Friday’s New York Times article (For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers) is a good example of how the press exacerbates the degree to which college admissions has spun out of control.
One student mentioned in the article spent his summer studying Mandarin in China, then returned the following summer to work for a market research firm in Shanghai. His parents paid big bucks to hire a consulting firm that helped him land those gigs. He later wrote his college essay about “trading jokes with long-dead Ming Emperors, stringing my string hammock between two plum trees and calmly sipping fresh green tea while watching the sun set on the horizon.” And he was admitted to Yale.
Of course he was admitted to Yale. The New York Times would never include him in the story if he ended up attending a not-so-famous college most readers had never heard of. And it wouldn’t be newsworthy to profile some of thousands of kids attending college, including prestigious schools, who spent their high school summers bagging groceries or taking not-for-credit cooking classes at a community college or volunteering at the local public library.
A lot of students who read that story will feel like their part time job scooping ice cream isn’t enough, that if their families can’t pay for them to attend an expensive summer program, they’re going to be at an admissions disadvantage, which is just not true. Stories like this aren't inaccurate, but they're not representative of what's really happening in college admissions, either.
You don’t need to hire a consultant and go to China to learn Mandarin. And you certainly don’t need to do that to get into college today. That’s not a story that’s going to sell newspapers, but it’s the truth.