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What College Admissions Want (nytimes.com)
48 points by bryanrasmussen 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

Man, higher education just doesn't make sense. Colleges charge insane amounts in tuition and are still losing money. While the richer schools prostrate themselves to donors and beg for more cash.

Admissions is becoming a game of who can work themselves weary in high school between grades and extracurriculars and test scores and essays. Colleges perpetuate the myth that their admission is "holistic" with some magic all seeing formula, when in reality Harvard probably can't read 40k applications in 5 months without some mass culling, probably via metrics (5 months is approx 150 days, divided by 40,000/150 is 267 applications a day, assuming no weekends or vacations). Unless you have connections or the right scores, you're not even going to be considered. Maybe, just maybe you'll get really lucky like Angel and have someone chance upon your app. But applications have increased in the last 10-20 years so probably not.

Either schools are being horribly mismanaged or higher education just isn't a profitable business. Probably both.

Colleges charge insane amounts in tuition and are still losing money

Either schools are being horribly mismanaged or higher education just isn't a profitable business

There's a third option- the profit is carefully erased. See "non-profits" that divert millions of dollars to an owner, relative, or other.

"Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence." - variously attributed

Of course, there's no reason it can't be both.

I'm a fan of Hanlon's Razor, but in certain cases (such as when many millions of dollars are involved) I feel it needs to be inverted if only out of caution.

People learn to game systems. Hanlon's razor is an initial condition.

I always picture the "variously attributed" as some kindly old gent, like Ralph Bellamy in Trading Places, whom, after telling some outraged protestor this bit of wisdom heads back into the private club, to the innermost sanctum where the other conspirators sit around a long table, grabs up a golden goblet brimming with what is hopefully wine, and announces cheerfully "Gentlemen, to Evil!"

Education in general is not a profitable business.

Except for a few ultra elite institutions, colleges mostly resemble high schools -- they rely on some combination of public funding and donations, take most applicants, and are happy to just keep the lights on.

There are 5,300 colleges in the USA. Most of those take nearly all comers, don't look anything like the ivies, and would have to shut down without somewhat regular infusions from donors. Most of those 5300 have 70+% acceptance rates, and a 70% acceptance rate basically means you're admitting everyone who could reasonably be expected to make it through the first semester of watered down 100 level courses.

The alternatives that are profitable aren't much better. E.g. the coding boot camps tech folks like to champion charge for 3-6 months of very narrow instruction what their public branch campus counterparts charge for several years of instruction. And, when it gets down to it, are mostly a way for VC firms to vertically integrate worker training programs for the rest of their portfolio.

Educating people is expensive and the people who need the education almost by definition do not have the means to pay for it.

To be clear, schools like Trinity are a few tiers below schools like Harvard. Harvard almost definitely does have mass culling (ex: remove everyone with < 1550/1600 unless X, Y, Z) and then do holistic review for the remainder.

Its difficult to even put Trinity in the same bucket as places like the Ivies, MIT, Caltech, Duke, and Stanford.

Here's the question - who cares? As someone that never got into any, I was told elite schools don't matter! Unless everyone is lying to me for the sake of political correctness of course...

I think it's great that institutions can select their student body however they want. They have that right as private organizations, and it's why I oppose the Asian affirmative action lawsuits. But lets not pretend this social engineering is good for America or laudable. Giving a lottery ticket to 500 more people or 500 different people does nothing to benefit society.

Actually they can't select their student body however they want. When private institutions accept public funding then they are legally required to play by certain rules. That's why Asian applicants who feel they were unfairly discriminated against have grounds to sue.

Some colleges — particularly religious schools — forego all government funding as a matter of principle. This gives them almost complete freedom of action in setting their admission policies.

When JFK was trying to get into college he wrote that he wanted the status of having attended Harvard. Their blessing combined with the networking of knowing other people with that blessing may be the most important component of "education." Youre paying for who you grow to know.


It really isn't insane when you think about it. It costs 80k to educate someone at Harvard.

What does 80k get you on the free market in Boston? Certainly not a Harvard education and lifestyle.

I'd guess around 90% of people (including me) who attended a 4 year degree program did so because "that's what you do after high school if you're a member of the broad middle class".

