How to give admissions officers more discretion

Heaven forbid that grading should occur on a common scale with strong safeguards against cheating.  This missive is from Princeton:

On July 5, the University dropped the need for applicants to submit an essay score from the SAT or ACT. Beginning this 2018-2019 application season, applicants will, instead, have to submit a graded high school writing sample, preferably a work either of English or history.

In a statement, the University said that this new policy shift “aims to alleviate the financial hardship placed on students, including those who have the opportunity to take the test without writing during the school day and for free.”

Taking either test with the writing section costs more than taking the test without the writing section. The ACT with the writing section costs $16.50 more than without it, and the SAT similarly costs $17 more with it.

According to the statement, University officials “believe that assessing a student’s in-class work will provide helpful and meaningful insight into a student’s academic potential.”

The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education.  Here is the full article, via Catherine Rampell.


In what world is $17 a financial hardship? What a lazy excuse.

Certainly not in a world where $17 buys you about 10 minutes of class time at Princeton.

Oh, no. Under $65K, it's all gravy.

"We do not use income cutoffs when determining whether to award aid. Any student whose family feels unable to afford the full cost of attendance is encouraged to apply for aid."

Such evaluations of hardship may be made as subjectively (and conveniently?) as gleanings of the personalities of Asiatics at another school, I don't know.

Ching chongs should stay in Chinatown. Leave the Ivies for those of us with actual leadership abilities.

I very much agree. It's a leadership meritocracy of sorts.

And especially in a world in which the fees for the SAT and ACT exams (with or without writing modules) can be waived due to financial hardship.

And in a world in which the admission fee at Princeton is $65, although I understand that most universities will waive their admission fee if an ACT or SAT fee waiver has been approved.

The link goes to another MR post, rather than the article.

Ever since the ETS created the SAT Writing exam about 12 years ago, all of the research that I've seen has said that it is a much better predictor of college GPA than are the SAT Math or SAT Verbal (which has been renamed at least twice but I still think of it as SATV), both of which can be pretty much ignored if you have information such as high school GPA and SAT subject test scores (which like the SAT Writing are better predictors than the SATM and SATV are).

So I think it's unfortunate that the College Board devalued the SATW a couple of years ago by folding it into the SATV (now called the SAT ERW or something like that) a couple of years ago, and that admission offices also seem to be devaluing it.

OTOH, I haven't seen research on the updated writing section of the SAT (the part that's folded into SATV); maybe it's not a very good predictor. Either way, I liked the situation we had for about ten years when the SATW scores were equal partners with SATM and SATV scores.

'The link goes to another MR post, rather than the article.'

And thus leads to a lowering of status for this web site.

I answered every question correct on my Writing multiple choice, but the judges only gave me half the total points on my writing essay. Since the essay is somewhat multiplicative, and also subjective, this means my SAT score was 200 points lower than it should've been. Math and Verbal combined were just shy of 1600.

Im glad writing is gone because those essays are just another way for graders to punish students without a real excuse. Some readers do not like Hemingway, and yet he is regarded as one of the greats. I do not like placing my, or anyone else's future, into the hands of subjective graders, many of whom are not so highly educated themselves.

"should have been"?

Should have been if it were purely objective and the subjective grading was taken out. In what world does 100% of questions correct result in a 600/800?

Doesn't this mean you can now pay someone else to write it for you? Not in the US, so don't know if this is also the case with the SAT.

How good an essay can you buy for less than $17?

The one i will supply will b very gud. Promise!

Who says that that would be the price?

Also, schools are always desperate to get their students into major uni's. Probably many schools would practically write the 'samples' for the kids - for free.

Same goes for the parents.

I think that's what they're trying to address with "graded high school writing sample, preferably a work either of English or history" not that this is foolproof, but you can call up the teacher.

The requirement for a graded essay is not that Princeton cares about the grade. They’ll read it themselves and form their own judgement.
The concept is analogous to “peer-reviewed article.” It isn’t the reviews; it’s that it was legit.

Link to the full article is incorrect, just links to a different post here.

Heaven forbid our standardized tests restrict themselves to areas where objective standards exist...

The SAT writing section really should not exist, so whatever Princeton's true motives may be, I think you're on the wrong side of this one.

The evaluation of the SAT writing exam is a lot more objective than an admission officer perusing your high school essay is going to be. The SAT writing samples are anonymized and farmed out to trained graders applying a ridiculously exacting rubric. They have put a lot of data-driven effort into minimizing the variance of scores given to the same text. Do you think Princeton is going to repeat all that work, or assign essay grades commensurate with the mix of source schools, race, and ideology they are targeting?

" The SAT writing samples are anonymized and farmed out to trained graders applying a ridiculously exacting rubric. "

This is exactly right. Multiple choice anything is a bullshit exam. Anybody can study for it and forget everything after. If you're a student, you can relax a bit with multiple choice because you know that you don't really have to learn the material that thoroughly. Is this how we want to universities to screen their applicants?

