It has come to my attention that the page 217 application essay is no more. The DP has a eulogy up, which mostly remarks on the creativity the essay afforded students. Apparently the administration’s rationale goes like this:
First, Penn’s use of the Common Application — which has an open-ended essay as an option — made the prompt “repetitive and no longer necessary.” Additionally, students felt that the essay was required even though the instructions said it was optional. Finally, since the number of undergraduate applications reached almost 27,000 last year, Penn’s admissions officers could not realistically read three essays per candidate, or four in the case of applicants to Penn’s Coordinated Dual Degree programs.
The DP quotes an admissions coach to the effect that Penn probably did this in order to get more applications and boost its rankings. Now, everybody does seem to think Penn went “down” in the US News list this year (although UTB’s take was fairly sane), and I’ll admit that you can explain most of Penn’s actions in terms of reputation and money. But I’m not sure either of those bugbears has too much of a hand in this.
First of all, I fail to understand why a two-way tie for fifth is worse than a four-way tie for fourth. But of course, saying that Penn went up or down is much more exciting than saying, “yeah, we did about the same this year.” Secondly, I buy the volume of applications story: 27,000 is a large number. Wouldn’t we be better at encouraging true creativity, as opposed to gimmickry, if the admissions officers had more time to go over each application? But of course, saying that Penn has sacrificed the encouragement of creativity in order to juke the ratings makes better copy than saying that Penn had to tweak the application process in response to high volume.
I have more to say on the matter – mostly, I think the real story here is the Common App itself, and the standardization of college admissions. But my problem with the changes has nothing to do with Penn specifically, or with the US News rankings.