College should be for academically interested adults. It shouldn't be a rubber stamp that's required to hold a white-collar job. I think the culprits here are the colleges themselves. They're selling a bad product to people who don't need it at a very high price.

Colleges should be much smaller, shouldn't have sports, legacy admissions should be removed, diversity initiatives should be removed, and industry should open up to people without degrees.

Decoupling the certification elements from the education elements would probably help. Have a third party, possibly a government entity, allow anyone to be assessed for competency in a particular field and receive a certificate showing their skill level. If they think taking some college classes is a good way to improve their abilities they can do that, if they think self-study is the best way they can do that, if they think hiring a tutor is the best way they can do that. They shouldn't be forced into one particular expensive and time consuming path just to get the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities.

I would be wary of having a government agency decide the certification criteria for some subjects, especially for subjective areas like history. Who gets to decide which interpretation of history is correct?

Right now, professors.

If a government agency, then ... professors employed by government agencies.

It wouldn’t be much different except the government would be involved in a different capacity than they already are.

first of all, the idea of having a meaningful certificate in something like history is sort of ridiculous.

second, there are currently hundreds if not thousands of independent history departments in the US. to reduce this to one government agency would be quite a large change. or are you suggesting that we create hundreds of government history certification agencies?

>the idea of having a meaningful certificate in something like history is sort of ridiculous.

I totally agree. But tell that to the universities.

>or are you suggesting that we create hundreds of government history certification agencies?

I’m suggesting that this is what we already have, because universities are tax-exempt, so on a fundamental level all professors already do work for the government. We could just keep all the history professors employed, but in the service of a more meritocratic rubber-stamp than the current rubber-stamp game which is based on prestige and SAT scores and various other bullshit factors.

I think maybe you and I are just using "certificate" differently. to me, a certificate is very different from a degree. a certificate affirms that a person has a fairly specific set of skills that have been tested against some objective measure. I'm not exactly sure what a degree says about someone, maybe something like "has studied in this field for a while without pissing everyone off to the point where they refuse to work with or teach them".

I can be a certified building envelope inspector if I pass a test that shows I know how to perform an industry standard inspection using the standard tools. I'm not sure there's any meaningful way I could be certified as a software engineer (answering obscure c++ questions? being able to use git?). there's definitely no way I could be meaningfully certified as a historian. I'm sure no matter what I do, it would be controversial whether I was even studying history!

instead of making the study of history less of a special club, maybe we should ask whether it's appropriate for the government to support this endeavor at all?

>I think maybe you and I are just using "certificate" differently. to me, a certificate is very different from a degree.

I agree that we are using this word differently, because to me a degree is a certificate.

>there’s definitely no way I could be meaningfully certified as a historian

I agree: because of the nature of history, no meaningful certifications of this knowledge can occur. My point is that PEOPLE STILL ATTEMPT, every single day, to award meaningful certifications in this area, and since people are already attempting, it makes sense to just aid their efforts rather than throw out their efforts entirely on ideological grounds, no matter how correct those ideological grounds may be.

I agree that history is not a field that can have a meaningful certification in an abstract sense. My point is that these certifications STILL HAPPEN in a very real and practical sense; so why not optimize the process that already exists rather than wishfully hoping we could shut down the process entirely on ideological grounds.

> College should be for academically interested adults. It shouldn't be a rubber stamp that's required to hold a white-collar job. I think the culprits here are the colleges themselves. They're selling a bad product to people who don't need it at a very high price.

Don't think the colleges are the culprits. Their goal is to increase matriculation, get more students, more research grant money, etc. They are just trying to do more of what they have already done.

Arguably, the real culprits are the businesses that require college degrees, i.e., that require said "rubber stamp". A person who spends 1 year taking a $15k set of trade-courses will likely accept less pay than someone who spent 4 years and $150k. However, most businesses will choose the 4 year college grad every time.

Athletics matter, IMO. I care nothing for college football, but I wish I would have taken more athletics credits in school.

