Ivy admissions discussed by parents of gifted kids

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

At this link you can find pages of discussion about Ivy admissions, stimulated at least in part by Pinker’s recent article (see here and here), among parents of highly gifted children. Most of the discussants realize that there is a lot of room in the tail beyond the SAT ceiling. (Hint: parents of gifted kids tend to be fairly sharp themselves … I wonder why? ;-)

I am not one of the commenters on the thread. Bonus points if you click the link above and read through to the Bezos quote ;-)


I suspect the 10 percent comment means something along the lines of 10 percent have been Intel semifinalists, have published significant research, qualified for USAMO, etc. That doesn’t mean that the other 90 percent are dumb jocks and clueless legacies. The 90 percent probably includes some very bright, gifted kids, but they haven’t cured cancer (not yet at least).

It means that 5%-10% are selected on academic merit alone. The rest are selected on a combination of factors. They may (mostly) have quite high academic merit, but other factors are considered, and so the overall academic merit of the class, though high, is less than it would have been if academic merit played a larger role in admissions. Students are admitted who are less academically meritorious than some who are rejected.


Regardless of what colleges supposedly should do, and what they do do, there is still the inescapable fact that SAT/ACT test have too low a ceiling, and the colleges are missing a huge amount of information about the academic ability of their applicants, and there is no excuse for them not actively pushing for harder tests.


They have a very good reason for refusing harder tests–it restricts their freedom. The first goal for colleges are self preservation and growth, hence the preference for legacies and athletics, both of which fuel alumni donations. But once self-preservation and growth has been achieved, college believe themselves to be forces for social engineering, helping right what they see as wrong in society.


Maybe it isn’t about a harder test. Let’s say that current perfect scores get you a group at a top school with IQs of 135+. Maybe it is 140+. With a different test, do you get 150+. But do you get a group that you want? Do they have the social skills to have a good mix, good clubs? There are factors that you want to have a certain type of school whether you are Harvard or Penn State. Harvard doesn’t want a whole school that could pursue graduate work in Physics. They want fencing teams and rowing and a football team to play Yale. So for those of you wishing for a harder test, what does that mean to the student body, the college experience if you don’t take into account all the other things. Because how much does it change if your roommate has an IQ of 175 in math, but 125 in ELA or 145 overall? I can see MIT wanting the 175 in math but Ivy’s? Do you really want your kid going to a school where they just sit and have deep discussions about theories with other students?


But that assumes that those people are only interested in their peculiar “pointy” things. And that PG people lack social skills. Which is where my A versus B archetypes came from to begin with. Assume that they are BOTH HG+.

HG+ people come in a lot of different varieties there.

Just because someone has a FSIQ of 150+ doesn’t mean that s/he is necessarily passionate about particle physics. It might mean that s/he is capable of learning it, but even that probably depends on the individual.

[[ IIUC, PG = Profoundly Gifted ; HG = Highly Gifted ]]


Do you really want your kid going to a school where they just sit and have deep discussions about theories with other students?

Where they just talk about big ideas? No. But I suspect that no one talks about nothing but big ideas, so the question is exaggerated.

As for a place where talking about big ideas is a normal part of the culture, yes, absolutely. Isn’t that supposed to be the point about being at a place that calls itself a top-tier university — that the people there are very bright and interested in big ideas in science, philosophy, history, and so on?

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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