Miami Herald Letter to Editor

Web2 This letter was printed on the Opinions and Editorials Page of the Miami Herald on December 7, 2002

Re: recent stories on college admissions, such as College Confidential-the inside story of getting into your dream school (Living, Nov. 25): It's good to throw a spotlight on the college-transition process, but the essence of the articles only make students more nervous.

I am a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors and a professional with 17 years in the field.

The problem comes from viewing college admissions as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers: Winners go to First Choice University and the losers end up at North Cornstalk College. The game analogy is flawed.

Admissions decisions are about "matches." Ethical counselors encourage students to learn about a variety of schools that meet their academic, social and emotional needs. Believing that if they don't get into their first choice college, they will end up at a second-rate college benefits no one--and is contradicted by the facts.

Suggesting that there are only a few colleges worthy of admission is akin to suggesting that only movie stars are suitable for dating. Not all of us can marry a movie star. Yet many people are satisfied with their mates nonetheless.

Hundreds of the best colleges in the country go begging for qualified applicants in a given year. That the same few top schools--some of them with exceptional academic programs, some with recent national championships in sports--have 15% acceptance rates every year is a tribute to a lemming mentality among adolescents and their parents. The vast majority of accredited colleges and universities admit virtually every qualified applicant.

Furthermore, the list of accomplished Americans who went to "no-name" colleges continues to expand: Arthur Compton was graduated from the College of Wooster. If he had matriculated at Harvard instead, would he have won two Nobel prizes in physics? Andrew Grove found Grinnell College in Iowa. Then he founded Intel.

The article states that the majority of four year colleges raised their standards for high school grade-point average. Why wouldn't they raise their standards for GPA? With the plethora of AP courses now available, GPAs are higher with every graduating class. Before the proliferation of AP courses, a 4.0 meant all A grades and the possibility of giving the valedictory speech. Now a 4.0 very likely reflects a B average and a sprinkling of AP courses.

Once there were no AP environmental science and AP psychology classes. But a generation from now students will be signing up for "AP evolution of the corduroy suit" and a 5.3 GPA will delegate that student to the bottom half of her graduation class.

Suggesting that private schools get their kids into Harvard is like suggesting that Jackson Memorial Hospital kills its patients. Look at who the clients are coming in before judging what happens to them going out. Top private schools have top kids to work with, and good kids go to good schools. Further, all colleges and universities in this country are eager to admit under represented minorities- especially those from public schools. For example, midrange SAT scores at the University of Pennsylvania were between 1300 to 1480 last year. One of my clients- a low income, homeless, Hispanic student from an inncer-city school was admitted with a score of 1100.

I would advise students to study hard, love learning for its own sake and have a great four years- at First Choice or at North Cornstalk

David Altshuler

Member, National Association of College Admissions Counselors

Miami, Florida