Depends how you define and implement "athletics" IMO. Club sports, informal martial arts, swimming lessons, that sort of thing are great. I was required to take four semesters of "physical education" credits of these sorts in order to graduate with my CS BS. These big sports sports that some colleges have going on, though... If a student wants to do that on their own time and dime then I of course have no objection, but the amount that even the not-really-good-at-sports schools are shelling out for facilities and equipment and coaches for the few students who participate is simply not justifiable in 99% of cases.

The athletics craze is an US-only thing as far as I can tell.

Other countries (at least Europe and Latin America) basically don´t have athletic scolarships and any athletic program is a strictly extracurricular activity.

I agree with most of your points, but there are some things about the post-WWII college system that required ever-greater numbers of people attending. In particular, professors want doctoral students, but in most majors the only reason to get a Ph.D. is if you intend to be a professor. Which worked kind of ok for several decades, as more and more state schools opened up, and a higher and higher percentage of the population went to college.

But, like any system designed for growth that persists for generations, it isn't designed well for leveling off, much less shrinking even a small amount. It's not clear how well many universities can even function without a lot of graduate students to teach many of the classes, but without more and more college professor positions for those graduate students to take once they get their doctorate, the current number of graduate students seems unsupportable.

I frequently hear this claim, but it is not what I observed during my PhD studies. All students, from the moment they got in, and most faculty under 50 years old were aware that more than half of the graduating class will not continue working in academia (rather they would do industry RnD or consultancy or something else). And plenty of efforts existed within my program itself, and in the university as a whole, to prepare students both for academic and non-academic jobs.

I don't think it'd be possible to remove sports from American colleges - it's the closest thing the NFL has to a developmental league. Also I believe it's where most Olympic athletes go to train and receive coaching.

Well all that, but more importantly, it makes a shit ton of money for the top schools. No way they'll agree to get rid of it.

I read this article with great interest. I have two children, one of them a high school senior, and we have been doing a lot of travel to various parts of the U.S. and Canada to visit campuses and better understand our options.

One factor that the article did not mention in the admissions circus: The high sticker prices for many private colleges are resulting in some students & families not even considering them as an option. Trinity and many other 1st and 2nd-tier private schools in New England (where we live) are $70k+ all in. This includes my undergraduate alma mater, Boston University, which I don't even discuss with my children as an option.

The other trend taking place: Some state colleges have become extremely competitive in part because they are affordable. Not only are they cheap for in-state residents (UMass Amherst all-in is about $30k for Mass. residents) but they are relatively inexpensive for out of state residents (UVM ~$53k all-in for out of state students) compared to private colleges.

We are middle class but really tight on finances, driving used vehicles and putting almost every extra dollar we can afford into 529 and retirement plans. Because our AGI is well above the median we won't be eligible for Pell grants, and my assumption is other grants will very rightly be designated for students and families who have far greater economic needs than us. I don't put any hope that our children's grades will make much of a difference. "Financial aid" in the form of loans is just putting off the pain, with interest.

And even if we get $5k or $10k lopped off per year? Congratulations, you will now be paying a quarter of a million dollars over the next four years, instead of $300,000. It's still not worth it, so the BUs, Trinitys, and Brandeises are not part of our college tours.

I think one of the problems in the US is the worshiping of school rankings.

When I grew up in Canada there was very little of that. You typically went to a local university, maybe in the next province over, but often in your home town. I knew very few people who said "It's McGill or nothing".

Yes, there are really highly ranked universities in Canada, but there wasn't the mad scramble of "if I don't get into a top school my life is over" attitude. Most of the universities were middle-of-the-road and you know what? That was ok and people turned out just fine.

There is a pervasive attitude in the US that unless you're going to a top school, you are severely handicapping your future.

>There is a pervasive attitude in the US that unless you're going to a top school, you are severely handicapping your future.

This is mostly only among the upper middle class who worry about how non-upper class they are.

The funny thing is, UBC,UT, McGill and Waterloo are virtually unknown outside of a select few circles in the USA. Waterloo is fairly well known among programmers in Silicon Valley and that's about it.

Starting at a community college and going to a mid-tier in-state school works quite well for a comparatively huge number of people. I'm in Michigan and went to UM-A2, but I know lots of people in the auto industry that went to UM-Dearborn (good pipeline to Auto) and lots of people who went to MSU and Central Michigan. Weirdly (/s), they make the same money as the also relatively large number of engineers from MIT. You don't have to go to a good school to maintain a middle class lifestyle in engineering.

