Can We Get Kids Off the College Admissions Hamster Wheel?

Here’s a piece I just posted at WBUR’s Cognoscenti. It’s a real proposal for an experiment that I think could “work” in the sense that no matter what the outcome, we would gain useful information with no real harm (or certainly with no more harm than is already being done to high school students with our current, flawed system). 

0403_admission-592x323 It’s April, ‘tis the season of embittered commentary about the “unfairness” of the elite college admissions game. High School senior, Suzy Lee Weiss’s acrid reflections in the Wall Street Journal, “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” simply express, with more wit and rage than most, what tens of thousands of American kids and their families are asking themselves: Is this system rigged?

There might be a better way. Last year, Vassar College inadvertently sent acceptance letters to 76 students who were supposed to have been denied admission. The errors were corrected within hours, though not soon enough for some excruciating heartache to those whose fortunes were cruelly reversed. But this fiasco could have been an opportunity for an interesting experiment to see what would have happened to those accidentally-accepted-but-actually-rejected students if they had been allowed to enroll.

It’s an open secret that a large percentage of applicants to elite universities are fully qualified to attend. So, admissions committees of these colleges could safely agree to accept five or ten percent of the applicant pool randomly, without telling anyone who they are, and then track them over a period of 10 or 20 years… Continued at Cognoscenti here.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
This entry was posted in Children/Teens/Young Adults, Other published work, WBUR/Cognoscenti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Can We Get Kids Off the College Admissions Hamster Wheel?

  1. Such an interesting experiemnt, if it could only happen in my area I’d be grateful.

  2. James Gabler says:


    A number of years ago, perhaps 25, Yale conducted an admissions policy that admitted 10% of students who normally wouldn’t qualify for Yale. They were admitted in five categories. I don’t remember the five categories but two were: high potential low achievement, and big man on campus. The students we’re followed for 10 or 20 years following graduation. As I recall the students were true to their categories at Yale and later into life, i.e., high potential low achievement remained just that throughout. To test my recollection, I recall that the results of this interesting Yale experiment were reported in Time. If not Time, try Newsweek. If you find the Yale results and think of it, please send a copy to me at

    Something that baffles me. Soooo many high profile writers such as yourself go to great lengths to hide their email addresses. Why is that?

    Jim Gabler

    • Dear Jim,
      Thank you. That’s an interesting experiment; however, it’s not quite the same as a randomized controlled trial would, which is what I’m suggesting -even though it would be tricky. The results might be the same in both cases but what’s significant about the yale experiment you describe is that the Admissions office had set the parameters of what they were looking for in advance. Who knows what a more truly randomly drawn sample would reveal? I think it’s time for a new experiment, especially as college preparation today has become so extraordinarily toxic and demanding. I will look for that study. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      As for my personal email address, this decidedly NOT “high profile” writer (but thank you for that compliment) chooses not to reveal it, though I am found very easily through one of my professional email addresses at Harvard. The reason is twofold: first, even without making my email address easy to find, people do find me and often expect lengthy dialogue, which I would love to have but I can’t keep up my email correspondence with my own family members. The other reason is when I write controversial topics, people — not just a few but a lot — send incredibly hostile, threatening, and disgusting comments to my inbox. I’m frequently called C-word style names and the emailers detail the ways I will be raped, disemboweled, sent to hell etc. It’s tedious, frankly. But thank you for writing to me. And I admit there are many times when I’m frustrated not to be able to contact a writer, too. 🙂

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