April 7, 2007

More college application theories

A reader writes:

The guidance counselors at my school were notorious for giving horrible advice for getting into college. When I was in high school, my school was considered one of the better public schools in the state and the nation. The bad advice that everybody at my school got was to be well rounded. This is crap. Most universities will take somebody that is very good at one thing no matter what it is over the class president. Anybody can join the chess club, the drama club, and everything else in between.

The most obvious place to excel is sports. And you don't have to be some high school prodigy in basketball or football. The Ivy League is loaded with bad sports teams that need warm bodies. Even the sports the Ivies are good at (wrestling and lacrosse) need warm bodies to sit on the bench, push the starters, and donate to the program when they hit Wall Street after graduation. The second, third and lower strings always donate more than the starters, so being average at your sport and nerdy doesn't necessarily hurt you.

As far as I can tell, the ideal students to admit from the standpoint of maximizing future endowment are the Duke lacrosse team-types: the real student-athletes, not the hired gladiators of the basketball-football arenas (although they have their uses too), but the guys who are a little under the SAT and GPA norm, but make up for it in future earning power and donating predilection: highly masculine, competitive, likely to make big money on Wall Street or in real estate development or the like, and get proud whenever Coach K gets the basketball team to the Final Four and writes a big check to the Development Fund.

Of course, as the Duke brouhaha showed, other elements on campus hate the lacrosse-types.

I wonder how well the admissions staffs really understand their jobs ... I met a prep school admissions director who really understood what he was up to -- he conducted rapid fire interviews of 8th graders to see how much they knew rather than the usual insipid dialogues that pass for interviews in America -- and he had succeeded in dramatically raising the profile of his high school in a decade.

But colleges are bigger and harder to change in less than a generation. The main way for a college to improve its reputation is to luck into a gigantic endowment, which it can use to buy smart students and famous professors. Insider trading has made more than a few college reputations. For example, my old college, Rice U. got the word in 1930 to buy land in East Texas from George R. Brown of Brown & Root, the oil field services giant that was the parent of Halliburton. Sure enough, one of Brown & Root's clients hit the biggest oil find of the era, only to discover that Rice U. had bought up a lot of the promising land in the field. Half a century later, I got a nice little scholarship out of it.

More benignly, Grinnell in Iowa, which now has the fourth largest per capita endowment in America, had two members of its Board of Trustees come looking for investments in the 1960s: alumnus Robert Noyce, who got Grinnell to invest in the little start-up he and Gordon Moore were launching to build his 1959 invention: Intel. And a local businessman hit them up for an investment in his firm Berkshire Hathaway. His name was Warren Buffett. So, now Grinnell pays professors an average of $100k annually to live in a town where $100k would buy a nice house.

But it still takes forever. I recall getting a lot of mail from Washington U. in St. Louis, which has long had a huge endowment, offering big scholarships to National Merit Scholars, but who wanted to go to a college that nobody had ever heard of? Well, by now, it's as fashionable as Duke or Northwestern or just about any non-Ivy other than Stanford. But, jeez, what a long time for its strategy to pay off ...


For the women, field hockey and volleyball are great for getting into good schools. Another obvious strategy is to apply to a major with low numbers (don't apply as a biomedical engineering major to Johns Hopkins or as a history major to Harvard) and switch after getting in. This can be easier at some schools than others. The football team at my school was notorious for football players applying to the nursing school.


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

24 comments:

Thursday said...

T.S. Eliot's family helped set up Washinton U. (St. Louis). It was originally called Eliot Seminary. I guess that was one of those name changes that didn't work out.

The poet, of course, went to Harvard and the Sorbonne for his education.

jody said...

if i wanted to do this, i would simply start my kids playing golf at 12. by 18 they would easily be NCAA level golfers.

golf = barely competitive sport, also requires none of the athleticism or size of real sports

Peter said...

As far as I can tell, the ideal students to admit from the standpoint of maximizing future endowment are the Duke lacrosse team-types: the real student-athletes, not the hired gladiators of the basketball-football arenas (although they have their uses too), but the guys who are a little under the SAT and GPA norm, but make up for it in future earning power and donating predilection

I don't know ... are most athletes in nonrevenue sports actually below their colleges' SAT and GPA norms?


if i wanted to do this, i would simply start my kids playing golf at 12. by 18 they would easily be NCAA level golfers.

It probably would cost so much money getting them up to that level that the college financial aid wouldn't be worth it.

Anonymous said...

Well, it looks like Duke is doing everything it can to shut off that stream of endowments.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know ... are most athletes in nonrevenue sports actually below their colleges' SAT and GPA norms?"

I wrote the original comment to Steve and he clarified exactly what I was trying to get at. If you go to an Ivy League, I don't think there are any sports that generate revenue (not sure if you are talking about actual revenue, or just anything other than basketball or football as a sport). If you go to any top tier school that has a good sports team, then yes there are plenty of athletes that are below the SAT norm in all the sports (at least at my school). I don't know if it is a majority, it probably is, but definitely enough that you notice when you are on the team. I'm not sure about GPA. They are probably near the average but most high school GPAs are worthless anyway.

