A recent Washington Post article details the surge in college applications to competitive private universities. Harvard logged 57,000 applicants (use 42%) and UC Berkeley, 112,000, up 28% respectively, for example. The lift in applications is attributed to the suspension of standardized testing during the pandemic, as many more students have felt inspiring to “throw their hat in the ring,” so to speak. While it is inspiring that so many have felt compelled to challenge themselves, there are only so many seats at the metaphorical table of the most elite universities in the United States. Many will still be left out in the cold; that won’t change.
But what will the impact of this surge in admissions be exactly? Admissions teams will now be slammed with far more applications then they are used to, forcing them to spend less time per application. They will also be denied a key piece of information about an applicant, namely their performance on a test of standard achievement. They will be left with…. grades and course selections (notorious variable depending on school and area), a application essay that is heavily edited and doctored, a resume of extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation that all, almost universally, claim that their target student should pass immediately through the gates of St. Peter.
In this environment, these departments will be tasked with accepting a fractional amount of students, slimmer than they ever have. What will they be left to rely on? Without standard measures, we would naturally deduce that such decisions will become more subjective than ever. A student’s “story” will become the overriding factor in distinguishing one 4.0 Valedictorian from another. X-factors, such as legacy candidacy, full-pay status, and arbitrary (inorganic) racial diversity requirements will, more than ever, be determining factors. There accuracy and diversity of the class coming in will be undoubtedly be diminished, more artificial, and ultimately, less qualified.
While there are many noble and well-minded rationales for suspending standardized testing requirements during the pandemic, we are beginning to see the disastrous effects on the admissions systems in the United States by placing a blindfold over their eyes and cheering about it. It doesn’t seem much like progress.