Are you the customer or the product?
What do you have to do to get into college in 2022? Also: Understandably Live, plus a look back, and 7 other things worth your time.
Today’s newsletter is about college. It’s prompted by a good Understandably Live we have coming up this week.
I’ll be interviewing Becky Munsterer Sabky, a 13-year veteran of the admissions office at Dartmouth University, about her new book: Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College.
I have more than a passing interest in this, as I’m sure many of you do, even if my daughter won’t be college-application-age for quite some time.
Frankly, three things popped out at me when I was asked if I’d like to talk with Sabky:
First, the title. I know I’m literally judging a book by the cover here, but any riff off Barbarians at the Gate is likely to get my attention.
Second, the endorsement: Adam Grant of Wharton, whose quote below the title says that this is “the most honest, most helpful book I’ve ever read on applying to college.”
But most important: the opening pages, in which Sabky talks about her early admissions committee days, when she wanted to admit everyone—and how she had to learn which applicants to reject.
A lot of the book comprises her practical advice to today’s applicants. But I hope we’ll also get to talk about the state of college admissions in general, and elite universities’ role in the world.
Sound interesting? Sign up here.
Date: Thursday, August 5
Time: 1 pm ET
Where: Live on Zoom, then shared on YouTube
Previous episodes of Understandably Live are all on YouTube. Find them at Youtube.com/Understandably!
Customer or product?
Back in the early days of Understandably, I wrote about a trick that the Wall Street Journal reported some colleges were using to get more students to apply—even as the colleges knew they likely wouldn’t admit them.
In short, they were buying student leads from the College Board (at about 47 cents each) so they could encourage the students to apply (often, accompanied by a $50-75 fee)—only to be rejected.
Why do that? Because a lower admissions rate increases the perception that a college is more elite. Or even “elite among the elite.”
Or look at Vanderbilt University, which the WSJ said tripled its number of applicants between 2002 and 2017, while its admit rate plummeted from 46% to 11% over the same period.
In 2018, the report said, Vanderbilt bought “between 100,000 and 200,000” student leads from the College Board.
Among them was Jori Johnson of Illinois, who received brochures from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago after taking a practice SAT test.
She applied to all four; all four then rejected her.
“I just stared at my computer and cried,” said Johnson. (She wound up at New York University.)
Maybe you’ve seen me float my radical solution to all of this—the idea that colleges should expand.
They should admit many more students, and the successful universities with enormous endowments should be encouraged to make offers to take on some of the struggling institutions around the country in a merger scenario.
It’s what would happen in virtually any other industry, right? Any other business.
But at the risk of reusing a pithy phrase, it reminds me of a classic story from Harvard Business School.
An MBA student was arguing with the registrar:
Student: “Why are you treating me like this? I’m the customer!”
Administrator: “No, you’re not. You’re the product.”
7 other things worth your time
In a dramatic shift from last month, more Americans now say the coronavirus situation in the US is getting worse (45%) rather than better (40%). In June, a record 89% said the situation was getting better, while only 3% said it was getting worse. (Gallup)
Zoom has apparently settled a class action lawsuit regarding privacy matters and “Zoombombing” for $85 million. It still needs court approval; ordinary Zoom users could see payments of between $15 and $25—more in some cases. (NPR)
Apple removed an anti-vaxx dating app from the App Store for “inappropriately” referring to the pandemic. The app's owners say it's censorship. (Business Insider)
Reese Witherspoon’s media business, Hello Sunshine, is being acquired by an unnamed firm backed by private-equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. “People familiar with the matter said it values Ms. Witherspoon’s company, whose production slate has included programming such as the HBO drama Big Little Lies, at about $900 million.” (WSJ, $)
Simone Biles returned to Olympic competition this morning, participating in the women’s individual beam. She placed third, winning the bronze behind China’s victorious Chenchen Guan and silver medalist Xijing Tang by a margin of only 0.633 points off the 16-year-old gold medalist. (NBC)
I have to admit, I don’t know why this wasn’t introduced a while back. To combat shoplifting, Home Depot is reportedly now selling power tools that will not work unless they are activated at the checkout counter. (Hackaday)
Did Elon Musk tell Tim Cook that he wanted Apple to buy Tesla, but only if Musk could be CEO of both companies, leading Cook to tell Musk, “Eff you,” and hang up on him? A new book says yes. Both Musk and Cook deny they’ve ever spoken. (The Verge)Cook & I have never spoken or written to each other ever. There was a point where I requested to meet with Cook to talk about Apple buying Tesla. There were no conditions of acquisition proposed whatsoever. He refused to meet. Tesla was worth about 6% of today’s value.