Applying Sideways Pt. 1: College Admin exist to hire more Admin
Universities are a Jobs Program for College Administrators. Knowing this will help you get in.
How do you get into Harvard?
Top SAT Scores, a killer Essay, and glowing LOR's aren't enough. So, what is?
Apply Sideways was founded to build an admissions strategy from First Principles. This multi-part series will integrate tools from Evolution, Psychology, Statistics, and Game Theory to offer insight into how Elite Universities prioritize their applicants. We will use these tools to view the Admissions process with clear eyes for the first time, and craft a strategy that maximizes your Odds of getting in.
Colleges are a "Jobs Program" for Administrators
Evolution is a powerful tool because it offers itself as an organizing principle that can be used to predict behavior. You can confidently predict that a Mama Bear will protect her Cubs because if that evolutionary instinct wasn't hardwired into her, there would soon be no Bears to speak of. Likewise, you can confidently expect College Administrators to protect their jobs and grow their salaries, because if they didn't there would soon be no College Administrators. Since College Admin make all spending and policy decisions at a University (i.e. the only ones that matter) this allows us to infer an organizing principle from which many features of a modern university can be explained:
"The evolutionary function of a College Administrator is to hire more College Administrators"
Why do Colleges lie about the cost of attendance? Why do they raise prices 3x the rate of inflation for the same service? Why do they deliberately rig Admissions to favor the children of Wealthy Donors? Because it allows Admin to keep their jobs and grow.
In order for a College Administrator to grow his salary he needs to be promoted. To be promoted, he needs to hire enough administrators that it makes sense to create a position above them. Once he does this he has to figure out how to pay for all these new administrators. Now things get interesting.
The easiest way to raise more money is to simply raise the price of tuition. This works well at first because student loans don't have a maximum and they pay the colleges up front. The limitation of this practice comes from competition. If College A raises tuition to $60k/year and College B keeps tuition at $40k/year there is a powerful incentive for smart students to attend College B over College A. So, how do raise money without driving away the smart kids? Wealthy Donors.
Wealthy, educated people want their children to attend well-known and respected universities for the same reason that they want to live in gated communities and wear the latest fashion: Status. No one wants to show up to the Country Club and explain that his son is attending Podunk U when he could be bragging about getting into Harvard. Harvard knows this, so they drop their admission rate to 4% and reject students with perfect SAT's and GPA's. This scares wealthy parents half to death. That fear drives donations.
Jared Kushner didn’t get into Harvard because of his less than stellar SAT score. He got in because his father donated $2.5 MILLION.
Wealthy parents are smart. They know that if they donate millions of dollars to a university, their child WILL get in. So they consider it the price of admission, and they pay it, the same way they pay their dues at the Country Club. Problem solved.
Finally, College Administrators take that money and pay the newly-hired Administrators, give themselves a promotion and a nice salary bump to boot. Wash-rinse and repeat.
How does this help me?
Knowing how the system works is your only chance to game it in your favor. In the next few installments of this series we’ll dive into how admissions actually works, dispelling myths that could costs you thousands and keep you out. Finally, we’ll spell out specific strategies you can use depending on where you started to boost the odds in your favor.
Apply Sideways is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.