The Coronavirus May Change College Admissions Forever

In the context of a pandemic that has killed about 190,000 Americans and economically devastated many millions more, getting into the college of your dreams is a boutique concern. But for many teenagers who have organized their school years around that goal, it’s everything.

And it’s going to be different this admission season. It may well be different forevermore.

That was what I concluded after a recent series of conversations with Jeffrey Selingo, whose widely anticipated new book, “Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions,” will be published on Sept. 15.

Selingo was given extraordinary access to the selection process and the selectors at Emory University, Davidson College and the University of Washington. He uses it in his book to present one of the most nuanced, coolheaded examinations of the admission process that I’ve read. He explodes certain myths — for example, that SAT and ACT scores are absolutely pivotal — and confirms other suspicions, such as the ridiculous advantage conferred on middling students who play arcane sports.

But his knowledge and insights also put him in an excellent position to speculate on matters beyond the book’s bounds: specifically, the little, big, temporary and permanent ways in which the coronavirus pandemic, which dawned after his research was done, will change the way colleges evaluate students and vice versa.

College admissions is never going to be the same,” he told me.

He was focusing on selective schools, which educate a small minority of Americans in college but loom monstrously large in the psyches of many high school students, who intricately game out how to breach these exclusive sanctums. Well, the rules of that game just changed.

Selingo predicts that many schools that allow “early decision” applications, with which a student sets his or her sights on one preferred institution and commits to attending it if accepted, will fill more of their slots that way than ever, meaning that these applications will have better odds of success than ones submitted later. Schools leaned extra hard on early decision in the shadow of the Great Recession, he said, and now face the same economic anxiety, the same motivation to figure out as soon as possible which new students will be arriving and how much financial aid they’ll need.

But a more broadly consequential change involves standardized tests. Because the pandemic prevented students last spring from gathering to take the SAT and ACT exams, many selective schools are not requiring them for the time being. That will force them to focus more than ever on the toughness of the high school courses that students took and the grades they got.

Which students will benefit from that? It’s complicated. On one hand, affluent students who are coached for these exams and usually take them repeatedly won’t get to flaunt their high scores. On the other hand, less privileged students from high schools whose academic rigor is a question mark in screeners’ minds won’t have impressive scores to prove their mettle.

While these exams have been blamed for perpetuating inequality, they in some cases play the opposite role. In fact, a special committee of educators in the University of California system produced an exhaustively detailed report this year that determined that the use of SAT’s in admissions had not lessened diversity and that SAT scores were useful predictors of college success. (University leaders elected to switch to test-optional admissions for a few years anyway.)

The SAT’s downgrade won’t be fleeting, Selingo said. “We’re going to have a whole admissions year with scores of places going test-optional,” he said. “Once their world doesn’t come crashing down and they still recruit a class, those colleges are not going to flock back to the test. I think it’s been knocked off the pedestal permanently.”

He makes the same guess about what he calls “application bloat,” referring to the flamboyant multiplicity of clubs, causes, hobbies and other materials that applicants assemble and showcase. The pandemic put many of those activities on hold, creating a pause in which he believes that some schools and some students will recognize the lunacy of this overkill.

“It’s going to be difficult for students to fill in 10 spaces for extracurricular activities, flag down teachers for recommendations or take six A.P. courses and exams,” he said. “Admissions officers are going to have to focus on what matters. That means in the future they can pare back the application and reduce our collective anxiety about what it takes to get into college.”

Apart from the increased early-decision emphasis, which can favor in-the-know kids from in-clover families, the changes that Selingo predicts represent a back-to-basics streamlining of the process. It may have been born of terrible circumstances, but it’s also sensible and overdue.

That streamlining extends to how students will choose schools during the coming admission cycle. For epidemiological and economic reasons, many of them will forgo all the campus tours and all the assessments of how comfy the dormitories seem, how tasty the food is, how high the spires rise and how lushly the trees grow. They’ll perhaps look more closely at the course catalog, the roster of professors.

Selingo noted that many colleges based a big part of their sales pitch on their physical setting and even on lifestyle and social perks that are less relevant than ever, given pandemic-related restrictions. “That’s forcing parents and students to ask, ‘What are we really paying for?,’” he said.

The answer is, or should be, an education, and students may come to realize that excellent ones can be obtained at colleges that are less expensive than others in their sights and closer to home. The lure of going far away to college may diminish.

What I suspect will happen, at least in the short term, is that students’ thinking about colleges will be less emotional and more practical. The pandemic has soured the romance.

Colleges had previously presented themselves to students as nurturing homes away from home, then had to send those students packing when the virus spread. Colleges were endless parties, then the partying stopped. They touted the intimacies of classroom instruction, then had to defend the tuition-worthy effectiveness of remote learning. How can students not feel some skepticism in the wake of all that?

“This morning I listened to a Planet Money podcast called ‘The Old Rules Were Dumb Anyway,’” Selingo said. “It talked about the rules that went out the window because of the pandemic and which changes might be here to stay: alcohol takeout from restaurants, telemedicine, using nursing credentials across state lines.”

