In the spirit of the season . . .
One of the great distortions in the selective college admissions process is the extent to which young people who desire entry to highly selective institutions treat the process like a prestige commodity purchase. They know that getting into a top school is not one of life’s necessities. No, it is a highly desirable bauble – an all important confirmation of one’s status in a materialistic and prestige-driven community.
There are two problems with this – one obvious and one perhaps a little less obvious. The obvious problem is that in treating the college selection process like a prestige commodity purchase, young people obtain a distorted view of the institutions they are considering. They tend to look at the wrong things – for example, the opulence of a dorm room on the college tour – and overlook important things that will actually impact the quality of their experience once they get to college.
The less obvious problem is that in taking a consumerist approach to college admissions, young people actually diminish their chances of getting in. The admissions officers who function as gatekeepers generally do not live in super-affluent communities, are not highly paid, and recoil from the thought that their institutions are little more than prestige commodities. The worst thing you can do if you actually want to go to one of these institutions is to telegraph through word or deed that you see entry as primarily a glittering prize.
None of this is particularly new or earth-shattering, but I’d like to add an additional thought. Although admissions officers recoil from the idea that their institutions are nothing more than prestige commodities, their marketing products – the elaborate viewbooks and on-line animations – can (inadvertently) reinforce that perception. With skill and savvy, it is possible to use your marketing to do the opposite – to undermine the commodification of higher education and convey a sense of an authentic educational experience. What a wonderful New Years resolution that would be – to make an effort to be conscious of and resistent to the role marketing plays in the commodification of higher education. Happy New Year to all. I hope it offers many opportunities to make a difference in our lives, families, and communities.