Friday, October 01, 2010

Packaging "Authenticity"

It seems that the latest trend among college admissions departments is to favor "authenticity" in students' college application materials. Looking for "honest, reflective students," some colleges, like MIT, go so far as to require prospective students to directly address the topics of failure or disappointment in their applications.

Ever eager to please, some college counselors are now actually advising students to deliberately fake a simple mistake in their application (e.g. a typo or two) to better portray themselves to colleges as imperfect, "real" students.

From a recent Associated Press article on this subject:

"For some students, the challenge of presenting themselves as full, flawed people cuts against everything else they've been told about applying to college – to show off as much as possible.

At the other extreme, when a college signals what it's looking for, students inevitably try to provide it. So you get some students trying to fake authenticity, to package themselves as unpackaged."

The practice of deliberately presenting one's self in an unrealistic light in order to gain acceptance isn't unique to students attempting to court colleges, of course. Colleges' own sales materials routinely show saccharin scenes of smiling students sitting happily under trees, peering intently at test tubes, or enthusiastically participating in cozy seminars with accessible, caring professors. In each case, one entity is trying to sell itself to the other, and using the craft of artifice to do so.

But isn't this kind of marketing as American as apple pie, the 4th of July, and NASCAR? Is this all much ado about nothing?

Or is finding the proper fit between student and college what really counts, not just the prestige of a given school or its ranking on the most recent list of best colleges?

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