circa 2016 revamping the writing/reading sections to be more like the ACT) but fundamentally it doesn't really look that different to me. In fact if anything now the reading section relies more on understanding and analysis of passages rather than just memorizing words and definitions which if anything seems like slightly raising the bar.

Goodhart's law: "Once a metric becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

Far from universally true. IQ tests like the SAT, GRE, GMAT etc. are all designed to be as close to ungameable as possible. There’s a limited amount they can do but the limit is very high indeed. The major, and unavoidable defect is the practice effect. The more you do something the better you get at it. But IQ tests are like running or weightlifting, there are beginner gains, there are tough gains that are ground out with a great deal of effort and there’s a limit you’re not going to surpass no matter how hard you try. O matter how many steroids I take or how hard I train I’m not going to beat Usain Bolt in the 100m. I’m probably not going to beat the average NHL player.

Goodhart’s Law is the opposite of true in quality control. What gets measured gets managed. Manufacturing defects in semiconductors, automobiles and I presume, most everything else have been trending down for decades. Businesses have KPIs for employees for a reason. Monomaniacal focus over a long period on one measure may not be the best idea, but it’s a great tool to have.

This is a great example of Goodhart's Law, though. If nobody studied for the SAT, it might (arguably) work fine as a measurement of collegiate potential. But because it became the metric for collegiate success, and because the "practice effect" means that practicing makes you do better on the test, many people study hard for it and greatly increase their likely score. The folks who don't study as much or as effectively for it for whatever reason will not do as well, as so you're left with a measurement of whether people studied for the SAT and not whether the test taker would be likely to succeed at college. So a good metric becomes a bad metric because it's chosen as the metric.

Not saying it isn't a problem but those better off have the resources to be educated better before in addition to factors like nutrition. Essentially the advantages aren't bias but a byproduct. The way to fix it of course is to raise the floor.

Which would be fine IF the SAT were a useful predictor of future academic or life success.

Since it's not, we could either 1) pick something that is a better predictor, or 2) give up and use a lottery.

> Predicting Success in College: SAT® Studies of Classes Graduating Since 1980

> Studies predicting success in college for students graduating since 1980 are reviewed. SAT® scores and high school records were the most common predictors, but a few studies of other predictors are included. The review establishes that SAT scores and high school records predict academic performance, nonacademic accomplishments, leadership in college, and postcollege income. The combination of high school records and SAT scores is consistently the best predictor. Academic preadmission measures contribute substantially to predicting academic success (grades, honors, acceptance and graduation from graduate or professional school); contribute moderately to predicting outcomes with both academic and nonacademic components (persistence and graduation); and make a small but significant contribution to predicting college leadership, college accomplishments (artistic, athletic, business), and post-college income. A small number of studies of nonacademic predictors (high school accomplishments, attitudes, interests) establish their importance, particularly for predicting nonacademic success.


> SAT and ACT scores as predictors of undergraduate GPA scores of construction science and management students

> The result showed relatively strong positive correlation and predictive indices for both ACT and SAT. Thus, the hypothesis of higher UGPAs being related to higher ACT or SAT scores was supported. It was concluded that the admission committees might need to reexamine their admission requirements and/or look at ACT score more than SAT during admission.


There is no better predictor for future academic success than the SAT (or an equivalent IQ test - ACT/LSAT/GRE/GMAT).

The only other predictors that are good at predicting success are either undesirable (socioeconomic status of parents, for instance), or hard to standardize between applicants (school GPA).

> Allow people to challenge students on their score forcing them to retake the test, or randomly sample 1% for a retest.

You want to implement a challenge round for the SAT? Over 2 million kids took the SAT last year[1], many of them for the second or third time. Your proposal forces a kid to be required to retest if they're arbitrarily challenged by someone else. Or it uses a lottery to select tributes who will have to retake the exam again.

The SAT is an incredibly stressful part of an incredible stressful stage of life. Kids already take it several times to improve their scores. Your proposal adds even more elements which are out of parents' and kids' control that can potentially wreak havoc on their time and mental health. It's basically the nuclear option of attempts to improve the SAT.


1. https://reports.collegeboard.org/sat-suite-program-results/c...

My point was just there are obvious ways to prevent bribery. And considering the amount we burn on higher education, spending much more on tests and verification does seem like a much much better use of money.

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