Unconventional. Irreverent. Brutal. Entertaining. Unlike any book written about higher education, Surviving the College Admissions Madness is a complete takedown of a deeply flawed and thoroughly broken system. Kevin Robert Martin argues that elite universities do not care about their applicants.
He observes that college admissions is highly undemocratic and dehumanizing. University bureaucracies alienate applicants from their humanity and sense of self.
Reading essay advice books might help you get in, but they won’t help you stay sane. Surviving and even thriving depend on digging deep into your beliefs and understanding your behaviors within the broader context of society. This isn’t another Admissions 101 “how-to to write a killer essay” book or a promise of “six easy steps” for Ivy League acceptance.
Martin provides helpful advice for avoiding application mistakes, building a reasonable college list, minimizing debt, identifying cognitive errors and distortions, and helping applicants reframe their college applications. This book equips readers with the vocabulary, frameworks, and tools to make sense of America’s broken higher education system, starting with the admissions gatekeepers.
Admissions Madness is the first of its kind to integrate applicant psychology with the sociology and economics of higher education. Martin observes that a system of bad incentives in education and society wastes hundreds of millions of hours each admissions cycle. It produces profound suffering for tens of thousands of students each year. He writes for families and high school educators who want a deeper understanding of the truth.
Elite college admissions undermines students whether they’re privileged or marginalized, rich or poor, black or white, rural or urban, first-time freshman or transfer, and domestic or international.
Almost everyone loses, even those who get into their dream schools. Elite universities are neither accountable to nor transparent with the public. Early Decision policies and aggressive recruitment and questionable enrollment management practices monopolize universities’ leverage over families’ well-being. Power disparities between universities and families explain why the admissions process is so stressful and exasperating.
Waitlists, appeals, and deferrals keep students in limbo. Endless essay requirements, recommendations, and interviews benefit the university while wasting applicants’ time and making them lose sleep and their sanity. Holistic review corrupts students’ interests and high school learning environments. Students and families rarely realize that the system doesn’t have to be this way.
Application numbers skyrocket while first-year student class sizes remain the same despite COVID-19 virtual learning disruptions. Elite universities claim to care about diversity and college access, yet they are hypocrites. Admission by holistic review has noble origins in the civil rights movement, but nowadays, it serves as a tool for oppression. Holistic review is arbitrary, capricious, and prone to error and bias. Martin proposes admission by partial lottery as one reform among many.
American meritocracy is a myth. Rather than vehicles for upward mobility, elite universities squeeze out the middle class and contribute to wealth inequality. Universities prioritize generating revenue over a genuine commitment to diversity and access. Understanding these and other inconvenient truths will help students and families survive the college admissions madness.