Part of the ongoing narrative of the College’s precipitous rise in profile and national rankings is an accompanying fall in admissions rates, the release of which never fails to attract attention from University students. As the Maroon reported last week, the College acceptance rate for the Class of 2018 dropped—yet again, though only slightly—to a new low of 8.38 percent. However, as the first signs of a plateau in the acceptance rate start to appear, now may be a good time for us, as current students who exist behind the College’s nominal reputation, to consider the precise way in which the image of our College has been and is being presented to its prospective applicants.
For its past six admissions cycles, the College has employed the Common Application, which is currently used by over 500 schools worldwide. The move, which was met by vocal opposition on campus when it was first proposed, had the effect of making the College an attractive and viable option for a larger number of talented students. In spite of this, admissions materials for the College still choose to market a vague, oddly exclusive idea of life on campus. Through curious and often lighthearted mailings and e-mails, prospective students are presented with detailed breakdowns of our University’s scrupulous devotion to coffee and its campus vendors, cartoonish missives that liken our professors to superheroes, and cute postcards with unorthodox questions. It is clear, if the numbers are anything to go by, that this strategy works.
However, students who are marketed this version of a UChicago education are not necessarily getting an appropriate picture of all that is meaningful and unique about this University. While there are certainly individual and distinctive aspects of our intellectual and campus life, successful UChicago students are not necessarily those who have the most unorthodox interests. Rather, they are those who are rigorous and open-minded thinkers. This is easily forgotten in the deluge of admissions quirk.
We understand, to an extent, the necessity of offering prospective applicants a catchy, attractive, and easily digestible image of the lifestyle and ethos that await them on this campus. A certain level of salesmanship in higher education is inevitable in a crowded market. Yet it seems excessive to persist with a marketing strategy that is so relentlessly reductive, especially when it may be to the detriment of prospective students trying to attain an understanding of what their education here will be like. It is worthwhile to remember that admission to this University is valuable not because it provides access to an exclusive and quirky club, but because it provides an opportunity for an education that is challenging and often uncomfortable.
The University’s vigilant marketing of its offbeat individuality has definitely played an integral role in the promotion of the school’s public image, and its increase in visibility. But, given this rapid rise, the time is approaching when we needn’t sell ourselves so hard and so brazenly in order to attract exceptional students—and risk alienating those who don’t identify wholly with our overwhelmingly advertised image of quirk. Our reputation as a stronghold of academic rigor and quality, rather than our current trademark uniqueness, ought to be our distinguishing element as an institution. Given the remarkable recent success of our admissions marketing, we can now afford to do away with the gimmicks we use to represent ourselves to those who may well like to join our community.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.