malcolm gladwell explains college admissions

Like Malcolm, I, too, went to university in Ontario. I, too, filled out the tanking sheet. He describes my school and program kindly:

There were several good ones and several better ones and a number of programs—like computer science at the University of Waterloo—that were world-class.

And I, too, find the US school admissions process very strange:

In 1905, Harvard College adopted the Colleg Entrance Examination Board tests as th principal basis for admission, which meant that virtually any academically gifted high-school senior who could afford a private college had straightforward shot at attending.

[T]hat meritocratic spirit soon led to a crisis. The enrollment of Jews began to rise dramatically.By 1922, they made up more than a fifth of Harvard’s freshman class. The administration and alumni were up in arms. Jews were thought to be sickly and grasping, grade-grubbing and insular. They displaced the sons of wealthy Wasp alumni, which did not bode well for fund-raising.

Finally, Lowell—and his counterparts at Yale and Princeton—realized that if a definition of merit based on academic prowess was leading to the wrong kind of student, the solution was to change the definition of merit. Karabel argues that it was at this moment that the history and nature of the Ivy League took a significant turn.

If this new admissions system seems familiar, that’s because it is essentially the same system that the Ivy League uses to this day.

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