Thursday, April 5, 2007

Lucky to be Born First

Harvard rejected 1100 students with perfect math scores on the SAT, and Yale turned down "several" applicants with perfect 2400s on the whole test, according to the New York Times.

The article gives lots of explanations, but the bottom line seems pretty simple: the population is increasing, but the number of places at elite colleges remains relatively stable. This trend can only continue. Harvard's acceptance rate was 9% -- the lowest in the school's history -- but when the population of the U.S. hits 400 million, one would have to project that the acceptance rate would dip to a little below 7%, unless the school substantially enlarges its undergraduate class.

In the long run, I'm guessing that such enlargement is not that likely. There's only so much space in Cambridge. Of course, "distance learning" could overcome that, but you would lose a substantial part of what it means to go to college if you didn't really "go" to college.

A more likely trend, I would say, is an enlargement of the set of schools that are considered elite. Sure, Harvard and Yale may stay on top for a long time, but if decades from now there are
50% more brilliant students than there are today, I would think that the set of schools that are considered elite would expand with them. Reputation is slow to change, but eventually people would notice that the brilliant students are going to a bigger group of schools than before.

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