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Spreadsheet Purgatory

February 07, 2021
by Mark David Siegel

Hi everyone:

Greetings from purgatory.

Today, I’m playing general manager, preparing for tomorrow’s draft (aka “the rank meeting”). From now until tonight, I’ll be stuck at my desk, staring straight ahead, scoring and sorting stars on my spreadsheet.

I’ve got scores for everything: MSPEs and department letters, school reputations, grades, prizes, advanced degrees, personal statements, extracurricular activities, research, interviews, and hobbies. I weight scores to highlight traits we value, like good writing, leadership, scholarship, and commitment to social justice. I adjust scores for fairness, so students at schools that give Honors to everyone don’t beat students at schools that reserve Honors for special performance. I “induct” deserving students into AOA and the Gold Humanism Honor Society at schools without chapters, and I nudge interview scores up and down to adjust for tough and easy grading. I give bonus points to students who will diversify our program and to students whose applications don’t fully capture their potential.

The truth is it’s impossible to accurately rank such diverse applicants. How do you compare a student with three first-author publications to someone who started an NGO? How do you compare an applicant ranked in the top 10% of their class to a student whose school puts everyone at the top? How do you compare a student with multiple advanced degrees to someone who overcame poverty to attend college?

Thankfully, there’s no need to obsess over who’s number 1, 10, or 100, because most of the applicants would be great residents.

But rank I must, and now you know how I’ll be spending this snowy day, stuck in spreadsheet purgatory, at least until tonight when I’ll join Heide and the girls in the family room to watch The Game.

Have a Super Sunday, everyone.

Mark

Submitted by Mark David Siegel on February 08, 2021