Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Like many women past the age of, say, 25, I'm inclined to want to look younger. But now, all the more so. In the last decade, "The University of Chicago’s [acceptance] rate plummeted to a little over 8 percent, from more than 40 percent." I'll want to pass as someone who went in the 8% years, not who just made it in back in the 40% era. This is, I suspect, futile - while I was carded recently at Trader Joe's, I've been ma'am'd enough to know I don't pass for 17. I am now accepting recommendations for a facial moisturizer, one containing SPF.

Apart from that, what to make of the school's new status as super-selective, as vs. self-selecting? "Self-selecting," oh, that expression, probably on some level a euphemism for not-that-hard-to-get-into, but the school did seem to attract a specific sort of person. I remember a lot of blazers with elbow patches. People who'd read (like, to themselves, silently) at parties, or host "parties" with one or two guests. It wasn't that people didn't drink - this is, I get the sense, what's imagined when one hears that a school is notoriously un-fun - but there was no particular rah-rah, school pride culture. It wasn't a school where you'd see people in shirts with the school logo. There was a normal-college subculture, the handful of students involved in Greek life. And then I remember learning that more than half of my fellow undergrads had majored in economics - and I'd met very few econ majors in college, so there must have been a whole world I never interacted with. The people I did know tended to see themselves as future PhD students, whether they ended up going that route or not.

And so goes my longwinded way of saying that something's bound to change about the school's culture, for better or worse. I mean, this could be the end of the That Guy in one's Hum class - I don't see That Guy sorts making the cut.

So, fellow alums who may still read this thing: thoughts?


Nick said...

I dunno that it's particularly meaningful.

My interactions with undergrads in recent years has been that they are still relatively quirky, if a slightly more high-functioning version of that "one guy in hum" variety. As an interviewer, I can tell you that we're still encouraged to select for the type of qualities that make Chicago quirky, not conformist.

Which is not to say that I don't see some push toward normalization. But part of the increased rate has simply got to be good publicity -- it doesn't necessarily mean that the composition is changing, unless there's a reason why those quirky people somehow generally fall lower on the heap...

Phoebe said...

As I mentioned in Miss Self-Important's comments, I do think there's a reason quirkiness is tougher to come by with a very low admissions rate. A certain % of high school teachers prize obedience or conformity above all else, and are even outright suspicious of kids who challenge authority (and I don't mean in the sense of being gratuitously disruptive in class, or not turning in assignments). If admissions are largely based on grades - or if there are just so many applications that barring unusual circumstances, only straight-A students are being considered - then yes, that would eliminate students who are a bit different.

Of course, there are *also* the high school teachers who think the weird kid, or the kid who seems "bored," is by definition a genius (and boys seem to be declared geniuses in this way quite a bit more often than girls do), so, who knows.

dWj said...

This is very close to what I was thinking on hearing the news. Crudely: imagine some previous applicant pool, along with, for each applicant, four people who didn't apply, such that that applicant pool is made to look like the new applicant pool. Presumably the admissions office, choosing from that pool, would have selected a somewhat different entering class. Would they have done a "better" job of selecting than the actual applicants did?

The dynamic I envision is that as an increasing number of graduating high school students are applying to larger numbers of schools, we're getting more applicants who say, well, I'm going to apply to the top ten schools on this list without really thinking beyond that, because there's an element of crapshoot now and I'd better put out a lot of applications, and someone who catches Harvard's admissions office on a day that traffic into the office was bad ends up at the UC when maybe the student who should have been at UC ends up at Harvard.

I don't know how to test this, or even make it precise, and I even more don't know whether there's anything to be done about it.

(D Jens, AB '96, for what that's worth.)

Kaleberg said...

It's easier to apply to college these days. So much of it is done online, and there is even a common application that a lot of schools accept. There used to be a lot of mechanics: careful hand lettering or type writing, $10-$20 applications charges, and letters to stamp and post. A lot of high schools placed limits on how many applications you could file. At Stuyvesant, it was five, plus CCNY which had open admissions at the time.

If everyone went from applying to five schools, to apply to ten, you'd expect acceptance rates to drop from 10% to 5%, for example.