From A Craving for Acceptance,a book review in the WSJ. It is a book about his father taking one of his kids to visit different schools. Excerpts:
"Approaching the subject with genial savagery, Mr. Ferguson begins his journey by attending a meeting between a college consultant and a roomful of well-heeled Connecticut moms. The consultant charges—better sit down for this—$40,000 to shepherd a single kid through the admissions process and so naturally works only with, as her assistant says, "high net-worth individuals."
A series of enervating campus visits is marked by interchangeably chirpy undergraduate tour guides united by their ability to walk backward while extolling the school's a capella groups and reassuring parents about the high priority placed on security."
"...if anything he resents the way the admissions rat race warps them into becoming, or at least pretending to be, something else. We see, for instance, Mr. Ferguson's son agonizing to deliver the requisite self-revelation for a college application essay (the author calls this process "the Great Extrusion"). Burdened by a normal suburban teenage life and needing some drama to write about, the boy at first suggests that his parents divorce and then wishes that he'd been a drug addict. Finally he gets something down by inflating a minor personal episode into a transforming moment of illumination. The most darkly humorous aspect of this often hilarious book is its depiction of an admissions process that corrupts everything it touches.
It's a process that discourages reticence by requiring students to write revealing and disingenuous personal essays;..."
""the admissions process didn't force kids to be Lisa Simpson; it turned them into Eddie Haskell. . . . It guaranteed that teenagers would pursue life with a single ulterior motive, while pretending they weren't. It coated their every undertaking in a thin lacquer of insincerity. Befriending people in hopes of a good rec letter; serving the community to advertise your big heart; studying hard just to puff up the GPA and climb the greasy poll of class rank—nothing was done for its own sake.""
"This stressful process practically demands cynicism from all parties. To "climb the page" in the closely watched U.S. News & World Report rankings, schools solicit applications so that they can increase the numbers they reject, thereby appearing more selective. Elite institutions claim to be open to all but devote wide swaths of their entering classes to athletes, the offspring of donating alumni, members of minority groups and others with "hooks" that give them an edge."
"But the lack of specificity doesn't mar "Crazy U" because the book is otherwise wonderfully detailed in its reporting and because it is the story of countless parents and students across the land. Most of them, one infers, would do well to focus on state schools and avoid the siren call of gold-plated, "brand name" schools."
Then there was an article in the New York Times in 2009 about how schools tell prospective students how they are just like Hogwarts. It was Taking the Magic Out of College by By LAUREN EDELSON. Here are some things she mentioned about her visits to colleges:
"[at one school they play] a flightless version of J. K. Rowling’s Quidditch game — broomsticks and all."
"So I was surprised when many top colleges delivered the same pitch. It turns out, they’re all a little bit like Hogwarts — the school for witches and wizards in the “Harry Potter” books and movies. Or at least, that’s what the tour guides kept telling me."
"During a Harvard information session, the admissions officer compared the intramural sports competitions there to the Hogwarts House Cup. The tour guide told me that I wouldn’t be able to see the university’s huge freshman dining hall as it was closed for the day, but to just imagine Hogwarts’s Great Hall in its place."
"At Dartmouth, a tour guide ushered my group past a large, wood-paneled room filled with comfortable chairs and mentioned the Hogwarts feel it was known for. At another liberal arts college, I heard that students had voted to name four buildings on campus after the four houses in Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin."
"[In] Cornell’s fall 2009 quarterly magazine, [it says] that a college admissions counseling Web site had counted Cornell among the five American colleges that have the most in common with Hogwarts. Both institutions, you see, are conveniently located outside cities. The article ended: “Bring your wand and broomstick, just in case.”"
"I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon. One friend told me about Boston College’s Hogwartsesque library, another of Colby’s “Harry Potter”-themed dinner party. And like me, my friends have no problem with college students across the country running around with broomsticks between their legs, trying to seize tennis balls stuffed into socks (each one dubbed a snitch) that dangle off the backs of track athletes dressed in yellow.""
In the same issue of the NY Times, there was a review of a book by the famous psychologist Carl Jung. The review was titled The Symbologist by KATHRYN HARRISON. The book by Jung is titled THE RED BOOK: Liber Novus. One of the passages from the book was was about Jung's belief in the "deep subliminal connections between individual fantasies and world events."
Mixing fantasy and reality. Sounds like what these colleges and universities are doing by comparing themselves to Hogwarts.
Now let's look at an AP article from 2007. See Colleges Seek 'Authenticity' in Hopefuls. Its says that some students are encouraged to have a typo or two in their essays to make them seem authentic. Excerpts:
"The trend seemingly should make life easier for students _ by reducing the pressure to puff up their credentials. But that's not always the case.
For some students, the challenge of presenting themselves as full, flawed people cuts against everything else they've been told about applying to college _ to show off as much as possible.
At the other extreme, when a college signals what it's looking for, students inevitably try to provide it. So you get some students trying to fake authenticity, to package themselves as unpackaged.
"There's a little bit of an arms race going on," says Goodman, who is based in Washington. "If I'm being more authentic than you are, you have to be more authentic next month to keep up with the Joneses."
Colleges say what they want is honest, reflective students. As Jess Lord, dean of admission and financial aid at Haverford College in Pennsylvania puts it, "everybody's imperfect."
"Since that's true for all (students), those that portray that aspect of themselves are that much more authentic."
How do colleges find authenticity? They look for evidence of interests and passions across the application _ in essays, interviews, recommendations and extracurricular activities.
"What we see are the connections," said Christopher Gruber, dean of admission and financial aid at Davidson College in North Carolina. If a student claims working in student government has been a meaningful experience, it's a more credible claim if recommenders have picked on that as well.
That, in my mind, gives authenticity to an application, when you're reading things more than once," Gruber said.
But in the age of the hyper-achieving student, authenticity doesn't always come easy. Some schools, such as MIT, now specifically ask students to write about disappointment or failure. Many can only come up with a predictable and transparent answer: perfectionism.
The challenge for students is a tough one to get your mind around: If you're authentic, you feel pressure to rise above the fakers. But try too hard to do that, then you just appear to be, well, inauthentic.
Dix summarizes the logical muddle the student is in: "As soon as you ask someone to be authentic it's impossible to be authentic."
Goodman, the independent counselor who advises making a small mistake to look authentic, unapologetically tries to hit the right note of authenticity: be true enough to make the full application consistent and credible, but also give colleges what they want to hear. He compares it to a politician who has learned to give a stump speech that makes every audience feel like it's new.
And he defends the tactic with a point that several admissions deans frankly acknowledge: Colleges are guilty of playing games with authenticity, too.
"They soften their image with pictures of kids under trees, smiling in front of the library, engaging with a professor in a small group discussion," Goodman says. What's the difference between a college trying to look good to students and the reverse?"
Finally, it seems sometimes everyone writes the same essay. See Cheats 'taking internet route to university'. Excerpt:
"The study found that nearly 800 medical applications had personal statements containing phrases directly taken from three online example statements.
Ucas said 370 applications contained a statement starting with "a fascination for how the human body works".
A total of 234 included a statement relating a dramatic incident involving "burning a hole in pyjamas at age eight", and 175 candidates wrote about "an elderly or infirm grandfather".
Ucas said the number of plagiarised applications increased as the deadline for completing the forms grew closer.
Borrowed material was most likely to appear at the end of the statement or where an applicant describes why they want to study a subject."