College Admission: The Kardashian Effect

The other night my wife and I were sitting on our deck with guests and long-time friends Nancy and Al Maly from Grinnell.  Among us we have about 60 years of college admission experience, so naturally the topic tends to come up when we get together.  That, and Al’s fascination with the proper way to pour a Weißbier.

My wife suggested that I’m so enamored of my employer DePaul because of its commitment to finding talent among populations colleges don’t always serve well.  In my case, that would be first-generation and low-income.  (I remember filling out the FAF, now called the FAFSA, in 1970-something and being taken back that my father made $17,000 in his best year; mom didn’t work outside the home.)  There may be something to that.

But more important, I think, is my belief that I got a pretty good education despite the fact that I didn’t go to a name brand institution.  And a lot of people I know can say the same thing; collectively, we seem almost apologetic for not going to colleges we never even thought we could or should dream about.  And we’re doing just fine, as are many people who did go to the Holy Grail Schools of my generation.

I suggested that if students today were to dedicate as much effort to real learning and intellectual exploration as they spent on getting into college in the first place, everyone might be better off.

To which my wife replied, “Today it’s more about the wedding than the marriage.”

Brilliant.  How often to you (quietly) posit that the elaborate, over-the-top wedding portends a short marriage?  Or that the couple that keeps it simple and respectful has their heads screwed on straight?

Like a Kardashian wedding, it seems college admission today is more about the big event than it is about what comes after.  And I think that’s a shame; not on the students, but on the parents, colleges, and counselors who have made it that way.  We can do better.

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