College application process in the US is overrun by blatant self-serving marketing and cronyism. We must reform the application process to change the way students look at education.
The Graduate Application Process
While US-based schools uniformly ask for a “Statement of Purpose” and occasionally a personal biography to mention things which “may not have been covered otherwise,” UK based schools like LSE only ask for a formal thesis proposal from their Ph.D. applicants. The subjectivity introduced by essays like the “Statement of Purpose” gives the admissions committee enough elbow room to fit in candidates whose backgrounds may otherwise be suspect. LSE’s demands only a formal thesis proposal, which includes research design and bibliography, and gives a better understanding of a student’s intellectual ability to handle research than say 3-4 pages of carefully crafted spiel to please the head honcho of the department or to whoever holds the key to your admission.
On to undergraduate application process
Today an application to a top-echelon school passes through many rounds of editing before it reaches the desk of the admissions officer. There are numerous websites and books dedicated to the craft of writing a successful admissions essay. The key to a successful admissions essay is to have “an angle” around which you weave your life story and tell the admissions officer why your life has led you to ‘this’ particular program at this college. Of course, the logic and events are sham or nip-tucked to give them the exaggerated appearance that is needed for the storyline. The sham stories give admissions officers a poor idea of student’s interests and capabilities especially because they can so easily be spun around to sound and say what is wanted. In writing dishonest essays, students also fail to analyze if they really want to join a particular school or a program. Still, by far the more insidious effect of the growing importance of the extra-curricular activities in the college application process is that today high-school students are hustling to get into multiple extracurricular activities at the expense of studying. It may also be argued that the admissions essays unfairly favor the rich students who can carefully tend to the admissions essay with the help of online services. It is this thing, which is, in fact, unique to the US, that it rewards entrepreneurship and salesmanship over scholarship.
The application process at undergraduate level should highlight the importance of academic achievement in schools and pay little or scant attention to frivolities like admission essays.