“It got me to thinking about the old rules that were dumb in admissions,” he added. And it got him to wondering how many were gone for good.

Democratic Donors Have Their Candidate

With Obama’s blessing, the party establishment, including its big money, has gone all in on Biden.

When Joe Biden was declared the big winner in South Carolina, you could hear Democratic donors from Manhattan to Malibu crying for joy. Buoyed by glowing, round-the-clock media coverage of his weekend blowout, Mr. Biden made an impressive showing on Super Tuesday. With the former vice president resurgent, the Democratic establishment now has an unexpected final chance to crush Bernie Sanders’s socialist revolution.

Mr. Sanders achieved early front-runner status by making the wealthy into boogeymen. Pushed to the wall by a rising tide of antiwealth sentiment, these elite Democratic donors feared losing control of their party to a socialist who didn’t need them and, worse, would make them his permanent scapegoat. The patronage system they had built over generations, which assured them of power and fortune, was at risk of forced liquidation.

The Democratic donor class had thrown money at a succession of candidates they judged better bets.

  • Kamala Harris,
  • Cory Booker,
  • Beto O’Rourke and
  • Pete Buttigieg

were each trumpeted, proclaimed by the establishment’s media organs as the next Barack Obama. Then, to the horror of their backers, most failed to connect with voters and exited early. Donors were dispirited.

Michael Bloomberg’s entrance was a potential safe harbor—and an attractive one, given the prospect that donors could have influence without having to open their wallets. But that notion was dispelled the moment Elizabeth Warren eviscerated him on the debate stage.

With no viable options left, donors were becoming quietly resigned to a Sanders loss to President Trump in November. They could thrive economically in a second Trump term, but they couldn’t survive politically if a socialist took over their party apparatus. Backing Mr. Biden became the last option to consolidate their resources and recover their slipping grip on political power.

Everyone recognized the obvious problem: He was on his third run for president but had never won a primary. He’d been obliterated in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Then, the miracle. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s endorsement propelled Mr. Biden to pull off a back-from-the-dead triumph in South Carolina.

Mr. Clyburn immediately used his political capital to make clear that Mr. Biden needed a campaign “overhaul.” The candidate agreed. With this go-ahead, the money men kicked their efforts into high gear trying to put his Humpty Dumpty operation back together again.

The choreography of the establishment consolidating its resources quickly became visible. Mr. Biden hauled in $5 million in the 24 hours after South Carolina. Then came withdrawal announcements from Mr. Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. By the time Mr. Buttigieg offered his endorsement, Mr. Biden’s finance team had recruited dozens of Mayor Pete’s “bundlers.” Top Obama confidantes made it known that “the signal” had been sent to back the former vice president.

Alongside these on-the-ground moves, some media analysts estimated that Mr. Biden enjoyed as much as $72 million in earned media “air cover.” The press’s goodwill filled the void while the Biden campaign rushed to fill its coffers for the contests beyond Super Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden received another political blessing. Mr. Bloomberg exited the race after his $570 million campaign netted an embarrassingly low haul of delegates. He then immediately endorsed Mr. Biden, who will undoubtedly be the beneficiary of the former New York mayor’s deep pockets.

With no billionaire primary candidates left to kick around, Mr. Sanders has turned his ire against Mr. Biden’s contributors. Taking the stage in Minnesota Monday night, Mr. Sanders reprimanded his audience when they booed Mr. Biden’s name. The former vice president was a longtime friend and “decent guy whose just wrong on the issues,” Mr. Sanders said. Then he went after Mr. Biden’s donors: “Does anybody think that we’re going to bring about the change we need in America when you are indebted to 60 billionaires?

An unwieldy field has been narrowed to a two-man race. The millionaires and billionaires, the type of people Mr. Sanders has said “shouldn’t exist,” are throwing their backing to Mr. Biden, who, unlike Mr. Bloomberg, has a significant national following. Now he’ll have the money he needs to go up against Mr. Sanders’s well-funded and organized movement, which took in a gargantuan haul of $46.5 million in February.

This is the moment my Democratic donor friends have dreamed of since Hillary Clinton lost. The battle for the soul of their party will be fought on the terms that both they and Mr. Sanders want: big-money power brokers versus a small-dollar socialist mob. Since 2015, Bernie Sanders has been a threat to the political relevance of the Democratic donor class. Now, they’re out for revenge and hoping to bankrupt the socialist revolution once and for all.

The Impending Jobs Crisis, Debt Crisis, Big Tech’s Future, & Active Management (w/ John Mauldin)

John Mauldin has the big picture perspective of global economic trends to ask the difficult questions about societal change, inequality and automation of jobs. With the pervading need to monetize rising global debt, the Chairman of Mauldin Economics can only see a Bretton Woods type solution as the developed world starts to run out of difficult choices, while John also looks to the future of healthcare technology and the incredible breakthroughs in the pipeline. Filmed on May 22, 2017, in Orlando.