Basically, there just aren't that many people in the world that score 1400-1500 on the SAT that are also good enough to play at the Division I level in anything. Steve's comment about the kind of person that goes on from these teams to make a lot of money and contribute is right on.

At state schools, it is different. First of all, in the smaller sports, far fewer of those athletes go on to make big money. Second, the SAT averages at those schools usually aren't that high to begin with.

JR

Anonymous said...

One would think that bringing in as many students as possible with the highest ACT/SAT scores as available coupled with a very good guidance/career department that could connect students with degrees and occupations that would enable them to be successful would be the best way to ensure that these students become well-off financially and then be happy to donate money back to the University that made it all 'happen'.

Sports seems to "create" some nostalgia for college days and is a reminder of ol' State U. for many and gives the kids something to go to and celebrate their university for(football, basketball, baseball games) and cheer them on, further cementing the emotional bond that people have for the place and makes them feel "part of the institution".
Athletics, no matter how lackadasical I am about them (men chasing balls when you get down to it), provide this 'emotional connect' whereas lectures by professors, concerts, recitals, silly plays (and Ive seen some post-modern-pretentious-deconstructionist-dreck), and other cultural happings (did you really ENJOY that community trash pick-up, or repairing slum-houses with your fellow students) do not.

In a way, successful sports teams and building rivalries with fellow city-states, um, I mean universities, makes you, even if you are a weenie nerd, "part of the team", and especially if you DONATE BIG BUCKS and can get a stick pin to wear on your lapel at the football games, and a seat in a high-profile area reserved for those who DONATE BIG BUCKS. You become "part" of it all. Your buying some social status amongst you peers, and perhaps getting a little professinal networking done to boot--all amongst other educated, cultured people while the gladiators toil in the bowl below.

Aint' it neat?


By the way.............down south in the football-mad SEC, there is a phenomenon called "sidewalk alumni" whcih refers to those who went to school somewhere else, but buy tickets and donate BIG MONEY to a SEC school, and join impomptu organizations, go on cruises with members of made up "pride" clubs with the football coaching staffs, and otherwise make the university sports scene part of their social circut. All of this is afforded by them giving MONEY at various demarcated LEVELS like club level, alumni level, associate level, etc.
Football powers raise tremendous amounts of money from people who were just fans of the place and didn't actually go there. Then you get to the T-shirts, jerseys, season-DVD compilations, hats, golf-shirts, bumper stickers, car magnets, and all other "officially sanctioned"--meaning State U. gets some of the proceeds, memorabillia.

Its a money game alright, and sports are a big part of it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks that they can just put a field hockey stick in their daughters hand and get a scholarship at Harvard does not have a clue. The girls who are playing field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, or crew at Harvard have been on teams since before 7th grade, have played on travel teams, and were starters and stars on their high school team. The players on the Duke Lacrosse team played on some of the best high school teams in the country.

And yes, the atheltes get in on a discount. However, that leads to the problem of being on the left hand side of the bell curve in every class while having the team make a huge demand on their time. To be on a sports team means limiting what your major is going to be. Even schoosl like Duke and Georgetown have jock majors.

I also think that the schools have cracked down on the major switches. At Johns Hopkins, each program has its own admission criteria.

Sockstand said...

I've never donated a cent to my old alma mater. I figured they were a business, and I paid for training to make money with. I did. Donating money to colleges is like donating money to Wal-Mart as far as I am concerned.

Anonymous said...

Peter said:
"I don't know ... are most athletes in nonrevenue sports actually below their colleges' SAT and GPA norms?"

They are absolutely given a break and many of them would be laughed out the door if they tried to apply without their academic resume. A good friend of mine in highschool had a 1350 SAT (pre-1995 recentering) and a 2.8 highschool GPA (this is not a misprint), but was accepted at Harvard (which then had a median SAT of 1400) and was given a very generous financial aid package even though his parents made too much money and should not have qualified because he was a top 10 squash player in the US. Also, another girl at my highschool was accepted to Harvard because she was the number 1 female squash player in the US with SATs of around 1100. Another girl was accepted to Cornell to swim with SATs also around 1100.

I have some experience with Ivy League football recruitment. Basically, they use an academic index combining SAT Is and IIs and GPA and the coaches are allowed so many players a such and such a level of academic perfermance. The standards can be quite low (One Ivy had a player who got an 890 on his SATs). Another fellow went to Penn to play footbal with a 1090.

Also, Ivy league sports recruiting isn't looking for the best combination student-athletes, but the best athletes, regardless of their academic talents, as long as they meet the minimum academic qualifications mandated by the administration. If given the choice between two football recruits, one with SATs in the mid-1400s, many APs with 4s and 5s and a 3.7 GPA and another with 1100, no APs and and a 3.3 highschool GPA, the Ivy will take the latter if he is even just a slightly better player. The coaches only get so many "picks" and their only concern is to get the best players. Also, if you're not good enough to actually play a sport at the Ivy league level, don't waste your time merely participating in it in high school unless you really like it, because it won't help you get in.

