The College Admissions Process Makes “Excellent Sheep”

Written by Caroline Williams

“Excellent Sheep,” a book written by William Deresiewicz, highlights the college admissions process in a rather negative light, specifically by describing elite colleges as schools that turn students into robots who follow a set of guidelines and consequently abandon their own intuition as a means to be admitted. Deresiewicz writes that as a student decides what school they want to attend, they begin to have tunnel vision towards obtaining that goal. Arguably, many people could consider Colorado College an “elite school,” thus begging similar thoughts about the students here. Are we victims to Excellent Sheep syndrome? However, CC takes great strides in steering students away from that phenomenon.

First off, let’s examine what CC is doing right. While many people may not know this, CC is “test flexible.” This means CC allows applicants to submit an ACT or SAT score, or they can choose to submit “three exams (ACT, SAT, AP, IB, TOEFL) of their choice, including one quantitative test, one verbal/writing test, and a third test of their choice.” CC states their reason for becoming test flexible as “[a recognition that] numbers fall short in communicating the breadth of intelligence.” While this may not seem important, it actually holds a lot of significance. Referring to Deresiewicz’s “tunnel vision,” this policy could greatly diminish students seeing only one path to receiving an admissions letter. CC provides room for its students to present themselves in the best possible light, whereas many “elite colleges” do not offer alternative paths.

CC aims to admit students who excelled in high school. Yet, the school does not directly state what their vision of a student who excelled looks like. Some college websites list AP or IB classes “suggested” for prospective students to take. I understand how these lists may serve as useful tools for a student who desires to attend such an institution, but, at the same time, this is where Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep idea is derived from. Students may view course suggestions as the only route to an admissions letter, sacrificing other classes and activities that might interest them more. I commend CC in this manner. It simply expresses the idea that “we look at your transcript(s) for information about your ability to…thrive as a scholar on our campus. Your course grades, along with the rigor of your chosen academic program, give us insight into your academic preparedness for Colorado College.” That is not saying CC does not value IB and AP classes, but it is not all it searches for.

CC definitely has many characteristics that allow its possible admits to follow their own path and express themselves. Yet, Excellent Sheep exist at CC. While they may be fewer in number than at other “elite” schools, they are still here. Perhaps they are simply casualties of the college admissions process, and maybe the process is structurally flawed. However, the issue can be pinpointed to how a school advertises itself. CC has the Block Plan, and it comes across as a creative and innovative college. Students who apply to CC desire to fit the school’s description by showcasing their individuality and creativity. Yet, at the same time, part of the college’s mission statement is, “At Colorado College our goal is to provide the finest liberal arts education in the country,” and I value that I attend a school with high ideals. However, when schools begin to present themselves as “the best” or “finest” at something, students attempt to replicate that by taking the most rigorous academics, the most unique extracurriculars, or the most impressive sports.

Though this may seem irrelevant to those who have completed the college admissions process, it continues to be pertinent. Many students plan to attend graduate school. Deresiewicz may say the Excellent Sheep syndrome occurs at that education level, too. When students have a specific graduate program in mind, that may limit the courses they select during college to maximize their chance of getting in to graduate school. On top of that, a generation of Excellent Sheep does not bode well for future society. Describing people as sheep implies they are followers. Part of Deresiewicz’s argument is that when students are sheep, they work towards becoming successful by following the guidelines of previously successful students. Deresiewicz wrote that, “as of 2010, about a third of graduates went into financing or consulting at a top number of schools…” While that is a sensible profession, we only need so many financial advisers. The issue lies in the college admissions process as a whole. In order to truly get rid of the production of Excellent Sheep, a major reconstruction must occur.

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

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