When 'Everyone Is Qualified'

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Regarding our earlier conversation about colleges and the application process, an admissions officer from a highly selective school sends along the following:

How much does your ability to get 95, instead of a 90 or 85, have to do with your ability to actually perform at a Yale or MIT, as opposed to merely getting in? The kids in this piece seem to think of the test, not so much as a test, but more like a barrier. Are they right? 

I think the answer is yes. 

Last year we received over 18,000 applications (and over 120 from Stuy alone). When the numbers get to that size, the dynamics of initial evaluation shift from "what has this kid done right to get her in" to "what has this kid done wrong to take her out." Every aspect of the application, from grades to scores to close parsings of essays and letters, effectively becomes a search for what is wrong, because you have to filter, and you have to filter fast, before you focus on the finalists from whom you will cultivate your class. 

No one in admissions likes this dynamic, and everyone struggles consciously against it. But it still controls what you do. Last year we had 6,000 kids apply and had ten to fourteen people to make thousands of decisions. And that's why the dynamics change.

I had not considered the sheer size of the applicant pool, and the time it takes to actually make a decision. 

One other thing I didn't mention is the very nature of parents in New York. Being a dad here in New York, I think it's fair to say that there is a level of competition among people here that bleeds into education. I think this actually cuts across class. It's not just rich Upper West Siders. I saw the same thing in Harlem, even if the context was different.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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