Monday, February 25, 2008

IQ lies low on college admission committees priorities list

"To those of you who've received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done, and to the C students... I say, you too can be President of the United States."

-- George W. Bush

My daughter's school had a college admissions weekend for parents, so my wife and I spent last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the East Coast.

The event was hosted by the school's college admissions office and featured a bunch of college admissions officials, mostly from here:

I will spare the reader the unimportant details. The most interesting (and useful) exercise was this: the parents were broken into 9 or 10 different rooms, each led by one of the aforementioned college admissions officials (we've got the lady from Harvey Mudd). Each room was given the same 3 applications to judge.

I don't know if the applications were real or fictitious, but they purportedly came from our school, and had familiar classes and grading system on the transcript, and familiar names of the teachers who wrote recommendation letters.

The first application was from an insanely smart girl. Her GPA was between A and A-, she has completed the most advanced calculus by the end of the 10th grade (Calculus BC level), and was taking classes in linear algebra and around in her last two years at school.

In other words, in math and sciences she was operating at the same level I was during my second year at the University. My school which was the Russian version of MIT, by far the most selective school at the time concentrating in math, natural sciences, and technology. Also, as was the custom in Russia, it was completely unburdened by humanity classes - everything was physics and math.

And yet I am sure she would have given me the run for my money.

On top of that, she exhibited the same quality of work in humanities as well - advanced classes in history, with the highest grades earned.

I liked her essay - she was writing about her mother teaching her to read rather than paint her face and dress up. I thought it was an accolade to her mother. As it turned out, most other people thought that she was complaining, and "had issues" with her mother.

The second candidate had a less remarkable GPA a bit over B+, but a track record of leadership in the school's newspaper. In fact, he was credited with a turnaround of the publication, and a huge ($50k) fundraiser that he organized and led. The recommendation letters spoke about maturity. I did not have time to read the essay, but I am sure it was great - an expectation from someone with a career in journalism.

On the negative side, his science grades were pretty bad - B- in physics, and not an advanced physics at that, and C in biology. His GPA also tanked at the very end - from consistent 9.5 to 8 in the Fall term of the last grade.

The third candidate was very weak, in my opinion. His GPA was B. His essay was mostly (>50%) quotes from Shakespeare, and the rest (maybe because of Shakespeare in the background) was absolutely terrible. He was a captain of the school's hockey team, but this should not be confused to student-athletes that get recruited into collegiate athletics - these people are not even going through the application process.

Anyway, after reading all this, I wondered why on Earth did they pick these applications - the decision looked uncontroversial. The girl completely dominated the landscape. I knew that any Google Hiring Committee would have picked her in a flash, too...

Then the parents in my team voted.

Smart girl - my hand shot up and then I looked around. My wife, several of other people - 7 in total.
Newspaperman - a forest of hands (26 by the count).
Hockey player - 10 votes.

Wow... I could not believe my eyes!

Then the groups reconvened in the main auditorium, and the statistics announced. Our group was by far the biggest, because it was a combination of 3 - a couple of college admissions people could not make it because of the snowstorm. But the results were roughly the same. The smart girl won one contest, led by a woman from Tufts. The hockey player got two or three. The rest went for the newspaper editor.

Then the question was asked of the college officials themselves - who would they select. The smart girl had done better here, but only because one of the schools was all-girls, and another (Harvey Mudd) was a math and sciences oriented place, so they were looking for the girls (specifically) who do well in science. But overall, the results largely mimicked the parents "committee".

The rationale given by them was this - there are tons of very smart kids with good grades. What they were looking for was a balanced class, with different types of competencies - IQ being just one of them. And on the balanced scale of priorities it (IQ) lost...

What a relief for the C students everywhere!


Илья Казначеев said...

This sucks.

On the positive side, this jewel girl is clearly not for them, and they understand thad, I beleive.

She should go th MIT or something of that level, otherwise you're wasting her.

Anonymous said...

my drinking team have hockey problem!!!
girl with high IQ ? Anomaly, probably a scary one ;-)
how many girls we had in Russian's MIT do you remember? If you watched Man in Black moview you will understand: ... What this little girl is doing all alone with books about quantum physics? ;-) buuuuum!!!!!
Do not forget : we are here becouse we are best of the best of the best, sir! And hockey as well IQ is just one of the metrics;-)