An Ivy League Admissions Officer Speaks
By Bryan Caplan
My post on elite high schools and college admission led an Ivy League admissions officer to email me. Here’s what he wrote, with his kind permission. Name and school redacted.
Your post on TJ caught my eye, as
last year I read admissions files from NOVA for [redacted Ivy League school]
(along with an actually qualified admissions officer), including those from TJ.
Feel free to share any of this, though for reasons of discretion (and being
junior faculty!) please don’t include my name/exact institution.
Much of what you wrote rings true
from my experience, but I’m not sure I’d reach the same conclusion you
We definitely held students from
TJ to a higher standard than those from less prestigious schools. In fact, if
memory serves they were held to the highest standard by any NOVA students by a
Why? From our perspective, mainly
knowing that students there get lots of encouragement/coaching to do the kinds
of things that look good on an application, so a student from TJ that looks
equally good on paper as someone from another school (setting aside class rank)
is probably less good of a student. Also, there was some desire to give
students who had fewer opportunities a leg up, though this effect probably
wouldn’t help the children of a professor even if they went to a less
On the other hand, we also
certainly accounted for the strength of the school when interpreting class
rank. I don’t remember exact numbers, but I think we gave students from TJ a
close look in the 2nd and even 3rd decile while this would be a kiss of death
from most other schools.
From a parent/student
perspective, the question is whether the boost in application quality from
being surrounded by high achievers and resources/opportunities students don’t
get elsewhere outweighs the fact that they will face a higher bar when
admissions officers read their file. Theoretically, I would think that
causal effect of going to TJ on chances of admissions is probably neutral to
somewhat positive. To the extent that admissions officers care about getting
talented students who are prepared for an elite college, even if they fully
filter out the better preparation at schools like TJ when making inferences
about talent, they will still appreciate the better preparation in and of
itself. Nothing in my empirical observations led me to think this theoretical
expectation is wrong.
(Of course this sets aside the
impacts outside of chances of admission to an elite school, like what they
actually learn or how they might be harmed by the pressures of going to such a
Hope this is of interest,