The College Admission Meat Grinder: A Reaction to An Article | Jim Wickenden | 7 Min Read

June 13, 2023

A reaction to an article in The New York Times entitled “For Colleges, Admissions is a Business. and Business is Booming.”

In The New York Times issue of March 16, 2023, an article was published about college and university admissions in the United States that was written by Jeffery Selingo, the former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of the book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. Mr. Selingo did his homework.  In so doing, the points that he made deserve to be shared with those interested in this topic:

  • High school seniors in 2023 applied to more colleges than ever before.  Specifically, the number of applications to colleges or universities in the USA has doubled in the last eight years.
  • The Common Application is a critical issue that has had a profound impact on the number of applications candidates have submitted.
  • Application inflation is most acute at the nation’s brand-named and top-ranked public and private colleges.
  • More than one-third of the colleges that accept the Common Application now offer “Early Action,” which requires students to apply in November to (theoretically) get a decision in January.
  • Later in his article, Selingo’s research resulted in the conclusion, “I found that majors and specific skills are just as critical as the admissions selectivity of the college in the ultimate payoff of the degree.”
  • The last point Selingo made that deserves attention was: “One of the problems with the current admissions process is that colleges don’t share nearly enough information about what’s happening behind the curtain when applicants need it the most, nor do they share much about the outcomes of their graduates beyond whether they’re employed six months after graduation.

To his credit, Mr. Selingo researched how various universities managed the considerable uptick in applications.  I will not review the data of each, other than to acknowledge that Selingo received relevant information from Clemson, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Southern California. All are large, major institutions that are highly respected.

Now that I have given you a brief overview of the current situation, I’ll share with you some of my concerns and biases.  They are as follows:

  1. The Common Application:  While the application process for…
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Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.