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A letter from an alum about research into college admissisons

June 13, 2004

Professor Espinshade’s analysis raises several questions, the most heartbreaking of which is the dilemma of those applicants today who enjoy no such preferences.  Recently, I made my first foray into recruiting an outstanding student to Princeton.  This young woman graduated from a top high school and had perfect SAT scores (i.e. 1600) in her junior year.  Despite her youth she has already written a novel that won acclaim; she was an officer of her graduating class; and she was an athlete competing on school’s women’s soccer team.  As is the case with many whose talents lie in writing, her 4+ grade-point average was not as stellar as those of some of her classmates whose concentration is in science or mathematics.  The objective nature of those fields lend themselves to what might appear to be a higher level of high school achievement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t persuade her to focus her hopes on Princeton until it was too late for her to apply early admission to Princeton. The decision to apply early to Princeton grants applicants an admission preference not included, so far as I can tell, in Professor Espinshade’s research. Still, when it was already too late for my protagonist to gain this advantage, she did shift her thinking to make Princeton her first choice, motivated largely by Princeton’s creative writing program and by a conversation that she had with English professor Lee Mitchell. Hence, it came as a disappointment for me to see Princeton reject her. I can only imagine the effect on her.  As you may have guessed, she doesn’t benefit from any of the other preferences listed in Professor Espinshade’s article.

The access to higher achievement offered by a Princeton education is a trust that calls for the highest level of care in the choice of those who are to receive such benefits.  It also calls for care in the consideration of those who are rejected.  They are the silent majority, harmed early in life by an admission quest that has spiraled out of all reasonable control.  Princeton has a responsibility to those rejected as well to ensure that our nation is not debilitated by the waste of national resource that results when we are unable to allow all aspiring Americans to achieve the full potential of which they are capable.

Hence, I have a question for Professor Espinshade and his colleagues on the faculty.  Why do they leave the crucial admission decision to administrators? Why doesn’t the faculty directly oversee this process? Why, especially, when the faculty would never dream of leaving the graduate school admission decisions to administrators?  Is the faculty not equally responsible for the quality of the choices made at the undergraduate level as they are in the choice of graduate students?

Jack Cumming ‘58
Los Angeles, Calif.

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