Maroon Haze

U of C College and GSB alum Bill Roule sends Tell us about Wednesdays, a Sun-Times piece about what it takes to get accepted:

“Produce a version of “Chicago Survivor” [inspired by the TV show “Survivor.”] Use as your location the lush Gothic campus, laboratories, libraries, gymnasia, and residence halls of a Major American University. Establish a setting, make your rules, identify some players (selected from all of human history), and take us through a trial and its results. Profundity will be rewarded and true wit will certainly count in your favor, but too much intimate familiarity with the actual show may be a strike against you.”
I’ve got five pages of questions like these on my desk, faxed to me by the university’s admissions office, and as I read them I can only wonder: Are these people high?
“We wanted to create inventive and creative ways for students to tell us about themselves,” says Gerald Doyle of the admissions office. “We want to create an opportunity where we can listen to the student’s voice.”
But some of these questions sound like they were written in a dorm after midnight in the ’60s.

I was a sort of contestant myself in “Chicago Survivor,” from September 1977 to June 1979, and did not win. It seems the weird essay questions became part of the admissions process in 1984. In my day, they just asked what the three books (one non-fiction, two fiction) that had most affected (or maybe just impressed) you were. Everybody I knew listed The Lord of the Rings as one of their fiction books. But now?

“There is no line between when someone here is having fun and maybe thinking and studying and learning,” says Doyle.

There wasn’t a line in the ’70s, either — we didn’t have “fun.” Wusses!
Oh, and for the answer to “that first ground-breaking question,” read Rogue Moon.

4 thoughts on “Maroon Haze”

  1. College admissions officers are in a similar position to that of big-company HR staff: they get many more qualified applicants than they need. So once they screen out substandard applicants they tend to use arbitrary criteria to decide whom of the large remaining group to admit or hire. Naturally the criteria used are ones that make things easier — and in the case of colleges, entertaining — for the people who do the selecting. Thus the idiotic questions, which seem designed to screen out serious people and to give extra weight to kids who read a lot of sci-fi and play fantasy games (not that there’s anythning wrong with that, but lots of people who might be successful students would find such questions pointless and burdensome).

    The University of Chicago used to be known as a school that was relatively easy to gain admission to but difficult to do well at. The people who ran the place didn’t pretend, unlike management at some Ivies, to be able to predict which applicants would succeed. Thus they admitted students liberally on a sink-or-swim basis. The U of C also allowed students to satisfy academic requirements by taking tests. It may have even awarded graduate degrees to students who hadn’t gone to college but satisfied graduate prerequisites by examination. The place had a real meritocratic ambience. Has it changed that much?

  2. The admissions toads are such jerks. They have a great product and they can’t sell it. How is it that schools such as Wash U, which are OK but not nearly in UofC’s class are hot tickets and they continue to have trouble selling seats?

    I was there 1965-1970 and I am sure it has changed a lot. My first child was not at all interested. My second child, much more the intellectual, had very good grades and scores, 1540 SAT etc. She applied for early decisision and they defered her application. I was livid. At the same time this was going on the fund rasing people were reaching out to me. She was eventually admitted, but she decided to go to Northwestern. I think that UofC just hurt her pride and Northwestern was nice to her.

    Child 3 (the last) is a high school junior and probably the best student of the group. He wants to go to Stanford. I am not going to push UofC. His sisters have been very happy at Northwestern. If he does not go to UofC, they will get no money from me. They have no idea how much they are missing out on.

    They can blame the admissions depatment — @$$h011e$

  3. “If he does not go to UofC, they will get no money from me.”

    Really??? That statement isn’t pushiing UofC?? How about making an appealing argument and talk to him about what he wants to do with his life?

    Ohh, and U of O was really easy to get into : )

  4. In the late ’70s I applied to Harvard. They asked me to either name all the books I’d read that year (I couldn’t begin to remember them all), or to name the book that had had the biggest effect on my life. Well, I went to a crummy rural high school, so we didn’t read Important Books. De rigeur for someone of my socioeconomic class would be to piously proclaim the Bible as my most influential book, but I was a young heathen. (I could have denounced it, I suppose, but that never occurred to me.)

    So I had to fall back on the Dune trilogy, which had impressed me with its imagination and detail. But I felt so stupid because that was (sniff) science fiction and they were going to take one look at that and throw me in the reject pile. Eventually, they did just that. But now I feel all prescient about the Dune thing — ahead of my time, and all that.

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