If a college is hard to get into, it must be a very good college. The harder it is to get into a college, the more desirable it is, hence, the better it must be.
Selectivity is simply this: you take the number of spaces available in the freshman class and divide by the number of applicants. Multiply by 100. This gives you the percentage of admitted applicants and is called selectivity. That's it. It's a number. Nowhere in the formula for selectivity is there an indicator of educational quality. It doesn't figure student engagement, accessibility of professors, class size...none of that! If there are a lot of applicants and not a lot of seats in the freshman class, then the university can be very selective. Quite simply: it's a matter of supply and demand; in the case of very selective universities: there's a lot of demand and very little supply.
But, many would argue, if the college is truly exceptional then of course people would flock to it, creating great demand. People aren't stupid. Or are they? Think of the role of marketing in shaping people's desires, if it's true for soap it's true for colleges. If marketing can make one soap more desirable than another then marketing can do the same for colleges. Think of a movie that drew a lot of people but was a real dud in the end (for me, movies like AVATAR and DA VINCI CODE come to mind). Just because it's hard to get a concert to see One Direction, it doesn't mean that their music is any good (apologies to One Direction fans). Besides, what makes the college applicant and his/her parents a discerning judge of colleges? The college applicant is (or should be) expert in only one thing: his or herself. He or she should then use this expertise to find the college with the best fit.
Better than selectIVE colleges are selectED colleges. These colleges are ones that have such a distinct personality or characteristic that students who are attracted to that personality or characteristic apply there. Applicants write purposeful applications to these colleges because they want to go there. What are some of these selected colleges? Obvious ones come to mind...the military academies for example; West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. These colleges obviously appeal to those who want to get a military education. Well, we Filipinos can't go there, so are there any other places? The two schools I mentioned in the previous post also come to mind: Reed is very intellectual and emphasize critical thinking and small seminar type classes. St. John's College is a Great Books school where one spends four years studying the liberal arts through the works of the greatest minds in human history. Hampshire College in Massachusetts offers a broad liberal education which is largely student designed, no grades but written faculty evaluations. Colorado College and Cornell College are the only two colleges in America (Quest University is another but it's in Canada) to use the Block Plan. Here, a student takes only one class at a time...for three and a half weeks, he concentrates on only one subject and learns a semester's worth of material. This might seem rather odd and intense but think about it...the class can do field trips, special lab projects, special outings because there are no other classes to worry about. These places don't appeal to everyone but they do attract certain kinds of students and if you happen to be one of them, you'll be happier here than you will at the super selective (so called) elite universities.
So am I saying that it's bad to go to a selective college? Absolutely not! Reed is now quite selective (admits about 40% of its applicants) but back when I was applying to college (in the early 80s) they admitted 95% of their applicants. What I am saying is that don't let a college's selectivity make you automatically think it's better and that you are better off there. Don't get stuck in the line for tickets to One Direction!
I wish all a happy, safe, and healthy 2013 holiday season.