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About Getting Admitted Into Ivy League Colleges 精选

已有 11918 次阅读 2012-10-10 18:01 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察|关键词:office 3 Chinese carries college

 

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This morning’s Boston paper carries a front page article about a wealthy Hong Kong Chinese couple suing an US  college admission consultancy, IVYADMIT, for fraudulently swindle them for US$2.2 million dollars on the “promise” of getting their two sons into Harvard. The dream of all Asianparents is to have their sons and daughters going to school in the US, preferably in an Ivy league school, and if possible , the ultimate prize  –Harvard College . It is no wonder that an entire industry have sprung up inrecent years on “helping” people gain an advantage in admission. Asian parents are particularly vulnerable. Having taught at Harvard for 46 years and having served on both undergraduate and graduate admission committees let me give all Chinese–parents and students  my own experience and knowledge.

1.     The ultimate decision of whether or not to admita student rests with the admission committee. For undergraduate students, a whole committee of some 30 persons, mostly faculty members supported by a large admission department staff votes on every candidate applying. For some 10,000+applications / year, each committee member personally reads some 400+ cases.From these s/he selected about 50 some cases for which s/he will argue in front of the entire admission committee for consideration for admission and  scholarship award.  It is thus important that an applicant must first win the support of such a committee member.  Although the whole committee considers and votes on every applicant. If a candidate  does notget such support from the member who reads and evaluates his/her cases, her/hisultimate admission chances are slim. For graduate admission, each department of the university makes its  own decision  with its own  admission committee  which operates in more or less the same way as the undergraduate  college admission committee.

2.     With such an setup it is clear there exist waysin which an admission decision can be influenced:

a.   If you know who is reading and evaluating yourcase, then s/he will have a large role to play in the admission decision. To convince this person of your case is all important. S/he basically holds a“black ball” vote. If s/he says no, very few other committee members willchallenge him/her. (Actually it has always been rumored but never proven thatfor your long years of service on the admission committee, you are allowed ONE“white ball”, i.e., a candidate can be admitted on your say so with no questions asked). However, who will read/evaluate your case is randomly assigned; one has no control or knowledge beforehand. In graduate admission, your case of course will be  assigned to  the  person in your sub-expertise area. But unless you have intimate and current  knowledge  of the department, no one can claim he knows the person who will serve on  the admission committee and is an expert inthe sub-topical area of the department in the year you are applying foradmission.  Thus, beware of any claim that such first level decision can be influenced.

b.     Beside, my experience over the years is that each member of the admission committee takes  the job very seriously and will resist any attempt internal or external to influence his consideration.  In fact most will feel insulted if you attempts to pressure or influence his decision unless it is to offer factual information and objective opinions. Let me give two examples on which  I have personal experience.

c.   One year in the 70s, a Middle East Arab prince wishes to gain admission to Harvard and prevailed  on the  then Secretary ofState, Henry Kissinger who was a Harvard faculty member  before his service in the federal government and the white House, to write a recommendation  letter. Kissingerfully aware of the importance of the Arab country to the US and yet does not want to pressure the admission committee wrote an honest letter stating the political importance of letting this prince be admitted which no doubt pleased the ruling king but let the committee off the hook who nevertheless decided to reject the candidate on academic record grounds. (notes added 10/11/12. LESSON: Letters from people with big titles which talks about generalities and plattitudes do not help, e.g., what does the president of Tsinghua can say about a particular student in the department of electronics engineering. Evaluators are looking for opinions from people who knows the applicabnts personally and can report specific and useful information. Similarly, if I, a professor of applied mathematics, am asked to write a letter of recommendation for the son or daughter of a friend whom I don't really know and who is applying admission to the department of English Literature at Harvard, then while I'll write the letter knowing full well it is a wasted effort and not doing the applicant any good.  Note added 9/26/2015. In fact the admission committee will often write a letter back to the faculty recommender thanking him/her for the effort and promise to consider his/her recommendation carefully. The professor can then shoiw this letter to his/her friend asking for the favor and thus get off the hook. )

d.     The son of a well-known New Englandindustrialist who was himself a Harvard Alumni wrote  on behalf of his son and hinting that a large donation will be made. The record  of his son actually was acceptable though not distinguished. Our committee nevertheless rejected the application in favor of more qualified applicants. The university was actually put in rather awkward  position by the decision. But to his credit, this industrialist still made a substantial donation  to the university despite therejection of his son.

3.     Legitimate ways to influence this first level decision are many. Basically you want your application to  stand out from thehundreds the committee member will read. In the language of admission committee, you want your application to have “hooks” which will grab the attention of this one person.  Grades, examination scores, and well written statement, awards received, special skill and experiences  are all examples. I havewritten and given examples previously.

4.     Recommendation letter from person known to the department or the admission committee are worth its  weight in gold. In other words, the information has been calibrated. Thus, for graduate admission  in my own department and in my specialty, Iliterally hold the power of “life-or-death” on applications for  admission. After all, if admitted I’ll be spending US$50-70Kof my own research fund per year on the student for 4-5 years. Why shouldn’t I have the “authority” to go with the “responsibility”.  Similarly, if a trusted colleague elsewhere says aparticular candidate is good or excellent, then I put a great deal of weight onsuch recommendations. They represent shortcuts in place of analyzing/evaluatinga large amount of questionable data .

5.     In short, admission to prestigious colleges or universities in the US is a multi-dimensional problem (unlike in China where one examination score basically determines where you will be  admitted). It can be influenced if you do it legitimately. Bribing or last-minute desperation measure seldom work and may indeed backfire. Like democracy theprocess is basically fair but far from perfect and appears to be the best we can do.

6.     One more example of imperfection. One year therewas an excellent candidate whom everyone on the committee agreed should be admitted and given full scholarship. But because of paper mishandling  and bureaucracy, he was mistakenly in one chance out of a million sent a rejection letter which we only  found out months later when it was too late to do anything. This candidate I am sure was grabbed  by another equally excellent university. And in the US where multiple chances and opportunities exist,  heshould not suffer in life or be hindered in his career by this unintentionalmistake.  But he will go through  life nevertheless questioning as to why he was not accepted by Harvard.

OK, now you know more than most people about admission toIvy league colleges and universities in the US. Thus, be on the lookout of people who wants your money but cannot really help you to get admissions.  Be particularly wary of people who peddle his/her minor connections to Harvard and claim s/he can reach members of the admission committee on your behalf.

Finally, the US Supreme Court will take up the case of “Fishervs. the University of Texas” this month about using RACE as a consideration inthe admission of students or what is known as affirmative actions when the practice first started. The Supreme only takes up cases with broad public interest and controversial  ideas. This is another indication that collegeadmission is a major issue in both the US and China.

Note added 11/2/2013: If you are the children of an alumini with long years of devoted service to the college including fund raising, you do enjoy an advantage. This is called the Legacy issue. It is openly admitted and has survived court challenges. But last minute service and activity in your child's senior or junior year in high school is not going to do much good.



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