I think certain types of engineers and a few other majors can approach college costs differently, because they know well-paying jobs will be available to them on the other side. These programs also tend to be highly competitive -- for instance, undergraduate nursing at UMass, UConn, and some of the other schools we toured have thousands of applicants for 100 or 200 slots, and can be very selective.

I had the same issue about 10 years when I was applying. My stepfather was a physician so technically household income was high. However, step-parents are not responsible for none birth children unless legally adopted. I have heard of parents divorcing on paper, moving their kids to disadvantaged areas on paper (true story), etc.

Despite being accepted to top engineering schools, I got mostly a full-ride to my local state flagship. To this day, I am not sure if it was the best or worst decision I made. I still made it to a top company without debt, but I have a feeling that any future education (e.g. a top MBA) is going to be hampered by this not to mention how certain things are basically excluded (e.g. venture funding, certain jobs).

One thing to remember is that a good percentage of those applying to top schools are coming from expensive private schools that are about as expensive as the university tuition, so to the parents that already paid 12 years of $70k tuition, 4 more isn't a problem.

I’m in a similar boat. I suspect the answer is aiming a tier lower in school (to get a better deal) or going public in-state. I think private schools outside the top 50 or so will struggle.

My general inclination is at current prices everything other than in-state public schools are inappropriate for most people. The top 10-15 may be another story. Everything below would need to come with a crazy discount.

Interesting point in the article is despite all the worry they still came in 20 kids shy - that could have put them half a million over the tuition goal. Or allowed them to admit 20 more low income students.

Just keep in mind, that unless one has very specific career goals (like a Manhatten top tier law firm or something else very selective) there is just no real evidence that a better school will end up getting you better income over your lifetime. And yes, that takes into account the "connections" that one might get at higher caliber institutions.

Reading this makes me feel very lucky to have grown up in California, which allowed me to reap the in-state tuition benefits of a top university (UC Berkeley). I think it was ~$15k while I was there.

What's wrong with your state school?

Nothing. My senior is applying, and keeping fingers crossed.

This seems like a great article (assuming it's accurate). It's also pretty discouraging. One bit that's encouraging:

> Soon after the U.S. News ranking came out, 17 members of Trinity’s English department sent a letter to the college’s board of trustees acknowledging that Trinity’s slide in the rankings might “spark some misgivings among Trustees about admissions policies enacted by Angel Pérez.” The professors urged the trustees to ignore the rankings and continue the new direction in admissions. The students that Pérez was admitting, they explained, were qualitatively different than those in earlier classes. They were more rewarding to teach. They were just plain better students.

> “We perceive in many of these students a refreshing array of qualities that were all too rare in prior years: intellectual curiosity, openness of mind and spirit and genuine will to engage with their peers,” the professors wrote. If Pérez’s admissions policies were “having inadvertent, temporary effects on U.S.N.W.R.’s dubious ‘selectivity’ measure,” they added, “we think this is a small price to pay for one of the most exciting transformations Trinity has witnessed in many years.”

It gets discouraging again, after that.

This article seems myopically focused on the status games of colleges.

It doesn't seem like a revelation that private colleges that spend tons of money per student require tons of revenue per student.

I'm sure every private school admission officer wants to admit a class that's great to teach and diverse without ever having to worry about money.

But these private institutions seem to exist for wealthy parents to transform cash into a slightly better stamp on their children's diploma. We already have a better solution to the problem mentioned in this article, which is the public college system which is both affordable and just as good of an education.

To keep this on topic with HN, how could engineering / math / software could inform the admissions process? In my opinion, ranked lists in general are misinterpreted by nearly everyone.

Here's an example. Suppose I create an admissions exam and admit the first N top-scoring students. Great, that might explain a great deal of admissions criteria among many schools, seems reasonable.

Now, administer the exam by putting the hardest questions first (i.e. lowest correct answer rate in some representative sample). Enforce questions must be answered in order, and immediately terminate the exam after a student has gotten some number K of answers wrong. Admit the students who answered the most right questions.

