Wednesday, March 15, 2023

College admissions: Arbitrary and unfair

My oldest daughter recently got accepted to UC Santa Cruz, and she may go there. We are waiting to hear if she gets into UCLA or UC Berkeley, so the question is: Which UC will she attend?

We'll take it. That was our plan — to take advantage of the UC system as California residents. No matter where she ends up, I'm totally at peace because I fully understand how arbitrary, crazy and erratic the college admissions process is. Whatever.

Jeffrey Selingo helped me double down on that feeling with Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (2020). I think I have a solid grasp of the college landscape, and I've learned that people have as many different attitudes toward college as they do toward money.

Most people look at college as a trade school to put students on career paths. I don't see it that way, but I have to accept the trade-school truth. I like to think of college as a place for self-discovery, growth and an education in various subjects. It still can be that, but I know I'm in the minority with that view.

Selingo spent time in college admission offices getting an up-close view of the college admissions process. That was cool and all, but I felt the strength of the book was the useful facts peppered throughout the book. He threw a few haymakers of surprising statistics at his readers I must share.

No. 1 — Only 10 percent of college graduates consider themselves on a career path in their 20s.

No. 2 — Thirty percent of freshmen drop out before their sophomore years, and 40 percent of college students do not graduate.

No. 3 — The average age of financial independence for Gen Xers was 26. For Gen Z, it is projected to be 30.

Because there is such a disconnect between the workplace and college, I would advise many kids not to bother with college if they're only looking for a career path. Pretty much "every job is a tech job" nowadays, so students will have a difficult time finding relevant classes in college because tech changes so rapidly.

What I notice in our schools is that students go to college by default. They don't know what else to do. They defer working at Starbucks four years, and, do de doh, they go to college pretending they're the center of the universe or pretending they only exist in the digital world. They then have a rude awakening when they have zero prospects for employment, hardly have an education and use the word "adulting."

In Who Gets in and Why, Selingo points out that kids in their 20s fall into three categories — sprinters, wanderers and stragglers — with how they enter the workforce. I was a sprinter, and I thought I was doing the right think. However, I realize that future earnings, and potential, could benefit wanderers and maybe stragglers. Many kids put pressure on themselves to become financially independent ASAP, and that can hold back career options.

Selingo also stresses the difference between digital awareness and mere digital usage. He says that the qualities that get young adults hired across industries are digital awareness, curiosity, creativity, grit, contextual thinking and humility.

Some advice that comes out is how critically important internships are as well as cultivating weak ties. Usually, it is mere acquaintances who help with obtaining jobs, not close friends. Also, college debt is huge but often confused. Only 1 percent of undergraduates have more than $100,000 in debt. Student-loan debt truly comes from post-grad degrees, PhDs, law school and medical school.

Dina and I both enjoyed our college experiences and found them fulfilling and educational. We are hoping our kids have that, too. I believe they somehow have learned to enjoy the overwork-a-thon that high school is, and it's good to understand what our kids are facing. Despite all the competition, stress, late nights and cost, I hope they enjoy the ride.

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