Preparing for College

Nameless College Applications

Josh Adams

Myra Weinstein

Lashondra Williams

Malcolm Wang

Ravi Singh

Manuel Gonzales

What comes into your mind when you see each of those names—separately, not as a group? Did you have even the tiniest bit of “ethnic" reaction? If so, you have just proven my point.

The “celebration" of diversity on campus, inspired by its granddaddy, Affirmative Action, has caused a lot of rancor in the world of college admissions. I'm all for “nameless" college applications. Of course, producing purely objective, nameless applications would be difficult, but I'm interested in the theory.

Some conservatories and competitions have auditioners and competitors perform behind a curtain so that the judges are not distracted by subjective elements, such as the performer's gender, physical appearance, and mannerisms. Many of us have seen famous artists perform who have eccentric aspects to their stage presence. In fact, I've attended performances where the artist's weird gyrations have caused me to listen with my eyes closed. That eliminated the distractions.

Obviously, a college application's details can reveal a lot about an applicant's ethnicity and gender. For example, if s/he lists activity in Hillel, that's a big clue regarding Jewish heritage. There's also the issue of references, which address the applicant by name. However, my suggestion is that the Common Application mechanism and a college's own paper application have a two-part structure. This would involve a unique numeric code for each applicant. The Social Security number would be perfect for this, since it's required by virtually every school, although some other identifier could be generated, if needed. The application would be sent in two parts: (1) the “nameless" application with its numeric identifier and (2) the applicant's name and additional identification data, linked to the ID number. I'm tempted to suggest obfuscating the applicant's school name, too, but I think that's taking things a bit far, at least at this stage.

The admission process, then, with its multiple reviews by different folder readers would proceed as usual, with reviewers' comments accumulating along the way. Then, at some point, the application would encounter the admit-deny (and “defer," in the case of early apps) fork in the road. Once those piles are stacked up, the apps would be mated with the owners' names and addresses for full disclosure requisite final processing.

Think about it. Wouldn't this approach add a significant element of “merit" to the admissions process? I'd love to see the long-term, strategic effect of this process on student bodies across the country. I'll disagree with those who will say that the end result would be lopsided classes filled with “rich white kids." I think we'd see a much more interesting and dynamic mix, all because of applications “performing behind the curtain."

Any takers out there?

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.