Here recently a scheme to buy kids’ ways into college by falsifying applications, hiring actors to take the SAT tests and faking disabilities to get extra time for tests, has been exposed. Thousands of students are trying to get into a small number of colleges and their parents are doing what they can to make it happen.
Times have changed dramatically since the mid-1960’s when I applied to college. At that time we were allowed three applications. We were to have one school we knew we could get into, one we hoped to get into and one that had as much chance of accepting us as us winning the lottery. Today students can use a common application and are applying to twenty schools at a time. Before xerox machines and computers such a process was impossible. Each letter of recommendation had to be hand typed, as did each separate application. It made sense to limit us to three.
There were no SAT tutoring classes, no books on how to pass the tests, no hysteria from parents making sure we had a good breakfast before we went. We sharpened a bunch of #2 pencils and showed up. Weeks later we got the score with no indication of where we had missed the mark in our answers. We didn’t retake the test. We didn’t mourn that our lives had come to an end. We applied to the three colleges we were allowed. We always got into one, just as our counselors had suggested. Sometimes we got into two and had to decide. Once in a blue moon we got into all three. Then, of course, we had to go to the one where we had had no chance of admission. Many of my classmates at Harvard were, like me, sure they had been admitted by mistake!
It’s too bad I didn’t go to Oberlin where I expected to go. It had smaller classes, many more public school graduates and much more attentive professors. But I had won the lottery and I accepted my “fate.”
*(1962 song by the Sensations for those of you too young to start singing along)