Problems with college admissions

Emily Doran

This past week, I read an interesting article about the need for change in the college admission process. It reminded me of my own preparations for undergrad and the various hurtles and frustrations that I faced. I was convinced that there were some inherent flaws in the system, and I think that those problems remain an issue today.

But why should this bother me, or anyone else who has survived the college admission process? After all, we will likely never have to apply to an undergraduate program again. We’re done with that stage in our lives.

I am not just concerned about myself, though. I have younger siblings, one of whom is in the midst of the college admission process right now, and another who will be in just a few short years and I care about their experiences just as I did about my own. The fact of the matter is, while you and I may be forever done applying to undergraduate programs, we still know others who aren’t, and we should want to address the inherent flaws in the college admission process for their sakes.

First, the heavy reliance of many colleges and universities on standardized test scores is untenable. For example, many scholarships potentially available to incoming freshmen have eligibility restrictions based solely on a student’s ACT or SAT scores, allowing for only a small and possibly inaccurate glimpse into a student’s potential.

I experienced this unfortunate situation firsthand at Grand Valley State University. I and other prospective students were automatically placed into certain academic scholarship brackets based solely on our standardized test scores, and we had no way to appeal this impersonal and narrowly focused policy. There is so much more to a student than his/her test scores: There are high school grades, extracurricular activities, the potential to write a compelling personal essay or professionally handle an interview, etc. The ACT and SAT, on the other hand, cannot say much about a person on their own.

Fundamentally, these exams primarily test a student’s ability to take those particular tests. Because of this, they must be considered in light of other more telling student credentials. This would allow for colleges and universities to determine if an ACT or SAT score is keeping with a student’s general academic profile or if it is perhaps an anomaly that should be given less heft in the admission process.

Another big problem with the college admission process is the excessive stress it produces. When the transition from high school to college is more stressful than actually attending college, there’s probably something amiss. One stress-inducing problem I experienced was the constant pressure to make myself stand out to admissions officers. Although some of this pressure was certainly self-inflicted (or stemming from familial standards), I do not think my issue was unique.

It seems that high school students in general are experiencing increasing pressure to engage in “meaningful” extracurricular activities, including clubs, sports, part-time jobs, and volunteering. I often wonder how any of these students are expected to be so constantly engaged without experiencing, as I did, bouts of anxiety and depression.

Some basic changes need to be made in the college admission process. For one thing, admissions officers should consider students’ standardized test scores in light of other background information and qualifications, and policies which determine eligibility based solely on these test scores should be changed as well. Such adjustments would serve to eliminate the issue of test scores potentially misrepresenting a students’ abilities, intelligence, and potential. In addition, colleges should have realistic expectations for the number of extracurricular activities in which high schoolers engage. The focus should be more on quality, not quantity. Together, I think that these changes would improve the overall college admission process.