Monday, October 10, 2005

Social Logic of Admissions to Elite Universities

Another incisive article from Malcolm Gladwell. This time, he tackles the question of admission to elite universities:

Why are elite universities in the U.S. concerned with more than academic ability, while top schools in the rest of the world often consider solely test scores in admissions?

On what Harvard is looking for:
"It is a wonderful thing, of course, for a school to turn out lots of relatively happy and successful graduates. But Harvard didn’t want lots of relatively happy and successful graduates. It wanted superstars, and Bender and his colleagues recognized that if this is your goal a best-students model isn’t enough."

Why are former athletes so highly desired in business?
"One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive—a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time—to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams). "
(Bowen and Shulman)

"It was his job to protect his client from the attentions of the socially undesirable... This is, in no small part, what Ivy League admissions directors do. They are in the luxury-brand-management business, and “The Chosen,” [a new book by Jerome Karabel] in the end, is a testament to just how well the brand managers in Cambridge, New Haven, and Princeton have done their job in the past seventy-five years."

Moreover, universities focus on rewarding customer loyalty:
"In the 1985-92 period, for instance, Harvard admitted children of alumni at a rate more than twice that of non-athlete, non-legacy applicants, despite the fact that, on virtually every one of the school’s magical ratings scales, legacies significantly lagged behind their peers."