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SAT Scores

Sasha Gsovski ’06 gets a brief mention in this article about college admissions.

At Williams College this week, junior Sasha Gsovski, 20, said parents who take tours of the Williamstown, Massachusetts, campus often ask her what her SAT scores are so they can gauge their children’s chances.

“I’ve been asked my G.P.A.,” said Gsovski, who said she never tells. “They all just want to know about how to get in.”

No kidding. I was never asked those questions during my tour guide years, but perhaps times have changed. The article begins with:

In the latest sign of escalating anxiety over college admissions, a pair of consultants is offering a three-day “boot camp” in New York City that costs $10,000 — more than tuition at a mid-sized state university.

“I was stunned,” William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said yesterday in a phone interview. “It does say a great deal about the anxiety out there, and it’s sad.”

Give me a break. People like Fitzsimmons spend a career telling people that Harvard, and places like it, are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Is is any wonder that students and parents get a little anxious? How can I not hope and strive to provide such wonderfulnesses to my daughters?

Now, there is nothing wrong with Fitzsimmons claiming, correctly, that such boot camps are almost certainly a waste of money. There is nothing wrong with noting, correctly, that people are anxious. But don’t cry crocodile tears about how “sad” it all is unless you are willing to also point out that there is little if any evidence that, holding all else constant, attending Harvard is actually that wonderful, that many (even most) students would be better off going elsewhere. If you do this, then you can remark on the sadness of the remaining frenzy for Harvard.

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#1 Comment By Mike On June 13, 2005 @ 11:19 am

Kane: On what grounds do you base your claim that “such boot camps are almost certainly a waste of money”? If your claim is that whatever benefit received is not worth $10,000 then what differentiates these boot camps from any other luxury good that may be too expensive to be worthwhile to you, but are worthwhile investments for others? If you are claiming that these boot camps do not provide any benefit at all then why on earth would presumably intelligent people be willing to spend $10,000?

#2 Comment By Neal On June 13, 2005 @ 11:43 am


Intelligent people become very desperate consumers when it comes to the strange process of admissions. It’s such a confusing process that people will throw money at every book and service out there without necessarily getting any real benefit.

Preying on the insecure…

This is not to say that they’re all worthless. I just happen to do some side work in the field…

#3 Comment By frank uible On June 13, 2005 @ 5:01 pm

What the hell do boot camps claim to do? What do they actually do?

#4 Comment By Pvt. Pyle On June 13, 2005 @ 7:47 pm

A1. Turn men into Marines, Sir!

A2. Dehumanize and brutalize people.

#5 Comment By David On June 14, 2005 @ 11:53 am


1) If you think that the purpose of boot camp (Marine Corps or otherwise) is to “dehumanize and brutalize people” then you need to get out more.

2) Mike asks:

If you are claiming that these boot camps do not provide any benefit at all then why on earth would presumably intelligent people be willing to spend $10,000?

There is a pleasing libertarian fantasy that the simple fact that people pay for something must mean that that something works. Else, after all, why would they pay for it? Alas, the large sales of anti-aging creams and sundry other snake oils peddled on late night TV gives the lie to this theory. Now, just because something does not, objectively, work does not mean that we should prevent people from selling it or others from buying it. But the fact that people are willing to pay $10,000 provide little if any evidence one way or the other.

Mike also asks,

On what grounds do you base your claim that “such boot camps are almost certainly a waste of money”?

Well, there is a lot of evidence for this claim. First, most of the admissions officers testify to this fact. Second, a close reading of books about college admissions — like Admissions Confidential and The Gatekeepers — shows that the sort of stuff likely to come out of a bootcamp won’t help the sort of student with the money to pay for it. Third, the academic literature shows that the actual effectiveness of special tutoring for tests like the SAT is very limitted.

I am making the causal claim that the chance of admissions to a place like Williams will not be signficantly effected by attendance at such a boot camp for the subset of the applicant population that can afford it. I don’t know anyone not associated with the college admissions prep industry who disputes this.

#6 Comment By rory On June 14, 2005 @ 2:49 pm


this is an odd feeling. very odd.

The problem I find with the summer camp is the family with the money for the summer camp shows on their application that they’ve had opportunities to perfect the application and this is, consciously or not, by admissions officers (or, at least, those I worked with/spoke with) used to give an admissions officer a sense of cynicism about an application. Rich kids from the private schools or rich public schools face the fact that admissions officers expect them to submit a more technically flawless application because the believe (justifiably) that the student has extra opportunity to do so.

as for boot camp, check out Bob Herbert’s last column. Unless something radical has changed (doubtful), i’d think chanting this:
“what are you”
“what do you do?”
likely makes you at least somewhat dehumanized and brutal, as an armed forces needs. it’s a sad, potentially immoral need, but it’s a need.

#7 Comment By David On June 14, 2005 @ 3:00 pm

Since there is an Eph ’07 in Marine Corps Officer boot camp even as most of the rest of us enjoy less stressful summers, this is not a purely theoretical discussion. The original comment concerned what boot camps “actually do,” to which the (incorrect) answer was “Dehumanize and brutalize people.”

There is a difference between being brutalized and becoming brutal. Boot camp obviously, does and should aim to make its graduates more brutal — or rather to have a controlled capacity for greater brutality — than when they arrived.

The claim that boot camp “dehumanizes” people depends on a somewhat restricted notion of humanity, as I lectured on at Williams this past March. See Rousseau’s The Social Contract for more details.

People who haven’t been to boot camp are ill-equipted to describe what it is like.

#8 Comment By frank uible On June 14, 2005 @ 9:59 pm

David: Why is that fantasy the exclusive province of libertarianism? My life experience tells me that many persons, who never have heard the word much more never have subscribed to it, regularly engage themselves in such fantasies.

#9 Comment By rory On June 15, 2005 @ 2:07 am

there’s david’s disagreement with me…now we’re back to normal:)

Although I haven’t read the social contract for a while, I’m not sure how it applies, but I’ll trust that you have a point. Personally, I find the role of focusing (though Herbert may have been in the army. perhaps marine camp is very different?) a person on becoming a “killer” trained to chant that dehumanizing (as part of my belief in what makes humans human is our ability to empathize and sympathize). Whether or not I’ve experienced something is something of a canard–I’ve never been tortured, randomly searched by the police, matriculated at Amherst, or many other things but I still feel like I can make statements about them through knowledge gleaned through secondhand sources. If someone with firsthand information shared that info that countered my secondhand information, that would certainly have to be a powerful statement to have to react to/change my mind about.

besides, marine boot camp does what it does with or without an eph in it. just because an eph is in the marines does not change how theoretical or not a clearly non-theoretical discussion. You point out your experience with it, valuable, I point out what I know about it.