On a sunny August afternoon, the high school seniors and juniors began gathering with their parents in the large room set aside for the admission group information session. For many, it was the second college they had visited that day and the fifth in three days.
An admission representative soon strode to the front of the room and began what was to be an hour-long presentation full of facts, anecdotes and stories about campus life. It wasn't long — perhaps 10 minutes into the talk — before he boasted that applications had set a record last year and that the percentage of students being accepted was smaller and more selective than ever. The audience reacted predictably, with rolled eyes, slumped shoulders and an occasional exasperated sigh. The road-weary families had heard this information before — at the college they'd toured that morning (and the one they'd visited the day before), from high school guidance counselors and in the media. Every newspaper article on the topic seemed to begin the same way: Getting into a selective college is the toughest it has ever been. The title of an essay by Keith Gessin in the March 16, 2008, issue of The New York Times Book Review said it all: "Admission Impossible."
And yet they keep coming in record numbers to those same colleges, the ones U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and The Princeton Review say are "best" and Barron's labels the "most competitive." Truth be told, all colleges want to be on those lists, even though college officials say the methodology for calculating such rankings are flawed and misleading. Despite those criticisms, the evidence suggests that students — and even more, their parents — pay attention to where a college falls in the higher education pecking order.
Like it or not, Hamilton is part of the admission frenzy sweeping American higher education, and if you happen to be a parent currently making college visits with your child, you know that the vignette above could easily describe the scene at the Siuda Admission House on the Hamilton campus or at any other highly selective liberal arts college in America. In fact, colleges pointedly announce their increasing selectivity (and by so doing add to the frenzy) as a way of reassuring alumni that their alma mater's reputation and stature are growing. But if you're the parent of a high school student looking at colleges, you're more concerned with reassuring your own child that this stress-inducing process will end happily.
Contrary to news reports and grapevine chatter, getting into a highly selective college doesn't mean you have to be a male from Montana with perfect SAT scores and an A average who is first chair in the orchestra, captain of the cross country team, student council president and designer of a Web site for the local soup kitchen where you volunteer 20 hours a week. Oh, and don't forget last summer's trip to Honduras to help rebuild homes damaged by a tropical storm. More ...