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Admissions Undergrad college admissions - are they as ridiculous as they seem?

  1. Oct 13, 2011 #1
    Over the past few months, I've been looking into applying to college in the US. I've been reading up on stuff on the internet, asking a couple of questions on the forums here and also been on CollegeConfidential a few times. A huge portion of the applicants there sound like they've totally lost it and go nuts with their "chance" threads. I see things like "chance me and I'll chance you back!" being thrown around various threads. How is that even allowed? I don't think I've seen anything as annoying as that.

    I doubt that kind of behaviour is common only on College Confidential. I've seen whole books solely about college admissions (A is for Admissions springs to mind), when I was looking for SAT books on Amazon.

    Also, what is the big deal about extra curricular activities? Who cares if you've logged 76.4645 hours of community service. Apparently an admissions committee wants to know what kind of person the applicant is - does "x hours doing y thing" explain all of that? I find listing every other activity one has undertaken to be atrocious, to say the least. If one of the activities I engaged in, had a profound effect on me, I'll write down on an essay. Else, why should you care whether I do pottery or clean the streets in my free time?! On that note, anyone can *lie* about doing these things. How would they know? Sure, people are going to bring up the Adam Wheeler example but his lies were...http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/18/adam-wheeler-resume_n_580523.html".

    Reading through posts on a couple of forums, I often see applicants thinking that writing a heart wrenching essay is somehow going to win over the admissions committee. Now why would anyone want to lie so they come across as one of those "abandoned crying puppies" you see in cartoons?! It's crazy. Even then, why would anyone want an emo kid who'd go even more emo when they can't maintain that 4.0 in their school...?

    I can totally get being concerned about where one is going to end up for college - after all, it's four years of one's life that's going to be spent there. But this...damn, does that suck. Anyway, I hope that things aren't like that everywhere and that my opinion is what it is because of my limited exposure to US-college applicants.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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  3. Oct 13, 2011 #2


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    It is vitally important to name all activities and interests you do. The world is not as simple (unfortunately) as getting the grades and writing to show you have the attitude to go with them. The reality is that someone who considers applications or an employer will always get hundreds and hundreds of people with the right grades and right attitude. How do they pick between?

    When I got an interview for my undergrad one of the reasons was apparently because I'd done a philosophy module at school that the interviewer had once done as well and we chatted about that for a long time. A friend of mine recently got a PhD position and was told that one of this attractive things about his CV is that he's an avid rock climber. I know it sounds bad but the world really does work this way. An employer or university admissions have to differentiate between the mountains of applicants to decide who get's an interview or get's in. After you filter down to just the people who have the grades and the attitude how do you do it then? Anything that's slightly different to everyone else (which can be from mentioning you teach pottery to having a black border around your CV) has a chance of getting you remembered and gives you an edge. Hell a friend of mine was really struggling to find a job until this summer she spent a week turning her CV into an intricate one page Venn diagram. It got her really noticed and the interview offers flooded in.
  4. Oct 13, 2011 #3


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    For better or worse, colleges and universities in the US have developed and evolved such that they are not simply about academic training in one focused area. They're also about "education for life in the outside world."

    First, we have the concept of "liberal arts" education in which students are exposed to a wide variety of subjects in addition to the one that they are "majoring" in.

    Second, we have the concept of colleges and universities being diverse "communities" in which students get practice in working with people who don't share their major interests. This leads to all the non-academic activities like sports, student government, community-service activities etc. It also explains why students are admitted not only on the basis of purely academic considerations (how well they did on the SAT etc.) but also on evidence that they can "contribute" something to the campus community because of their background, interests and experiences.

    I think this is partly explained by the fact that many colleges and universities in the US developed in the 1800s in rural areas and small cities that couldn't provide "extracurricular activities" for students. The colleges had to provide those activities in order to attract students and make life more bearable. Students and parents came to expect these things as part of the normal "college experience" even though the surrounding communities can now provide more opportunities.

    Also, colleges and universities depend financially on contributions from graduates. This is true not only for private institutions, but also for state-supported ones especially now when state budgets are being cut back. Most graduates tend to remember extra-curricular activities more fondly than their academic experiences. It's easier to raise money for a new football stadium than for a new science building.

