Harvard: More Marine Corps or Modeling Agency?

25 07 2007

In the summer blog lull, I’ve been reading and reviewing saved stuff and just came across Malcolm Gladwell’s “GETTING IN” on the social logic of Ivy League admissions:

Social scientists distinguish between what are known as treatment effects and selection effects.

The Marine Corps, for instance, is largely a treatment-effect institution. It doesn’t have an enormous admissions office grading applicants along four separate dimensions of toughness and intelligence. It’s confident that the experience of undergoing Marine Corps basic training will turn you into a formidable soldier.

A modelling agency, by contrast, is a selection-effect institution. You don’t become beautiful by signing up with an agency. You get signed up by an agency because you’re beautiful.

At the heart of the American obsession with the Ivy League is the belief that schools like Harvard provide the social and intellectual equivalent of Marine Corps basic training—that being taught by all those brilliant professors and meeting all those other motivated students and getting a degree with that powerful name on it will confer advantages that no local state university can provide.

. . .The extraordinary emphasis the Ivy League places on admissions policies, though, makes it seem more like a modelling agency than like the Marine Corps . . . To assess the effect of the Ivies, it makes more sense to compare the student who got into a top school with the student who got into that same school but chose to go to a less selective one. Three years ago, the economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale published just such a study. And they found . . .

[go read the whole thing, it’s gripping!]



3 responses

24 10 2007
How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Ivies? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] How do you find a word that means the Ivies? […]

27 11 2007
College Admission Advice I’ve Thought Better Than. . . « Cocking A Snook!

[…] “Harvard: More Marine Corps or Modeling Agency?” […]

9 03 2008

Today in the Sunday NYT, does Harvard secretly lower academic admissions standards when that’s what it takes to be the best institution at something?

The biggest puzzle is whether Harvard is lowering its vaunted academic standards to snare some top players. Two former assistant basketball coaches have suggested that their teams had to meet higher academic standards than the latest group of recruits. It is hard to unravel the truth, given that the information is confidential. Just trying to figure out how those standards are set seems to require a Ph.D. in mathematics. . .It sounds a lot like managing a pollution offset program, in which some plants are allowed high emissions provided other plants have counterbalancing low emissions. If Harvard does manage to resuscitate its basketball program, it may be a testament to its excellence in math and statistics.

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