A Glimmer of Hope in the College Admissions Process?

The ever-increasingly competitive college admissions process places a great deal of stress on students, teachers and parents. In addition, it can pose significant constraints on schools forced to comply with external systems that may be alien to their conception of a true education. Steve Cohen, writing recently in The Observer suggests that only colleges themselves enjoy this outmoded reality:

“The current admissions system maintains the status quo, much to the pleasure of the college-industrial complex: lots of students apply for a relatively small number of openings at each school. That basic economic truth—great demand, limited supply—helps prop up ridiculously high tuition. And in turn, that outrageous tuition fuels the craziness to get into “top,” then “better” and finally “good” schools.”

Perhaps, finally, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the recent news that Yale University is adding three critical, new questions to its selection process:

  1. What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
  2. Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
  3. Write about something that you love to do.

The old system is finally starting to break. Who you are is more important than your grades. Your development as a person is of greater value than your ability to play the game of school. It is important to have a passion, to make a meaningful contribution.

Imagine if schools adopted the core objective of preparing students to answer these questions with authenticity, dignity, and passion? Of course, Yale’s questions may contain implicit socio-economic inequities, it may prove difficult to assess the authenticity of the answers they yield, and this could just become another competitive process to manipulate and obsess over. But this could also be the beginning of something very important: an end to the paramount obsession with grades as the gateway to continued learning.


Steve Cohen, “The Myth of Kinder, Gentler College Admissions”, The Observer, April 14, 2016.

Amy X. Wang, “Yale’s New Application Questions Give Away the Key Things Elite Colleges Want to See From Students.” Quartz, September 19, 2016.

Image courtesy of Baim Hanif at https://unsplash.com/@baim