I agree with the sentiments expressed in this review of Getting In Without Freaking Out. In particular I think the section about how irrational the admission process is should be pounded into the heads of both perspective students and parents. The most prestigious schools have so many high quality applicants there is almost nothing you can do to guarantee your admission.
I have long preached the irrationality of the admissions process for the most selective schools. Many of the people they don’t accept are just as smart and talented as the ones they do, which is one reason why some of their wait lists are longer than their accept lists. Matthews takes this one step further and encourages parents to assume always that the process will at some point hurt their kid for no good reason. “Railing against the inevitable amount of random unfairness to which your child will be subjected will only make you crazy,” she says.
I saw a documentary about the admissions process at Georgetown as my own daughter was applying to colleges. The admission committee struggled to make distinctions between many very good students with only limited information. Different people on the admissions committee would draw completely opposite conclusions from the same material. In one example, a student with an excellent academic record and high standardized test scores was also a serious ballerina. One committee member found thought this student showed an excellent work ethic that would lead her to do well at Georgetown while another thought that she was really more interested in ballet and would not be able to handle the college workload while pursuing dance.
One can get a quality education at a variety of institutions. I received my B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, and my Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, a large state university and a Big Ten school. There were many more students at Wisconsin, but in my area of study physics the top students there were competitive with the Penn students and the education they received was just as good. At a big school like Wisconsin a student needs to show a little more initiative to make sure he or she is taking the best classes like honors classes and seek out the extra opportunities like research experience.
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