What would the admit list look like? It would turn out to look basically the same as the conventional way the test was administered, except with some noise near the cut-off number of questions--in other words, K and N are the same parameter in disguise.

What would be different? For something like the Specialized High School Admissions Test or how the SAT is used for highly competitive schools, the vast majority of students would get every one of the first K questions wrong and be immediately eliminated. You can't possibly claim that their knowledge or competency was tested, because so few questions can't possibly be representative of comprehensive knowledge or competency. And yet, the admit list would be nearly the same!

I can say, with high confidence, that the purpose of at least test-based admissions is not to validate knowledge or competency. That in fact, making students endure taking the whole test is a waste of their time. And now it should be obvious why such an admissions structure, despite being what some people and some schools want, feels so immensely unfair.

And the only way I came to this conclusion is by just looking at the math.

I had an idea similar to this. You look at where the statistical performance cliff is. Are the 90-th percentile students that much worse than 99-th percentile? After a certain level, it's a lottery.

It's already the case where the vast majority of students applying to these schools have near perfect scores, so a lottery makes it fair.

I didn't understand this comment:

"The pool of affluent 18-year-old Americans was shrinking, especially in the Northeast, and the ones who remained had come to understand that they had significant bargaining power when it came to negotiating tuition discounts with the colleges that wanted to admit them."

Are negotiated tuition discounts a thing? I've never heard of that.

Yes. It's called a discount rate. The national average for private institutions is around 45%. Maybe higher by now. See link below for stats.

At most private Universitues, only suckers pay full sticker price.


> Enrollment managers know there is no shortage of deserving low-income students applying to good colleges.

This may be true for Trinity College, but I don't think this is true overall. Lower-income students are already less likely to graduate from college than others:

> An even larger gap between graduates of low- and high-poverty high schools was documented as well. After six years, only 18 percent of high-poverty high school graduates achieved a four-year degree compared to 52 percent from schools with low poverty rates.


There is an interesting and somewhat depressing this American Life episode related to this, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/550/three-miles.

There has been some discussion in the comments about how some colleges may be admitting "diversity" students at the detriment of otherwise qualified white and/or male students. Here's my personal experience from six semesters of teaching introductory calculus and statistics before returning to full-time student status to finish my PhD. I taught at a relatively selective (<10% admissions rate) school that ranks in the top 100 nationwide and is highly ranked for most of our technical majors (we offer humanities majors as well but they are not highly ranked). I had over 400 students during this time.

Nearly all incoming college students are poorly prepared for college level math (and probably other subjects, but this is where I have experience). Gender doesn't matter. Race doesn't matter. The only consistent signal that I've found is that students that took AP calculus were even less prepared for college level math than those who had not- this was noticed by nearly all our faculty and led to our decision to not accept AP test scores for credit. Obviously there were good students who had AP classes, but the majority thought that they knew a subject because they had memorized a few differentiation and integration shortcuts. They messed up on the fundamental arithmetic so much that they often couldn't apply the shortcuts correctly. The AP student's belief that they were "better" than the other students seemingly led to a worse work/study ethic. Their idea that they could memorize a few common question types and be ready for a test really hurt them when we asked questions that even remotely tested their understanding- we often worked out how to optimize a fence enclosure where one side was a pre-built wall, but the final exam included a problem where two sides were pre-built, and most AP students failed this easier version of the question.

I guess what I'm saying is that most of the existing tests aren't useful when it comes to predicting college performance- there's a significant correlation, but the variance is so high that we might as well not even use the information. To add on to that, most of the "advanced" courses don't do a better job at preparing students, and neither do "college prep" courses. All they do is train students how to answer standardized tests. So people complaining that white kids with high test scores are being left out of college in favor of black kids with lower test scores are making a faulty argument. Those test scores don't indicate that those white kids would be any better students, and the hovering parents that insisted that their kids take all the advanced classes are probably doing their kid a disservice.