Multiple-choice tests are de facto IQ tests, which should offend you only if you think IQ isn't a useful metric for student quality. Which, admittedly, you might.

Idea for SAT writing section: no score. Writing sample is just forwarded directly to the universities to which the student applies, so they can subjectively judge it using their own criteria. Benefit to admissions committees is that they have a writing sample they can be relatively certain was actually written by the student who is applying.

Since it won't be scored, this should also reduce the cost to students.

IIRC, that's how the LSAT writing sample worked, at least around '87.

Still how the LSAT works. It is a much more robust test than the SAT.

I took the LSAT 20 years ago, around the same time I took the GRE. My main take-away from the LSAT was that its "logic" section was either more difficult, or had less time allowed, than the comparable section on the GRE. On the GRE version I got a perfect score; on the LSAT I got every question correct that I completed, but I didn't actually finish them all in the allotted time. Which was...surprising.

Same. I missed eight questions on the entire LSAT, seven of them being from a single logic problem that I had to race through.

This is another attempt by Ivy Leagues to keep out many highly intelligent Asian and Whites. By rejecting the SATs, entrance into the Ivy Leagues becomes even more subjective. The fact that Princeton dare inveigh that they now prefer the ACT because it is $16.50 and not $17. Then again, I suspect that Latino and Black students will still find it hard to compete with Asians and Whites. After all, many Asian and Whites live in areas where school districts are very good, which place a high emphasis on education. I find it difficult to believe that a Latino student from Katella HS (Anaheim) or a black student form Jordan High (Compton) will write a better essay that a student from University High (Irvine, CA). Regardless, the Ivy League's social engineering is mind-boggling.

But the point, of course, is not to actually determine whose essays are the best - it's to give a plausible cover story for admissions decisions that were made well before any applications were submitted at all. It's impossible to pretend that 1600 is a bigger number than 2350, but you can always pretend that essay 'A' is better than essay 'B' for ineffable subjective reasons.


+1 Again.

Is it me or are Asians and Whites overrated?

Not by the Ivies, certainly.

Agreed. Anyone with a Princeton degree is henceforth unlikely to know the difference between there, their and they’re. The death of lower education (college) can’t come fast enough for America.

"The full article" incorrectly links to one of your blog posts on investment and tariffs.

Perspective #1: SAT or ACT essays provide an objective and independent measurement of student's skills.

Perspective #2: Who scores SAT essays? Look at the job offer "Scorers work online from their home or office. Scorers select their own schedule and are required to work at least 20 hours a week when scoring is available....The College Board’s partner, Pearson, provides extensive training to ensure accurate and consistent scoring."
The translation from corporate speak to plain English is: low-paying temporary job for any college grad, no matter the major , wants to follow rules.

In the end, it's necessary to chose to outsource or do in-house testing? Outsourcing provides safeguards against cheating as stated by Tyler. In-house testing might provide the scorer is a qualified person and not a random college grad who took the SAT scorer job out of desperation.

Based on some a web search, It sounds like the scorer job pays around $10/hr depending on how quickly you can work.

Given what, IIRC, is a quite detailed scoring algorithm, how long until grading is automated?

Instead of students applying, Princeton could recruit or "scout" students with the help of high school staff, similar to what is done for college sports. The exact same model wouldn't work for a large incoming class as works for sports, but I can imagine something similar in spirit. For example, only scouted students are able to apply (with caveats).

This would give the university more control over its incoming class, and high school teachers more control over their particular students. The current system seems to encourage over-applying by some types of students and under-applying by others. In principle a "scouting" system could be more efficient (i.e. better matches and less wasted application effort), but it could be worse too depending on how teachers/universities behave. And students would feel less in control of their future, which is probably not a good thing.

'The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education.'

This obsession with status is fascinating. Clearly, the guiding economist in Prof. Cowen's life is Thorstein Veblen.

A number of people point out a mistake, without bothering to provide the link? Yep, sounds like the sort of people that Prof. Cowen is able to attract online -

Not sure how that works out in terms of status, though.

Yep, in terms of obsession, it works out that clockwork is obsessed with Prof. Cowen.

Ah, you left out Prof. Tabarrok, though a lot of people consider him to be a lightweight, though with much more entertainment value.

The really amusing thing is that Prof. Cowen is just one public face of a much larger - and very well financed - effort to ensure that not only do the rich keep getting richer (and man, mission accomplished if the last 3 decades are any guide), but the rich feel fully justified in their pursuit of that much better world.

You just convinced me to give all my money to the rich.

A fool and his money is soon parted.

Tell me about it!

The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education.

In the mind of the general public and perhaps the business community. Not in the mind of People Like Us, who are the only ones who matter. Wikiality. It's great stuff.

