High-School Students Share a Grim Opinion of College Admissions

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Students say stop with the marketing already. A new breed of web companies is bringing a refreshing approach to shopping for college. The service at http://www.CampusExplorer.com is the creation of an experienced Internet team who decided the search experience for post secondary education online was a complete mess. "We promote school attributes without hype -- essentially leveling the field, and promoting an educational interest that surpasses rankings," says Jerry Slavonia, CEO of CampusExplorer.com.

New research shows high-school students share a grim opinion of college admissions.

"There is something terribly wrong with this process," said one student interviewed by Education Conservancy, the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit behind the study. "There is so much propaganda," said another student. "Colleges should try less to sell themselves and more to act interested in students and in education."

Jerry Slavonia, CEO of CampusExplorer.com, says the findings don't surprise him. "Our Web site provides the opposite experience. We promote school attributes without hype -- essentially leveling the field, and promoting an educational interest that surpasses rankings."

Nearly 100 high-school seniors surveyed in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago characterized the college process as an exercise in "marketing."

They admitted to taking advanced courses and SAT classes -- even cheating on tests -- solely to enhance their candidacy. They lamented pursuing numerous extracurricular activities, instead of a particular passion, to appear well-rounded. They complained of colleges courting kids who had zero chance of acceptance.

Overall, the students described the admissions experience as dizzying, disenchanting and deceptive.

"They've confirmed what all of us on the front lines knew in our guts," says Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

The study is part of Education Conservancy's effort to convince colleges to abandon rankings, specifically those compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

According to Lloyd Thacker, Education Conservancy Executive Director, rankings caused universities to rely on a cottage industry developed to help them hype their selectivity. The result: a commercialized admissions process that has cheapened the value of learning.

Says Thacker: "This research shows college presidents that they might have some responsibility for that -- and, that they need to do something about it."

Off with fairs and information sessions, say Thacker and his supporters. The solution? Comprehensive Web sites helping students broaden their college searches.

Several such operations, including the University and College Accountability Network, funded by a group of universities, have already gone live in the last year. CampusExplorer.com, Zinch and Admish, among others, feature interactive forums and advanced search options designed to link up students and schools with similar interests.

Thacker's group is also developing an Internet search engine.

"The key here is for students to take ownership of their search," says Chuck Bachman, senior associate director of admissions at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. "View this as an experience to engage oneself -- rather than a prize."

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