So what do colleges actually want? They want students that will graduate and increase the prestige of the college, which leads to a cycle of better admissions and even further prestige. Graduates can do this either by donating money (which is why we let in rich kids as legacy admissions), or by doing something noteworthy (such as being the first black-Jewish-woman astronaut). A middle class white kid just doesn't appeal to a college in any special way, because they probably won't become insanely rich, and their accomplishments won't be that great. As a final secret for anyone still reading, female Native American applicants get the most "bonus points" for diversity. While gender gets some basic scrutiny, ethnic heritage is very rarely verified so now you have an unethical way to help your white kid get into school.

You get the students other universities didn't pick. That means that you often get strange correlations at mid level schools, such as the dumbest students took AP while the smartest students didn't since AP classes helps with school admission.

That is similar to the brilliant jerk effect, if a person is smart enough to get a job at a top company but didn't they are very likely going to be a jerk. So brilliant jerks are not a thing at top companies, but at mediocre companies which picks what the top didn't they have to choose between brilliant jerks and dim friendly people making it seem like brilliant people are often jerks.

reminds me of health care industry

Elite schools say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity. But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all.

This is objectively wrong. The top-of-the-charts schools almost universally offer need-blind admission and great financial aid. A number of my acquaintances (middle and lower-middle class economically) graduated from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale without any loans and without paying more than $5000.

On the other hand, being rich means you can provide better K12 education to your children, which makes it easier for them to get accepted in elite universities.

Elite schools don't need tuition revenue, they get enough from donors they could give everyone free tuition no problem. It's about prestige.

College is a scam. Just take the money and buy real estate, and learn a trade online for free.

Who is lending you $100k-$200k to buy real estate as an 18 year old? Nobody unless you're rich already.

Many middle-class parents spend $100k putting their child through college (tuition + rent).

Instead, they could use that money for a down payment on a rental. Their kid then learns to code (or whatever) for free while having a place to live and cash flow from an asset.

What's your email address? Would like to reach out.

Yeah feel free simplecomplexhn@protonmail.com

Of course colleges want students from wealthy families. There's a reason Marx noticed class warfare, class is the primordial hierarchy.

However, among the fraction of the class that's accepted for reasons other than wealth, it seems like colleges play ethnic and gender favorites: https://twitter.com/DavidRozado/status/1140063678345011200

I think this is the point:

>There is a popular and persistent image of college admissions in which diversity-obsessed universities are using affirmative action to deny spaces to academically talented affluent students while admitting low-income students with lower ability in their place. Boeckenstedt says the opposite is closer to the truth.

I'm sure that Boeckenstedt is a good blogger and everything, but you can actually calculate how many SAT points race is worth (black positive, Asian negative) compared to wealth. And poor, non-Jewish white and East Asian males, are huge losers in the current admissions system.

One problem is that "diversity" means a lot of things to different people, and unfortunately to some, it means "freedom to exercise my hatred of <insert non-diverse boogeyman group>."

There’s no such thing as black race being worth positive SAT points and Asian negative. It’s only relative. Your race can only be an absolute positive or negative factor if there’s a no-race or neutral race to compare against ... oh you mean compared to white.

Not true even a little. You can compare to the average or median applicant.

Yea, I guess that's a good point.

Does he have any statistics to back up that claim? Every study I have seen says that students with privileged backgrounds get better results in college which suggests that the disadvantaged students who currently gets admitted are worse.

Gender diversity is important at college because students live at college and often have little time for socializing outside of campus. If you have too unbalanced a male/female ratio among the heterosexual students it's very annoying for both the males and the females.

At best it is very distracting, and at worst very depressing, and can lead to poor academic performance.

Hm… I don’t know about the poor academic performance claim. Colleges were male only or completely gender segregated until actually pretty recently. If anything, the academic performance was stronger 100 years ago than it is today.

Oops...I had a note about single-gender colleges in a draft but took it out. Yeah, they can be relatively fine.

If your school is all male, then your heterosexual romantic/sexual social life is either non-existent, or with people outside of school. Neither of those cases leads to anywhere near as much social rivalry and drama as you have in a mixed gender school with a ratio far from 50/50. It's that rivalry and drama that gets in the way of academics.

With little exception, college isn't about scholarship anymore. It's about having a good time and preparing you for your trade. Caltech doesn't have demographic quotas; there's the exception.

> Caltech doesn't have demographic quotas; there's the exception.