Every day in every way the people in charge of higher education reveal they merit neither the resources nor the autonomy they command.

Here's a suggestion: strip out every provision in the U.S. Code which regulates the relationship between institution and student or institution and aspirant student and replace them with a new code binding on any institution which enrolls students from out of state. The code would require that student handbooks be published and constitute contractual obligations, that billing would be according to a standard format, that mean student expenditure per term on metered charges be disclosed to the aspirant, and that the stock and flow statistics on the demographics of the student body be published (with the median board and achievement test scores of coarse demographic categories included). This demographic sheet would have to be audited and lying could subject both the institution and individual employees thereof to criminal prosecution. No other federal regulation of admissions criteria, disciplinary standards, or program offerings would be had (bar, perhaps, some consumer protection measures of a 'truth-in-packaging' variety). Let the nosepickers in the admissions office admit as many social work projects as they care to, just insist that the institution disclose to the world how much of a mulligan said projects are receiving.

Oh, and you can relieve the Athletic department of the obligation to hire a woman's wrestling coach.

Thomas Sowell once suggested you randomly assign applicants to two pools and fill half the freshman class from each pool. Pool A would be admitted per a vector equation which incorporated board scores and high school gpa. Pool B would be admitted according to the procedures favored by the admissions office. After 5 years, take a retrospective look at how well each pool performed.

Two thoughts on this:

1. How would you measure "performance"? I would expect significant disagreement over which metric to use.

2. This exercise assumes universities are (or should) be optimizing for "performance" without respect to anything else. I'm pretty sure most elite universities would not agree that is their goal (or that it should be). For instance, they may feel an obligation to make their services available to candidates who faced significant challenges prior to applying, and whose measurable characteristics suffered somewhat due to those challenges. Maybe you take the 9/10 candidate who grew up poor, whose dad was in prison and who excelled despite his crappy public education over the 10/10 candidate whose parents are in the 0.1% and attended elite prep schools *even when you know the former candidate is not likely to perform as well*.

Tithing? A gift to the world, without regard to outcome, of the resource in question (access to higher ed) for the generalized qua of it? Sure. The suggested rate is 10%. Meaning that 90% of your entering class got there on demonstrated merit. I think we're past that. Universities will ghost like malls, the die has been cast. God is not mocked.

The problem with Princeton is diversity, they might be looking at acceptable way to diversify (with smoke and mirrors like Harvard). Sample accepted applicants data from . The general academic diversity is proxied by the StdDev of the Accepted SATeq scores while that for AA diversity is the range SatDif between the max and min. The stats for Princeton is staggering, average SAT accepted was even higher than Caltech while StdDev and SatDiff were the lowest among those surveyed, min SATeq for Princeton was 1420 while that for Harvard was 990.

Class 2018:2022 Self Reported Accepted Sample

Ratio SatWai SatAvg StdDev SatMin SDmin SatMax SDmax SatDif SDdif Nacc Napp Uni

1.0093 1505 1519.05 66.70 1420 -1.48 1600 1.21 180 2.70 21 903 Princeton

0.9782 1545 1511.25 145.87 1000 -3.50 1600 0.61 600 4.11 16 207 Caltech

1.0119 1455 1472.31 130.23 768 -5.41 1600 0.98 832 6.39 51 991 Duke

0.9714 1515 1471.67 99.09 1220 -2.54 1600 1.30 380 3.83 42 882 UChicago

0.9895 1485 1469.47 86.89 1280 -2.18 1600 1.50 320 3.68 19 603 Columbia

0.9691 1505 1458.52 140.73 1150 -2.19 1600 1.01 450 3.20 27 908 Yale

1.0076 1445 1456.00 96.65 1190 -2.75 1560 1.08 370 3.83 30 1031 Tufts

1.0546 1375 1450.10 127.41 830 -4.87 1600 1.18 770 6.04 104 1581 Berkeley

1.0196 1420 1447.83 129.07 760 -5.33 1600 1.18 840 6.51 60 1327 Cornell

0.9550 1505 1437.27 131.73 990 -3.40 1600 1.24 610 4.63 33 1073 Harvard

1.1073 1210 1339.82 134.51 750 -4.39 1600 1.93 850 6.32 170 529 Rutgers

The problem with Princeton is diversity,

Whether it's a problem or not is a value judgment. The people who run higher ed have values which are warped as far as the general public is concerned. Which is fine if you're running an unsubsidized private enterprise. All private institutions should be without subsidy, but very few are.

Despite the Trump presidency, the university sectors seem to be double downed in different directions. Being outlier will attract close scrutiny. Harvard just installs a new University President who was on Obama's board of advisors for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

"The people who run higher ed have values which are warped as far as the general public is concerned." That's why no one wants to get into Harvard or Princeton, because the general public thinks those places are warped.

