Speed Reading Applications?

In my news feed this morning appeared an article in the Wall Street Journal that seemed to be aimed directly at me.  Entitled Some Elite Colleges Review an Application in 8 Minutes (or Less), the article explains that

As application numbers surge, admissions officers at some elite colleges say they don’t have time to read an entire file.

Instead, staffers from more schools—including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania—now divvy up individual applications. One person might review transcripts, test scores and counselor recommendations, while the other handles extracurricular activities and essays.

I was sitting in my office at Villanova Prep, where, for the month of January, I am serving as Interim Director of College Counseling when the article popped into view.  I happened at that moment to be meeting with a parent whose son — let’s call him Zach — has a varied portfolio.  Super-smart, but pegged as having “learning differences,”  Zach’s curiosity, uniqueness and ambition don’t do him justice on paper, or on the screen, as the case may be  — depending on which piece of the pie you have in your hands at any given moment!

His SAT’s are only a tiny bit above average (high 600’s); his grades A’s and B’s; his extracurriculars, varied, but not overwhelmingly impressive.  And yet, he’s a deep, thoughtful, appealing kid.  He wants to be a venture capitalist like his dad.  Anyone who meets him knows he will one day be very successful, pretty much no matter where he gets in.

The SAT person, who sees only his scores, among the many 700’s that cross his desk, might pass on Zach.

How about the recent college grad screening for extracurriculars?  Zach’s done cool stuff.  Maybe, “Maybe.”

The person reading the essays, who has the most important job, might give him an A+, a thumbs up, a definite “Yes.”

This could work in Zach’s favor if the essay guy can convince the others that it’s worth taking a risk on Zach.  If not, he’s probably not going to get in.

On the other hand, this system allows the person assigned to read essays not to have to consider the other factors (like SAT scores and grades) while delving into the deeper aspects of the student’s personality. Theoretically anyway, the essay reader will have a less biased view of the candidate, at the very least, one which is not (yet) influenced by the candidate’s scores.

In my view, that’s a plus.  You can tell a whole heck of a lot more about a kid by reading their essay(s) than by seeing their SAT scores.

This speedy and fragmented system might be even more subjective than the slower, more considered system we had before.  I can tell you this, having worked in admissions — slogging through 60,000 boring essays is no picnic!  That one shining star — the essay that grabs you by the collar and wrests the cup of coffee out of your hand — is going to get noticed, this way or that.

But perhaps this is the beginning of an era in which SAT scores take even more of a back seat to grades, EC’s and essays.  Now that would be a great development!

I welcome your thoughts on the subject.




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