Foothill Technology High School

Opinion: Rankings skew perceptions of college admissions

collegestatsart1 Opinion: Rankings skew perceptions of college admissions
Our culture prioritizes tangible rankings and scores instead of focusing on the meaning and value of an education. Just look on the threads of College Confidential. Credit: Joel Mayorga/The Foothill Dragon Press

During this hectic time when seniors are receiving their collegiate admissions decisions, many people start to view admissions as a formulaic process that is an indicator of their own value. Instead of accepting the fact that admissions is an extremely subjective process, people frantically calculate their chances of getting into a school–ignoring that there is no way to quantify and estimate this arbitrary and elusive process.

The attitude towards admissions may seem natural, as many students cannot help but predict their futures. However, most of the assumptions are influenced by outside forces that obscure our perception of college.

As someone who is currently going through this process, I have interacted with many people who have this mindset. I have also seen a similar attitude online on possibly the most unhealthy website for prospective college students: College Confidential. This website has perks, as it allows students to engage with other people who are trying to navigate through the college application and admissions process, but most of the time it fuels the misconception that we can calculate our future acceptances or rejections.

On the website there is a common post where students ask other users, “What are my chances for [insert university’s name]?” On these posts, they reveal their academic statistics (SAT, GPA, AP scores), extracurriculars and rank their essays on a 1 to 10 scale. In response, people comment and respond to this anxious student’s post, giving them their opinion on this person’s admittance chances.

This online interaction is problematic in a multitude of ways. It tends to attract thousands of self-proclaimed ‘high school experts’ who think they were admissions counselors at a top-ranked university in their past life. In most cases, these people favor the arbitrary numbers and scores. It is normally assumed that if you have a high ACT or SAT score, you will be admitted, and if you have “low” scores, you will be denied. Many people fail to take into account the power of incalculable things, like essays and letters of recommendation.

Whether or not the responses are positive, negative or somewhere in the middle, they produce unnecessary anxiety. A commenter has no more credibility in understanding admissions than the original poster, so their responses are virtually useless. These interactions cause applying seniors to worry about their unchangeable application and compare themselves to their online peers with higher “stats.”

There are various online calculators, on websites like Cappex, in which students enter their scores and GPA. It then calculates their chances of getting into certain schools. The incredibly important thing that this system,and those using it forget is that a person will be reading your application, not a computer. There is no way to estimate if the few people reviewing your application will be moved by your essays or impressed by your extracurriculars.

This particular problem is not limited to online interactions. At Foothill, I have been told that at various University of California campuses admissions will not read your application if your SAT is low. I have also been told that the SAT is the “most important” aspect of your application. Even my sister, who graduated in 2012, was told by an administrator that she would not get into UC Davis (she is now a junior there).

These speculations, assumptions and myths that have been narrated many times within the smaller communities of Foothill or College Confidential are fueled by a larger, mainstreamed and nationwide attitude towards higher education.

Every year, the U.S. Ranking & News Report is released, continuing the sickening tradition of attempting to put a value and ranking on an education.

A lot of problems have arisen from the U.S. Ranking & News Report’s rankings, but the one that seems to be the most destructive is that it doesn’t, as John Tierney writes, take “into account measures of the quality of education at each institution.”

Since the establishment of this ranking system in 1983, rankings have become valued more and more. The importance we place on them does exactly what the rankings themselves do: cause people to disregard education and value prestige. Students assume that the higher the ranking, the better the school. Sadly, many students choose a school based off of the supposed prestige than the actual quality of education, programs or personal fit.

These rankings connect to the way people try to estimate and predict the future. Instead of worrying about the quality of our education, we worry if our SAT scores or GPAs are high enough to get us into an elite university. Instead of writing essays or personal statements in which we showcase our interests and intellect, we try to follow a formulaic, particular structure, writing what we think the college wants to hear, not what we actually have to say.

The paradoxical disregard for education when talking about education is what seems most apparent through this process. People spend more time pontificating about admissions than actually reflecting on what it is that they want to achieve from a higher education.

Nicholas Thompson puts it well in his essay, “Playing With Numbers,” when he writes: “Unfortunately, the U.S. News rankings instead push schools to improve in tangential ways and fuel the increasingly prominent view that colleges are merely places in which to earn credentials.”

Our culture places incredible value on rankings and tangible things, causing too many students to view education as a means to an end. We do not value the personal and empowering impact an education has. In fact, I rarely hear peers discuss their excitement towards the academic opportunities that are available within the institutions they are going to. To me, this indicates that we need to reevaluate what a higher education means to us as individuals and in our culture.

It would be safe to say that most high school seniors who are going through the college admissions process are susceptible to our culture’s intense attitude towards college in varying degrees. But at this point, there is no dismantling the U.S. News Report’s rankings, or calming everyone down on College Confidential threads.

There is something we do have the power to control, and that is to deny the outside forces that constantly tell us how to measure ourselves and our education. It is not easy to resist something that is so pervasive, but if we take the time to consciously remind ourselves that admissions are incredibly subjective and a college decision does not define us, we may discover that education moves far beyond the systems that try to quantify it.

–Summer Al-Saleh

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