Anonymous said...

Steve, After reading all your posts on the college admissions racket, I have to admit I'm curious about the type of university your son decided to attend. Could you give its profile - private, public, size, region, etc.?

Anonymous said...

Please fill us in on your son's SAT scores and whether or not he plays concert piano or the like. And to what degree were chore extracurricular activities pursued, as opposed to those your son has genuine "zest" for. Did you steer him toward Rice for sentimental reasons, remembering the comraderie of the dining halls?

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who thinks that they can just put a field hockey stick in their daughters hand and get a scholarship at Harvard does not have a clue."

You're right. Because none of the Ivies give athletic scholarships.

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jody said...

an average college golfer from drake just won the masters.

this would never happen in a serious sport.

Half Sigma said...

To get into an elite college, the applicant needs to be a leader.

Anonymous said...

This is crap.

Just like I figured at the time -- talking to high school guidance counselors is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of mental masturbation here about this. The Duke Lacrosse types don't need to go to Duke to make money in finance -- Any state university will do for them. In fact, a sales manager in a high-income field like financial wholesaling would prefer one who didn't go to Duke. Reason: the profile of the successful sales rep is a first generation college grad who played a varsity team sport in college. Most Duke grads aren't first generation college grads; more likely, they are children of suburban affluence.

For everyone else, the elite college stuff isn't that big a deal either (unless you are applying for a job at a think tank or on a Senator's staff). Two years in community college + two years at a top-tier state university is the far better deal.

One exception I haven't seen mentioned here though: Born again Christian schools. Forget about fantasies of Jewish favoritism -- you can get the real deal at one of these Christian schools. About 40% of the sales force of a certain investment management company went to this one. These guys are averaging $350k+ per year.

Anonymous said...

Although athletes get into Ivy League schools with lower SAT's that other students, my impression is that most need at least 1200 or 1300, even football players. 1100's is about the lowest they can go. And these are probably pretty rare. But do you need 1550 if you can play a sport? Definitely not.

jody said...

i think you need about 1200 minimum to play football or basketball at an ivy.

anybody notice 3 black football players raped a co-ed in minnesota last week? probably not, because the national media did not pick up the story. i guess those players weren't white enough.

the completely ludicrous level of media spin in favor of black athletes continues.

Anonymous said...

"The Duke Lacrosse types don't need to go to Duke to make money in finance -- Any state university will do for them."

I agree with you. They don't necessarily need Duke to make a lot of money; Duke needs THEM to increase the endowment. However, being a sales rep is not really a "finance" job any more than being a bible salesman is. Sure you may work for a firm that sells financial services, but sales of just about anything has never been a highly technical job. Selling mutual funds or medical supplies is quite a different animal than structuring billion dollar real estate deals. You are much more likely to find the person that does the latter on the second string Harvard squash team or Penn Tennis team than the Florida State team of anything.

JR

Anonymous said...

Jody:

"the completely ludicrous level of media spin in favor of black athletes continues."

Except when the alleged black rapist is the captain of the Navy Academy's football team. He appears to be getting screwed over.

JR:

"but sales of just about anything has never been a highly technical job."

Depends who you are selling to. Institutional financial sales requires the salesman to have some technical facility. But there are plenty of state university grads who have the chops for it. Frankly, one doesn't need an Ivy league degree to be a real estate deal maker either. You actually don't need any degree. I know a guy who is a reform school graduate who has made a shit load of money developing real estate in Brooklyn. The accountants and attorneys working for him might have Ivy degrees or not, I don't know.

jody said...

so what does the navy case make it then? 100 to 1 or thereabouts?

SFG said...

Actually, from what I understand selling computer systems and similarly high-tech things requires quite a bit of technical knowledge; certainly personality is still important, but if you're getting people to fork over 1 million dollars for an MRI scanner I think you'd have to know some science.

Riot Nrrd said...

For those American graduates of solid (but not MIT or Caltech level) engineering schools who are not in the top ten percent of their class and/or those who do not want to move to Silicon Valley on a Kansas City salary, most of the engineering jobs they well be offered are as "sales engineers" or "technical support engineers". In other words, salesmen or technicians.

Engineers make mediocre technicians and terrible salespeople, but since non-engineers tend to have no technical understanding whatever these days, they take what they can get. In the old days, there was a good place for people with an avid-hobbyist level of technical ability, particularly in electronics, and some sales skills in technical sales. Madman Muntz was a canonical example. He didn't know calculus and wasn't capable of rigorous electronic design, but he could solder, read a schematic and knew the basics of electrical and RF theory. That enabled him to hire real engineers, oversee their work and carefully control costs (he was famous for Muntzing,i.e., cutting out parts until it quit working and then putting the last one back.) and then marketing his products.

You don't need design skills to sell electronic test equipment and production machinery, nor to maintain MRI machines and other expensive machinery. But they won't hire you without an engineering degree. The real engineer will not be happy in these jobs, but until we throttle H-1B they will settle for them-and deter their kids from engineering school.