    I personally think these non-academic aspects have gotten out of hand. They do seem to be more significant than when I was a student 35-40 years ago, at a small college that is rather similar to the one where I teach now.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
  5. Oct 13, 2011 #4


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    Hazing rituals have long been used to promote solidarity and loyalty to a group, based on the concept that the more one has sunk into an enterprise, the more desparately they desire that investment to be worth it.

    Given that hazing has a lot of negative connotations associated with it, so much so that universities and colleges discourage students using hazing techniques for their own groups, such as fraternities, sororities, and athletic teams, it wouldn't do to have overt hazing rituals to select only the students most likely to provide undying loyalty (and alumni contributions) to their alma mater.

    A very nerve wracking and arbitrary admission process that creates extremely stressful situations for prospective students creates a covert hazing scenario - and a successful hazing ritual means the students that are accepted have an immediate pride and commitment to the university simply because they're so grateful for having been seen as measuring up.

    They'll immediately begin buying unnecessary items simply because they're so proud of belonging to a group that had demanding admissions standards - items such as coffee cups, polo shirts, underwear, basically anything that has a college logo stamped on it - and that desire to throw money at anything that has their college name stamped on it will continue on throughout the student's entire working life, including donations to new stadiums, new campus coffee shops, and sometimes even to new science labs.
  6. Oct 13, 2011 #5
    Yes, I am not foreign to the liberal arts approach to education. Actually, that's the whole reason as to why I'm applying. My main concern was how all of this is going seriously out of hand. I think that the current system is definitely better than cramming for an entrance exam!

    If I'm not mistaken though, CalTech do have an entrance exam for transfer applicants but the catch is they don't provide any financial aid for those who do get in this way, I know of somebody who got in through this but ended up declining his offer because he couldn't afford the tuition fees. On that note, I don't think any kind of education is worth $40k/year. The only two places I have found with the cheapest tuition fees, even for international students are:
    1) Berea College, Kentucky (no fees at all)
    2) MNSU Moorhead (~5 times cheaper than most places)

    Also: colleges, in general, are receiving more applications (at least, that's a trend I've observed in the "big" ones) and it's not realistic to expect the admissions committee to go nit-picking through every essay and transcript they receive. I think that's where things get turned into a gambling game. Nobody on the outside actually knows who is gonna be reviewing applications at X university from Jan-March 2012 and how they're going to do it.
  7. Oct 13, 2011 #6
    Cool! Talk about being subtly brainwashed!

    I think I'm a tiny bit too cynical and rebellious/curious to let myself be influenced by that kind of thing though.
  8. Oct 13, 2011 #7


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    If you've looked up Berea College, you probably know that they're rather unusual in that all students have to do at least 10 hours of work per week for the college: dining halls, groundskeeping, maintainance, other support functions.
  9. Oct 13, 2011 #8
    Yes, I can understand that. What I find ridiculous is listing *everything* I've done. I play guitar and write for pleasure. I haven't published anything, nor have I recorded anything. I just do it because I find it fun. I've also done the MUN, public speaking competitions, a quiz competition or two, was in the student's council for a few years and did a few things here and there. Do I need to mention those? Apparently I should but I think not. Besides the public speaking, which is something I love doing, I don't think any of those are worth talking about. Guitar and writing, on the other hand, are things I truly enjoy and I will not only mention these but talk about them and probably send in a sample or two. This, I think, is rational. Talking about everything I did or every lady I helped cross the road? Not so much...

    Interesting. I'll make sure to mention certain influences of mine then. Who knows, maybe somebody up there liked X author/band I like or happens to hate them and that might play in my favour.

  10. Oct 13, 2011 #9
    Yes, I'm aware of that. Still, I find this to be a pretty good deal.

    You know anything about their math and physics programs? They don't have much on their website, with regards to what courses are available. I might apply there but in the event I do get in (slim chance), it would be a shame if I find out they don't have much to offer in the way of maths and physics.
  11. Oct 13, 2011 #10


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    They do list the http://www.berea.edu/cataloghandbook/dpc/phy-bamp.asp [Broken]. This looks like a typical bare-minimum physics program, with three faculty members. It doesn't look like they have much if any on-campus research, although they do have some equipment. Students who want to do real research probably have to go elsewhere during the summer, on an REU program or something similar.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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