This week I made the trip upstate to teach a few advertising classes at Skidmore College (my Alma Matter). As always, it was great to talk to a few classes, meet some inspired students, and address the student’s concerns about entering a very competitive job market.

Between classes, I accidentally stumbled into an admissions information session filled with perspective students and families. For kicks, I took a seat amidst the note-taking moms and disengaged high school students to listen to what the admissions counselor had to say. Having worked in admissions in college, much of the presentation was familiar to me. However, when the counselor began talking about criteria for admission, I became perplexed.

Just like getting your first job, going to college is a major life development. However, many elite institutions evaluate students for admission based on only 2 variables – SAT score and high school GPA. What was interesting to me was that my scores from High School were at, or even below the current average for my Alma Matter. Since graduation, I’ve been invited back nearly every semester to teach classes in the business department – however if I were to apply for admission to the college today, I’m not even sure I would be selected to attend the classes I now teach.

I’m sure if you looked at it from a statistical perspective, good grades and high test scores are positively correlated with success at college, but that doesn’t mean that only high scorers will be successful. Further – many of the students to whom I spoke this week are worried about maintaining high college GPAs so they look more attractive to potential employers.  This is good in theory, but not when upper level students shop around for the courses they know to be the easiest just so they can maintain a high GPA.

All of these thoughts lead me to the question: how can you possibly judge something as complex as a human life?

In my opinion, neither SAT scores, nor GPAs, nor resumes (one side of one sheet of paper) can accurately portray the full value of a person’s potential.  And on top of it all (as we’ve all learned from financial legal disclaimers) past performance is no guarantee of future success!
After the admissions session had concluded I introduced myself to the admissions counselor and raised a few of the above questions. Rather than defending the evaluation criteria of the college, or discuss the feasibility of evaluating such a large number of applications, the counselor just looked at me knowingly and said "It’s not an exact science."

I would like to tell the college seniors who are graduating soon that they will get the jobs they deserve and will start their working careers on a good foot. However, similar to college admissions, there really isn’t a perfect way to accurately evaluate someone for hire at the entry level.  Until we figure out a better system (maybe something like a personal credit bureau?) – I guess this is the best I can offer these anxious college seniors:

It’s not an exact science.

On a side note – I always try to learn from the students when I speak to their classes.  One emerging trend I noticed in my classes this year was the lack of concern over privacy. It wasn’t that the students didn’t know what privacy was – in theory I think they all knew that there were some things that they didn’t want shared with a larger audience – but rather they just didn’t see digital technology as an area of privacy concern.  Their responses to privacy questions were mostly along the lines of "they’re not allowed to share that information" or "that’s not something that other people can see." As far as I could tell, they were completely comfortable with technology companies knowing where they were at all times and knowing what they had purchased in the past. When it came to this information being publicly available, they had complete confidence in the self applied privacy controls that tech companies offer (e.g. Facebook). I tried several times to push them to a place of discomfort and only succeeded when I questioned if they would be ok with everyone in the world seeing a complete history of every website they had ever viewed (this question also returned a few giggles). It seems everyone draws the line somewhere.

How Do You Judge Someone?
Tagged on: