High school SAT scores and Wishful Thinking

In the same article previously cited:

Yet consider what must happen at a school like Yale, where 17,735 applications came in last year. After all have been opened and put in files with the students’ SAT scores written on the front, they are read in descending order. Obviously, other factors will be considered, and some applicants with high SAT scores won’t make the final cut, but organizing the admissions process on the ability to score on SATs means that many other qualities of applicants may be ignored. Still, if one were faced with 17,735 folders, what would be a better way to start?

Personal note: although I didn’t actively study for the SAT test, my scores (99% on verbal, 98% on math) were high enough to fall in the upper range of even the most elite schools. (My grades and academic performance were –ahem–an entirely different matter…). But judging from this chart, this score would have barely met the median in today’s application pool at elite colleges. Something is going on here. I don’t think overall scores are on the rise, but either test scores of the top 10% have been increasing to the point of meaninglessness, or the applicant pool has broadened to the point that substantially more students are competing for the same amount of spaces at elite institutions.

Is it possible then that we have a shortage of colleges with high standards and an abundance of lower quality schools that nobody wants to attend? Price-fixing charges aside, the market prices suggest that people are willing to pay premium dollars for access to these institutions (even though it remains to be seen how much value it provides for the students–aside from access to the rich and powerful).

Who is pushing students toward more expensive colleges? Is it the parents or students? I used to think the agency problem applied to this situation, where those not paying the bills made the commitment to something out of their price range. But in fact, the aforementioned article suggests that parents use choice of colleges as a means of social advancement to compensate for denied opportunities. (For any future children of mine who might be reading this, I wish it to be known that I will never be sending you to Harvard, no matter how fabulously wealthy I become).