Admissions at Elite Universities

I read this article on Inside Higher Ed a few days ago and it really bothered me. The British minister for universities criticized the admissions system at Ivy League schools. Though his criticism was valid, it annoyed me because the admissions at Oxford and Cambridge aren’t much better.

I know there are people admitted to Ivy League schools who deserve to be there – but there are many admitted who do not deserve to be there. Anyway, I rather liked this comment I posted, and I did not want to see it confined to comment oblivion on a random article, so I’m posting it here.

(You should probably read the article before reading this, as it won’t make much sense otherwise.)

Ugh, what a hypocrite. I fully agree with David Willetts about Ivy League schools – getting in isn’t often a result of a meritorious process, and I hate that. But Willetts has conveniently ignored that admissions to Oxford and Cambridge are EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. You can buy your children a place there, too, a fact that he has conveniently chosen to ignore. I studied abroad at one of the above-mentioned universities in the UK and I met some of the stupidest people I have ever met in my entire life while there. Seriously, these people were very thick, as the British would say. I couldn’t figure out how on earth they were accepted to this prestigious institution, until I found out that they always had insanely rich parents who sent them to Eton, or Winchester, or Westminster (all prestigious secondary schools in the UK) and who often gave money to a couple of the colleges at Oxford. And there weren’t just a few stupid people there, either. There is an incredibly high percentage of very idiotic undergraduates at these so-called top universities. (Though I must say, in my experience, that graduate admissions appear to be more meritorious. All of the graduate students I met were highly intelligent.)

There was also an interesting divide in student quality and intelligence by subject matter. On average, the science and math students were more deserving of their places than humanities students. The humanities students varied quite a bit: history and modern languages contained both nice, hard-working people and entitled, insipid fools who were just there to socialize for 3 or 4 years. One of the more amusing experiences I had was with a student who was in her fourth (and final) year studying a modern language. I speak this language fluently, so I tried to speak it with her, only to realize that she could not speak a word of it. Keep in mind that modern language students at this university spend a compulsory year abroad living and working in a country where the language they’re studying is spoken.

My point is that this practice is terrible. I think university admissions should be handled on academic merit only. But it really rankles me when the British (or anyone else) criticize us Americans for doing exactly what they do, too.