Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Admission Control

Said a girl at the school where she prepped:
"As of late, it is hard to have slept,
When my counselors relate
The diminishing rate
At which colleges lately accept."

"I must temper my high expectation
For my 20th school application,
As it may be perhaps
My profusion of apps
Will worsen a bad situation."

Every year at this time, a million high school juniors and their parents travel the country visiting colleges, as I myself did with my niece and her dad last week. Right now, those would-be college applicants are feeling anxious about the diminishing rates of acceptance at the schools of their choice.

Accordingly, they will line up the best teacher recommendations, fill out their resume with many impressive-sounding activities and accomplishments, study hard, get good grades, and take the national aptitude tests after many hours of preparation. They will also, thanks to the Common Application, apply to as many as two dozen schools each, in hopes of boosting their chances of acceptance. This last tactic, while logical in the individual case, is self-defeating in the aggregate, as the proliferation of applications lowers acceptance rates still further, exacerbating the very problem that led to the proliferation in the first place.

The following spring, the problem is reversed, as schools must contend with diminishing yield rates from applicants whose many applications resulted in a fistful of acceptance letters. (The yield rate is the percentage of admitted students who actually commit to attend.)

What can break this vicious cycle of diminishing acceptance rates causing greater numbers of applications, leading to ever more diminishing acceptance rates?

I propose that American colleges and universities come together to create a college application currency system. Each applicant could be virtually issued, say, 100 Franklins (in honor of America's founding father of practical wisdom) to use in applying to colleges. The purpose would be to constrain the number of applications and to signal one's interest in attending a particular institution.

For each Common Application, in addition to whatever fees are payable in real-world cash, the applicant would have to expend between 1 and 100 of their virtual Franklins. Once they have expended the entire 100 Franklins, they may not make any further applications.

The Franklin system would limit the number of college applications, and provide a means of signaling one's interest in each school. While one could choose to make up to a hundred applications, the admissions team at Wassamata U is free to infer more interest from an applicant who sent in 42 Franklins along with their Common App. There would thus be a penalty for spreading one's applications too thinly, and applicants would have to balance the quantity of applications against the quality of interest in each college.

Certainly the current application system functioned well for many years, but there is no denying that it has gone awry. As Mr. Franklin said: "For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise."

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