April 1, 2007

Apply Early, Apply Often

Awhile back, I recommended that ambitious high school students should apply to a lot of colleges, far more than the 4 to 8 of high school guidance counselor lore.

Not only is there a sizable randomness factor in acceptances, there is another, semi-independent source of randomness in financial aid offers. So, if you can't afford to pay more than $40,000 per year, multiplying the probabilities for acceptance times generous financial aid can point out the discouraging unlikelihood of getting the deal you want at the school you want.

Some vastly rich private colleges, such as Harvard, offer "need blind" admissions and fully discount to meet financial need, but the odds of getting into Harvard are 10 to 1 against. Schools that are easier to get into are generally harder to get highly generous need-based financial aid from (although they are easier to get merit scholarships from).

My son brings home the story of a girl at his high school who applied to two dozen colleges … and then at the very last moment added two more and had to beg her teachers and counselors to write recommendations a couple of months after the official fall closing date for such requests.

Well, it turns out that while she was accepted at a number of colleges, many of them stiffed her on financial aid. Fortunately, those last two, the 25th and 26th she added to her list, gave her acceptable financial aid packages. She would be in trouble today if she had stopped at merely 24 applications!

A medical student seconds my theory:

I think you've figured out the secret to getting into a good college, something I discovered myself about 8 years ago. When I was in high school I wasn't motivated to do a whole lot other than my homework, some SAT classes, some hospital volunteering, and a bit of debating my senior year.

That said, I went to Cornell in the Ivy League when a lot of the other "smarter" guys who had gone to my average suburban public high school had to settle for the public U. of Michigan or the like.

Our high school basically pushed hard the idea of "boiling down" colleges you'd want to go to to about 4 your senior year, and then applying to those. I've always been a life long skeptic, and the way I looked at it was that if these top schools have acceptance rates of about 10-20%, you should try to apply to a good number of them to get a spot. I applied to 9, I got into Cornell and Tulane, even though I was overall a mediocre applicant other than my grades and SAT score. I didn't even bother with backup schools, because I knew I could go to U-Toledo any time I wanted and perhaps later transfer to Michigan.

There was one guy who was valedictorian the year before me, who did *everything*. He ended up at U-M, because the only other places he applied to were Harvard and Yale. My year, the other Indian guy in my class (who was a lot more motivated than me) applied to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Michigan. He also went to Michigan - quite disappointed because getting in there certainly doesn't take staying at school everyday until 6 pm for 4 years and winning a whole cabinet full of debate, mock trial, and science olympiad awards; this guy could have easily gotten into Cornell, U-Penn, or Northwestern.

When I applied to 9 colleges my year, it was practically unheard of in the state of Ohio. The guidance counselors and school teachers discourage it purely because it means more paperwork for them.

I'm just amazed that some of these kids spend so much of their youth slaving away at these extracurriculars, and then completely screw up their college chances by applying to too few schools.

The Princeton Review offers a hint of one of the more Machiavellian angles of what's going on behind the scenes that causes your high school guidance counselor to give you the bad advice to limit your number of applications.

"The second possible scenario in safety schools might go something like this: Johnny's app sleeps with the fishes. Admissions committee's might not be receiving the quality apps they want from a certain high school. To hammer their new message home, an admissions office might reject an applicant or several applicants from that high school to set their new agenda in VERY clear terms. Basically, it's a message to the high school that hey, they're not gonna take students of this low caliber—whatever that caliber might be—anymore. Didn't think admissions counselors were such playas, did you?"

In other words, your high school guidance counselor doesn't have your best interests at heart. He has, at best, the interests of future student bodies at heart. If your school develops a reputation for applicants turning down admission offers from colleges, the colleges might retaliate on subsequent applicants from your school.

I don't know, but I suspect that this mostly happens at the elite prep schools that have lots of students apply to famous colleges each year. At run-of-the-mill high schools, counselor over-workedness is a more likely explanation.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Ive predicted this before, but it bears repeating: As we put both upward pressure and downward pressure on our existing middle class, the whites will increasingly instruct their kids to succeed in school (and use resources like the net to augment their education, as well as instructional books that can be bought at bookstores) more than EVER before.

This will lead to MORE inequality between the races than we have now 25 years down the line. Living in a housing complex is a living death for most whites, and they will work herculean hours to avoid it. Of course if the Brazilification of America is what one wants this is all fine.....

Parting shot: I remember as a kid seeing a couple of news-segments on young suicides in Japan and how they correlated with people finding out they "didn't make the cut" to get into certain schools or weren't going to be able to attain higher education and were going to be stuck as just a worker. I thought it a pititiful commentary on life there if some people knew ahead of time that they'd be so utterly miserable just working, that they'd rather cut off their own YOUNG life. Larege Middle classes are what make countries nice places.

