Americans like to chew on numbers. We watch the stock market, compare salaries, and scrutinize batting averages. Who’s up and who’s down? Who’s rich and who’s poor? Who’s hot and who’s not?
Each spring, many selective colleges send out news releases that encourage the same questions about college admissions. Loaded with numbers, these documents seem to tell you something meaningful about different institutions. Take Stanford University’s recent announcement about the class of 2014: The university reviewed 32,022 applications from “the largest number of candidates in its history,” and sent offers to “just 7.2 percent” of applicants—an admission rate that “sets a university record.”
Other prominent colleges annually send out similar announcements, laden with the same kind of statistics. But who’s counting? Lots of people, of course. Presidents, trustees, professors, parents, applicants, and newspapers, including The New York Times, which tallies admissions data from various colleges, and likens the numbers to “early returns on election night.” For those keeping score at home, Emory University’s 15,549 applications were 51 fewer than last year’s total.
Numbers aside, these announcements are written in a language all their own. In the spirit of the season, I’ve chosen key phrases from this year’s crop of press releases, and proposed some translations.
“This year’s applicant pool was the largest in the college’s history.”
That this year’s applicant pool was the largest in the college’s history is no accident because, like many of our competitors, we have reached out to more prospective students, which is one reason why this year’s applicant pool is even bigger than last year’s record-breaking applicant pool, but surely not as large as next year’s applicant pool, which, in turn, will shatter this year’s record.
“For the first time ... more than 30,000 students applied to the College.”
We feel pretty.
“The mean SAT scores for students admitted this year are: 733 Critical Reasoning, 741 Math, and 740 Writing.”
Our admitted students have our permission to develop the insufferable habit of mentioning their SAT scores for the rest of their lives.
“These young men and women are in a large sense the next generation of leaders, innovators, scientists, engineers and humanists who will make significant contributions to society ...”
These young men and women are in a large sense the next generation of corporate executives, lawyers, consultants, plastic surgeons, and neighborhood assocation presidents who will make substantial financial contributions to our institution.
“In the most selective admission process in the University’s history, [we] have offered admission to 2,148, or 8.18 percent, of the record 26,247 applicants for the class of 2014. ... The scholarship budget for the next fiscal year is projected to rise from this year’s $103 million to $112 million, an increase of nearly 9 percent.”
Although we are selective beyond comprehension, we are generous beyond words. Also, we have this endowment, which, as you might have heard, is gigantic.
“Of the admitted students attending high schools reporting class rank, 30 percent are valedictorians or salutatorians. Fifty-four percent are in the top two percent of their high school class, and 89 percent are in the top decile.”
Abandon all hope, ye B students.