benignly ignorant government and corporate scholarship bodies who have severely limited lists of ‘approved’ schools. This means that the best scholars are limited to applying to schools on those lists. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those approved schools are better in a particular field of study than others; but it does imply that they have been more successful in exploiting the rankings metrics to bolster their case as the learning seat of choice. An example of this deceit can be seen in the startlingly low admission rates of universities that are near the top of the list. Many of them are as low as 5% (down from 15% as little as 10 years ago). While you do the maths, let me just assure you that these schools haven’t become three times better in the space of the last decade. With the advent of the internet, the application process is easier now than it has ever been, and many students in the United States are applying to 10 schools or more. At the same time, schools know full well that admissions rates are one of the key factors in the rankings, which leads to encouragement for the admissions staff to garner as many applicants as possible. Not once in my 20 years’ experience in the field of education have I heard an admissions representative tell a
prospective student that applying might not be a ‘great idea’. Even students without a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past the first cut are assured that the application process is ‘holistic’ and all factors are considered, but in reality, if academic results are not outstanding, and test scores aren’t in the highest percentile, students don’t have a genuine shot at a top-ranked school – unless either their entire family are alumnae, they are an Olympic athlete, or daddy is willing to build the school a new library/ gymnasium/science laboratory. ‘Go ahead and apply though’, seems to be the abiding message. Stanford had 40,000 applicants last year and at US$90 per applicant, that becomes real money in the time it takes to fill out an online application. Coupled with the trend of universities marketing themselves more brazenly, and the increased ease of application, has been a broader demographic story dubbed the ‘baby boomer bounce’. Simply put, there are more American and British 17-yearolds today than there were 20 years ago, as their parents (the ‘boomers’) tended to have kids around the same time. The internationalisation of education has led to a massive increase in foreign undergraduate applicants, with the number of foreign students in the US rising from 450,000 to 886,000 over the
last 10 years. The number of university places however, has not grown to match the increased demand at anything like the same pace, which means that all the schools have been able to become more discriminating. While this may sound like bad news, if you are a student looking for a great education at a quality university, it really isn’t. A rising tide lifts all the boats on the water, and universities are enjoying a surge in better applicants, which ultimately leads to the formation of higher quality and more diverse student bodies. A better faculty list also plays its part in offering an improved educational experience. The choice of a university or college remains an important one of course, but it’s high time to step off the prescribed path to success defined by the limited nature of the rankings system. Despite conventional wisdom (an oxymoron if ever there was one), that system should not be the sole determinant of any choices made.
Jeremy Craig has 20 years of teaching experience in History, Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, English Composition and SAT®, GRE® Test, LSAT®, GMAT® preparation. testtakers-sg.com
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