Undergrad admissions: an obvious (to me) fix

DISCLAIMER:  I am not involved in Stanford undergraduate admissions, and I am writing this more as a parent and observer than as a faculty member.  I am trying to address the problem of ballooning numbers of applications and plummeting acceptance rates at many collegess.

Anybody who has a high school student contemplating college knows that there has been a bubble of applicants to colleges, and the acceptance rates at many places have gone way down.  I think Stanford’s acceptance rate last year was just under 10% (yikes!).   One reason for this is that it is incredibly easy to apply to many colleges by pressing a button and paying a fee.  I remember vividly applying to college and having the “pain in the neck” factor affect what schools I applied to and how many school.
So let’s just be a little retro:  colleges should set up admissions so that students have to make a separate non-trivial effort for every college they apply to.  I don’t really care what it is–mail in a hardcopy essay, make the questions all different so that you can’t cut and paste easily, whatever.  The point is that we should add a barrier to applying that will force young people to think a bit before they apply.   I applied to college “early action” specifically to increase the chance I wouldn’t have to spend the holiday break writing essays.  It worked.  Accusing me of being a short sighted 17 year old?  Guilty.


One comment

  1. boring! The real question is — is all the complex admissions voodoo really any better than a lottery on applicants weighted by some combination of SAT score / GPA (or threshold, then lottery). I would put a lot of $$$ on no and would presume an egalitarian and forward thinking insitution like Stanford would be an ideal place to run a little experiment. (c.f. chapter on Terman in Outliers)

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