April 6, 2009

“Uncommon” part of U of C personality

What’s gained by trying to make the University of Chicago a carbon copy of Harvard?

On March 6, the Maroon published an editorial piece called “Admission Control.” The article argues that the University should take the opportunity to change its admissions policies now that Ted O’Neill is retiring by turning away from the emphasis on the “uncommon” aspects of the University of Chicago’s admissions and characterizing the school as more conventional by focusing on “objective” standards such as SAT scores and high school transcripts. The article gives three reasons. The first is that wacky essay prompts are too “subjective” and will therefore not ensure that the candidate chosen is the best candidate. The second is that many potential applicants will be turned away by the “uncommon” slogan because they don’t like it or don’t understand it. And the third reason is that the University needs to raise its U.S. News ranking, and can only do so by having students who “objectively” score better.

First of all, the U of C ranks in the top 10 of the U.S. News rankings of national universities. The University has even in the past taken the top spot of “best undergraduate academic experience” in The Princeton Review. The U of C’s median SAT scores might be lower than some schools’, but are still not far off from those top schools. This shows that University does not simply admit anyone, despite its “subjective” essays. What would a slight increase in scores do?

Secondly, the students who are valuable assets are not necessarily the students with the best GPAs and highest SAT scores. Rather, they are students who have unique perspectives and interesting minds, which can be communicated through these unconventional and yet much more probing essay questions. Indeed, one of the reasons that the “uncommon” slogan exists at all is because the U of C wants to attract people who are uncommon. The self-selection that goes on in applying to the U of C is not necessarily a bad thing, because you create and maintain a certain much-valued culture. The school has a personality that you as a prospective student need to vibe with in order to have a good college experience. If you do not, then there are other schools to go to.

Finally, perhaps in some respect the essays are more subjective—because they are more difficult to measure. However, I’m sure that there is a general consensus on what the best essays are. Furthermore, the essay supplement exists to give a holistic picture of the applicant, not to be the sole criterion. Besides, SAT scores and high school transcripts are certainly not that objective. Can one person’s objective ability and intelligence really be reflected in just two numbers?

What’s gained by trying to make the University of Chicago a carbon copy of Harvard? A U of C education is a great one, and it is recognized as such by many already. Let’s keep our personality, shall we?

Lara Ghering

Class of 2009