University of Chicago's Ego

I had lunch today with a dear friend whose son hopes to be attending the University of Chicago in the fall. This is a kid from Southern California who fell in love with the institution when he visited.

Taylor, I changed his name, applied early action to the University of Chicago and he remains optimistic that he will beat the odds. Taylor hasn’t applied to any other schools because he thinks Chicago is a perfect fit.

I’d have to agree with Taylor, who is a nerdy, brilliant kid, but his timing is lousy. In the past, perfect match applicants had a better chance of getting into the Hyde Park institution. But that’s before the University of Chicago’s ego got the better of it.

An Institutional Ego

This week, I read a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education that focused on Chicago’s drive to become more prestigious than it already is. The article shared the lament of some administrators at the University of Chicago that it isn’t as highly regarded as schools like Harvard and Stanford. The school’s rejection rate is lower than these elite schools. And University of Chicago isn’t receiving as many applications as several Ivy League schools.

Is anybody out there feeling Chicago’s pain? I’m not.

The university’s administrators never suggested that they didn’t get more highly qualified applicants than they could accept.

It also didn’t seem to matter to these folks that kids have always self selected at the University of Chicago so teenagers with a 3.4 GPA, who are keen on attending football games, aren’t going to apply. This is a place for intellectuals not frat boys.

How Many Applications Are Enough?

What seems to matter a great deal to Chicago’s administrators is feeding its institutional ego. So the school has been aggressively courting students from across the country in hopes of becoming better known, increasing its applicant pool and dashing more applicants’ dreams just like Harvard and Princeton.

Chicago’s marketing push is working. During the last admission season, University of Chicago received more than 19,300 applicants, which was a 43% increase over the previous year.

A reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education made an valid point when he wrote this week: “How many people on the planet must know about a college and it’s offerings” when it’s “already blessed with a sufficient number of terrific students.”

I have no idea if Taylor’s application will catch the eye of the admission staff. Odds are it won’t. And Chicago won’t even notice. It is too busy keeping its eye on the Ivy League big boys. Sad, but true.

What’s even more pathetic about this story is that many other colleges and universities are behaving the same way.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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