SFG said...

Why are conservatives so fond of unfettered capitalism? I'm talking about the guardians of traditional values, not the Republicans in the pay of the corporations. The rat race and work hours take time away from families and force people to become more acquisitive and selfish. Why is this a good thing? No growth (as in Europe) seems to me a small price to pay for shorter work hours that would give you time to live.

Anonymous said...

The answer to sfg is simple, No growth works for about one or two generations at most. Then demographic pressure (most no growth rich countries are also low/no pop growth) plus the fear of being left behind by faster growing competitors breeds domestic discontent. This will become more observable if large chunks of China become VISIBLY richer than Europe. As it stands, Europeans console themselves with the thought that "Ok, we're not growing richer but look it's only the US that's really doing better." But if China (or even Poland) start to catch up, they will notice and it will tear them apart. As it is the French and Germans can't stop the best and the brightest from migrating to Canada and the US today. What happens if Singapore or Shanghai or Taipei became advanced enough to start siphoning off the best European talent as well?

Tom said...

You hit the nail on the head with the financial aid thing. Highly prestigious schools give out large amounts of need-based financial aid. Their U.S. News ranking isn't going anywhere, so they can afford to dish out financial aid to people who otherwise can't afford it. But they don't have to worry too much about getting qualified students, because they know there are a bunch of those who will foot the bill (or their parents will), so they give few merit scholarships.

Less prestigious schools, though, tend to give out more merit-based aid and proportionally less need-based. Getting a bunch of high-SAT students to come there will boost them in the rankings, whereas giving need-based aid won't help them that much. Those high-SAT students aren't going to pick Arizona State over Harvard -- unless they can go to Arizona State for free.

The thing they don't tell you is that unless you only plan on getting a bachelor's, it doesn't make a huge difference where you go to college. If you have any ideas of going to med school or law school, the prestige of that school will matter much more. If you go to a first-tier law school, your employers could care less that you went to a third-tier undergraduate.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Asia will ever welcome European talent en masse, nor will European talent en masse ever want to go anywhere that isn't European. The US and the rest of the Anglosphere were European in outlook, and that's one of its attractions for them along with lower taxes and less government (at that time.)

Much of the economic boom in Asia today is not natively and authentically Asian but is a product of Western capital and corporate action for short-term gain. China has never been known for precision craftsmanship, which is why despite having a mechanical manufacturing industry for decades-as far back as the 1920s-they never prospered much at it. I have a 9mm Mauser (copy) pistol built in China that shows why. It is made with poor tolerances, and despite some good gunsmithing efforts on my part, isn't safe to fire. Its steel is soft and poor. Similar Chinese efforts at typewriters, cameras, and the like show a native lack of aptitude overall. Western consultants and investors are what has made China a manufacturing powerhouse. Even at that, getting something manufactured there today to precise, repeatable, and documentable specifications is tough unless you build the plant and oversee it. Just try to get, say, AN/MS/NAS hardware and fittings made over there. It's been tried and abandoned.

Chinese manufacture is still characterized by small, ad hoc, Dickensian shops. And there is no local drive or desire to change that. If we make Chinese outsourcing uneconomic for American corporations we won't have too much worry over Chinese goods. Korea and Japan will stay players, but they are geographically small and we will be able to cope.

Anonymous said...

In 1940s and 50s Japanese manufacturing was equally terrible.
Probably, there was no manufacturing worth writing about in Korea during that time.

Only a fool would write off China.

Anonymous said...

In a few decades more Europeans might want to emigrate to Northamerica and even Latinamerica because of increasing Islamization.
Most aren't aware how islamized Europe already is. Some not so small parts of Berlin already resemble Instambul, German women can't walk through certain parts without male company. In Berlin, muslims are pushing to be allowed to use Christian churches as Mezquites. I predict complete Islamization of Europe within hundred years, unless a bloody civil wars prevents it. This is no joke, German women are having 1.6 children, and Islamic women around 6, already constituting around 12% of the population. Do the projections, in France it's even worse.

goin2college said...

Financial Aid works really weirdly. I think you either have to be really rich or really poor to go to those $45,000 a year schools because if you are poor they give you a full ride, and if you are rich you can afford it. My parents could only afford to send me to an in-state school because they are cheaper. My dream school was Delaware but I had to let it go because my family did not qualify for ANY financial aid and they would not give me any merit based scholarships. The way the system works is extremely messed up.