Opacity is a way of avoiding accountability. Having admissions personnel evaluate submitted essays is less blatant than slamming their Chinese personalities

I went to college to learn me some reading and writing, not to have the whole place smelling like "flied lice" and mothballs. You likey no likey chop suey? Me no likey.

dick- you needn't direct anger at joe chow iii for stealing your husband during tango lessons. let it go and take action for your life. there is always grindr

"The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education."

Isn't it a net gain when an inflated asset devalues?

I think it's good when an inflated price drops, not when the underlying value drops.

Cowen doesn't say why this lowers the status of "higher education" (he doesn't limit his assessment to Princeton), but many readers fill in the blank: to give undeserving blacks and Latinos an advantage over more deserving applicants. Reverse racism has become the explanation for just about everything one doesn't like. Elite schools invest in the students they admit: today's students are tomorrow's successful alumni grateful to the school for providing a path to success. With a growing population of blacks and Latinos, an investment today in blacks and Latinos should produce handsome returns in the future. Is that cynical? Hardly. This is an economics blog, which is devoted to reason and objectivity. I assume that's how investment funds choose their investments, so shouldn't elite schools choose their "investments" in the same way? If investment funds chose their investments based on their "standards", we wouldn't be blessed with so many businesses that appeal to those with low intelligence. It's the profits, stupid!

>Elite schools invest in the students they admit

I briefly thought that was the most naive thing I've read in my life. But then I read this:

>This is an economics blog, which is devoted to reason and objectivity.

You don't understand: the student is the investment.

LOL! The original version of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" is available for free from the Cornell University library site. Easy to read and still the best on how to write well.

You may not understand that clarity in communication is not one of the top priorities here. It's mine; indeed, in my day college students carried around their dog-eared copy of S&W. But that was in a different era, an era in which people were very concerned about propaganda. Today, propaganda is the coin of the realm.

>The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education.

It's been plummeting for at least two decades, and it won't be stopping any time soon. What you've got here is inconsequential.

Evidence for your "plummeting" claim, please.

Just think of Princeton admissions in the tradition of the East German judges at gymnastic contests.

Based on the data released in the Harvard discrimination lawsuit it seems as if about 25% of the entering class is admitted based on race preferences rather than objective factors. Not surprising then that the institutions would want to eliminate the objective factors so the comparison cannot be made.

And still that overlooks the biggest preference of all. One particular group is 2% of the country, 6% of National Merit finalists, and 25% of Ivy enrollees. You're not allowed to name them, however, including here on MR.

Couldn't teachers or school guidance counselors who really like a student and want to help them get into the best college they can coach the student and collaborate with them on how to write the essay? Or even simply do it themselves? How will cheating be prevented? How will grade inflation be addressed?

"The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education."

Or, it will adjust the status of higher education to its true fair value.

How I would "do" diversity if I were in charge at Princeton:

1.Using the size of the candidate pool, expected matriculation rate, and desired incoming class size, establish an admissions rate: N%.

2. Divide candidates into pools based on race-neutral diversity vectors. For instance, household net worth, highest education level achieved by either parent, and student's biological sex.

3. Using some objective formula, possibly taking SAT score, AP exams, class rank, etc. as inputs, rank the students in each pool.

4. Admit the top N% from each pool.

5. Structure financial aid such that for students in the bottom 90%, nationally, it costs marginally *less* to attend Princeton than it would to attend a top state school, e.g. Michigan, Virginia, Berkeley, etc., assuming in-state tuition.

6. Identify high schools with a low rate of interest in Princeton relative to the number of high-performing non-white/non-rich students they produce. Send recruiters to those schools to "sell" Princeton and encourage students to apply who have a reasonable chance of being admitted.

7. Employ other means to identify high-performing diversity candidates (who may not be planning to apply to Princeton) and aggressively recruit them to apply. For instance, non-white National Merit and/or National Achievement award winners.

Just replace all that with a machine learning algorithm that Identifies students that outperform relative to their socioeconomic background.

Good plan.

1) The Machine Learning Algorithm finds the IQ proxies in the data. This inevitably includes ethnic group or ethnic group proxies.
2) The Machine Learning Algorithm turns "racist" by selecting insufficient blacks and Hispanics.
3) Programmers and faculty are accused of racism. Machine Learning Algorithm forces to apologise and go on awareness course.

I don't think this change will matter in the slightest. The SAT writing exam was always a joke and would expect most Princeton admits to have the top or near top score with little to differentiate between them.

"The net result of this decision is to lower the status of higher education."

I disagree. It seems to me that the people this will likely help the most is children of high status people. Since when did biasing the set of consumers of a good towards those of high status lower the status of that good?

"Heaven forbid"--shouldn't that be "Heaven forfend"? Apparently not. The spell checker doesn't like it.

Many states already provide free ACT / SAT tests:

All these hypocrisies...

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