HIGHER EDUCATION 6:30 AM MAR 30, 2016
Shut Up About Harvard
A focus on elite schools ignores the issues most college students face.
It’s college admissions season, which means it’s time once again for the annual flood of stories that badly misrepresent what higher education looks like for most American students — and skew the public debate over everything from student debt to the purpose of college in the process.
“How college admissions has turned into something akin to ‘The Hunger Games,’” screamed a Washington Post headline Monday. “What you need to remember about fate during college admission season,” wrote Elite Daily earlier this month. “Use rejection to prepare teens for college,” advised The Huffington Post.
Here’s how the national media usually depicts the admissions process: High school seniors spend months visiting colleges; writing essays; wrangling letters of recommendation; and practicing, taking and retaking an alphabet soup of ACTs, SATs and AP exams. Then the really hard part: months of nervously waiting to find out if they are among the lucky few (fewer every year, we’re told!) with the right blend of academic achievement,extracurricular involvement and an odds-defying personal story to gain admission to their favored university.
Here’s the reality: Most students never have to write a college entrance essay, pad a résumé or sweet-talk a potential letter-writer. Nor are most, as The Atlantic put it Monday, “obsessively checking their mailboxes” awaiting acceptance decisions. (Never mind that for most schools, those decisions now arrive online.) According to data from the Department of Education,1more than three-quarters of U.S. undergraduates2 attend colleges that accept at least half their applicants; just 4 percent attend schools that accept 25 percent or less, and hardly any — well under 1 percent — attend schools like Harvard and Yale that accept less than 10 percent.