The worst college admissions scam has nothing to do with celebrities

Did you ever think about where your child’s data goes when they take the SAT?

For 47 cents, the College Board sells your child’s data to various colleges and universities around the country.

You might not think that is a bad thing on its face. You might love seeing the joyful look on your child’s face when they receive hefty marketing packages from elite schools after sitting for what you perceive is a high-stakes exam.

You will probably encourage your child to apply to a litany of schools that have sought your child out. Doesn’t it feel so wonderful to be wanted?

Your child is indeed being sought out, but not for the reason you think.

Many of these schools have zero intention of admitting your kid. In more rational moments, you probably understood that. These schools already know, before the marketing package is put in the mail, that they are going to reject your kid based on your child’s test performance and other factors. But they still want them to apply. So they can reject them.

This is how colleges and universities are padding their admissions numbers now (1) to appear more exclusive and (2) to get fee income from families.

A couple million high school students sat for the SAT this past year, and more for practice exams. That’s a lot of kids applying to colleges and a lot of dough for the College Board. These are also fat years for most schools in terms of the students applying for them. But elite schools need to make sure that ordinary students still want to take their chances and apply to them to keep their percentage of rejections high. And up-and-coming schools who want to build an image of exclusivity have found a path to achieving that through big data.

So they pump -and-dump kids they know they don’t want as a statistical insurance policy.

You also pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of being “considered.” You are just part of the higher education fee machine, even for schools your kid will never attend. They aren’t investing any effort into getting to know the kids they are going to dump. It’s a fee-generating algorithm for them. (It’s somewhat incredible how much higher education resembles pre-financial crisis Wall Street these days.)

The College Board, which administers the SAT, made $100 million of revenue from its unit that sells students data in 2017. According to the Wall Street Journal (link above), the company sells students’ score range, geographical location, gender, ethnicity, major, GPA, email address, educational aspirations, financial aid information, sports, college living preferences, and much more.

In an era when most Americans are righteously mocking celebrities that are faking test scores and even extracurricular activities for their spawn, universities have quietly become even more cynical than that about the admissions process.

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