They don't have quotas, but Caltech has gone to considerable effort to lower the male/female ratio to address the problems mentioned in my comment.

They were male only before 1970, and then started admitting undergraduate women. When I was a student there, in the late '70s and early '80s, around 15% of the undergraduates were women, and this imbalance was the #1 complaint by far among both the male and female students about campus life.

Caltech worked on improving this by actively recruiting female students. They didn't change admission standards or give any preferences to females when evaluating applications, but they tried hard to make sure than more females applied, and that those accepted didn't pick another school over Caltech.

For example, as a male with good enough grades and test scores to get into Caltech but only about average for an incoming Caltech student, Caltech was indifferent to whether or not I applied, or whether or not I accepted when they offered admission.

For a female with the same grades and test scores, they would have reached out and tried to convince her to apply, and there is a good chance they would even have sent someone in person to argue the case for Caltech to her and her parents.

These efforts paid off, with the male/female ratio steadily improving. They are now at about 55% male/45% female.

Public institutions should be based on an entrance exam and that's it. It shouldn't be competitive, it should be first-come, first-served based on a pass/fail score.

What about the poor and minorities? College should not be the only route to a middle class life. There should be opportunities for those that are not academically gifted. Additionally, if public schools failed to prepare lower income students to be prepared, that's the problem that needs to be addressed.

We should also outlaw all GPAs across secondary and post-secondary schools. It should be pass/fail only.

Congratulations, you've just created eighteen years of nothing but studying to the test in cram school, with family wealth being the strongest single predictor of admission.

I grew up in a country where grades or hard numbers from tests is the only admission criteria and your scenario didn't happen, on the contrary several poor minorities were at the top.

Pass/Fail. I think you're overestimating how difficult the test should be. I think it should be easy enough for almost anyone with a high school diploma to pass it.

that sounds great, now how do you decide which of the 35,000 qualified applicants get to join the harvard class of 2024?

Is harvard public or private? If it's public, you just take the first X applicants. If you don't have room for all of them, either make more room or setup a wait list.

Are we saying there's not enough room in public universities to accommodate everyone? There seems to be enough room in secondary schools, and those should have a much high operating cost per student (buses, lunches, etc).

> Public institutions should be based on an entrance exam and that's it.

You mean the SAT? The problems with using a single exam as the primary criterion for acceptance is going to be basically the same as the problems with using the SAT--the scores are going to be very heavily correlated with how much money parents can throw at exam prep.

That's why I said it should be a pass/fail system, not ranked by performance. If you graduated a public school, that should be sufficient enough knowledge to pass the college entrance exam, and spots should be based on first-come, first-served.

Either public schools are teaching enough for college level work, or they aren't. You can't have it both ways.

I feel like you're wilfully ignoring the fact that there is actually a wide range of scholastic aptitude among highschool grads, and more generally among students at any level of education. should the curriculum at every college in the country be watered down until most high school graduates can also matriculate from college?

Are you implying the average student is not capable of obtaining a liberal arts degree at an average university?

Do we have to continue the traditional college model? Why can't you pay for a class, and have, say, up to a year to finish it without penalty? That would allow people to learn at their own pace. If after the first year, you're not done with your classes, then maybe college isn't for you.

> Are you implying the average student is not capable of obtaining a liberal arts degree at an average university?

about 70% of US high school students currently enroll in college. [0] of those, about 60% graduate in six years. [1] multiplying these two fractions together yields <50% of high school students graduating college in six years. so without drastically changing the current system (or accounting for choice of major, admittedly), it seems fair to say that the median high school student is not actually capable of attaining a bachelor's degree at a typical university.

do we have to continue with the current model? perhaps not, but my intuition is that allowing people to "learn at their own pace" would be more expensive per student. this is just based on my experience as a TA; it is far more work to grade assignments that aren't due on a predefined schedule. to what extent, I am not sure; TA time is not exactly expensive.

[0] https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/69-point-7-percent-of-2016... [1] http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/?level=nation&mode=grap...

Why? It’s a much coarser feedback, doesn’t tell you that you’reno putting in enough feedack, just tells you about catastrophic failure to learn the basics. Unless you want to make “fail’ everything below a B

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