Rapelye, Times editor discuss admission challenges at elite colleges

A Princeton education comes with advantages  – not only in the classroom, but the “very generous” loan-free financial aid – as well as responsibilities, said Jacques Steinberg, director of The New York Times’ college admissions blog, The Choice, during a discussion with Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye at Whig Hall Nov. 29.

“How can we make sure more students have the opportunities you’re having here?” Steinberg asked.

Rapelye said that Princeton tries to make that experience available to as wide a range of students as possible.

“We try very hard, as we read, to take into account differences in the settings students are coming from,” she said. “Princeton looks very different now than it did 30 years ago. And that wasn’t by accident.”

The admission office actively reaches out to students who might not already have Princeton on their radar, Rapelye explained, or assume it’s out of reach academically or financially.

“We want to make sure we leave no stone unturned,” Rapelye said. “If that means five more kids on this campus from low-income backgrounds or from a school without good college counseling, I’m willing to do that.”

But a bigger, more diverse applicant pool also drives Princeton’s already low acceptance rate even lower.

“The focus on the most selective places is something I worry about a lot,” Rapelye said. “There’s this myth that the admit rate dictates the quality of the school.”

In communities where there’s “an obsessive interest in six colleges,” students tend to fixate on the most selective schools, rather than those that are truly the best fit, Rapelye said. But in communities where students get little or no support, prospective applicants may not be thinking about top schools early enough.

“By the time students get to our door with their application, if they’re not prepared, we’re not doing them any favors by bringing them here,” Rapelye said.

Princeton works with 25 community organizations across the country aimed at reaching students earlier, when it can have more of an impact, Rapelye said, such as Prep for Prep and Questbridge. Princeton’s own initiative, the Princeton University Preparatory Program, invites high-achieving, low-income local high school students to campus for summer school, tutoring, and mentoring during their junior and senior years.

“These are all very good programs that, if multiplied out at the national level, could be extraordinary,” Rapelye said.

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