Has the College Application Process Evolved into an Arms Race?
With the college application season coming to a close, this is the question writer Jennifer Moses attempted to answer in a recent Wall Street Journal article. A video interview with Moses and the Journal’s Kelsey Hubbard can be found here.
In the article, Moses outlines several expenses associated with her 17-year-old twins’ college application process:
- Total cost of her twins’ standardized test fees = $522
- Total cost of travel, including air fare, gas, hotels, food and incidentals, for both twins accompanied by one parent each = $3,9908.23
- Total cost for private college counselor = $701.25 (to date)
According to Moses, ”If we hadn’t [spent money on SAT prepatory classes], what if, G0d forbid, some other kid who went ahead and got the tutoring and inched his or her SAT score just enough to bump our own kids out of the running?” In other words, why spend all this money on SAT tutoring and visiting college campuses (she admits she had the discretionary income to do so), when there is some child somewhere , with an overall, poorer college application, who will be admitted to the same elite institution one of my children has applied to, based on a legacy connection?” Moses finds the latter incredibly frustrating (as seen at the 3:20 mark in the video).
She concludes by asking two sobering questions: “Is going to a so-called better college worth it?” and “Is the system fair?” With regards to the former, she references a few studies and offers a resounding “It depends,” as her answer. With respect to the latter, she adamantly opines that the college application process (and tasks required prior to the application process) is a mess.
On the surface, Moses does have a point: all of these additional expenses on top of the standard fees to submit one’s applications to various schools would seem superfluous. However, there may be situations where some of those expenses can be justified. Suppose one of Moses’ twins had a history of sub-par performance on standardized exams, such as the SAT. In turn, an SAT prep course would be beneficial for that particular twin in raising his or her SAT score. Additionally, there are nuanced experiences that cannot be found via a college’s website, therefore justifying a visit to a college campus. These include the feel of the neighborhood surrounding the campus and a more accurate portrayal of the student body.
However, what Moses fails to acknowledge in her article is that SAT scores and private counselors are only part of the college admissions decision. This was even more apparent in the Journal’s Feb. 12 “Letter to the Editor” section, in which one Ivy League alumnus who conducts student interviews notes, “Every student I interview has near-perfect SAT scores and a 4.0 grade-point average. What we look for is what makes you different.” The debate continued in one of collegeconfidential.com’s forums where one poster declared that ”there was no real news here,” yet corroborated with the growing notion of competition and the accuracy in Moses’ discretionary expenses.
So, while it’s clear that some observers agree with Moses in her arms race observation, to others, this is just another common practice. Don’t bet on a Reagan-esque descendant to put an end to this cold war anytime soon.