Unmasking The Myth of Meritocracy: Sophie Callcott’s Excellent Essay

Not everyone gets the same ladder to college admission

Sophie Callcott, a junior at Stanford University, has written a solid essay yanking down one corner of the myth of meritocracy in college admissions: 

There’s Still One Big Trick for Getting Into an Elite College https://nyti.ms/3y7IWil 

Yes, looking at, agreeing with, and promoting this essay are all proof of my obvious confirmation bias when it comes to the notion of the meritocracy as well as my inability to quit this conversation. Previous posts such as this one on Testing: A Personal History revealed the belief that we are not so much a meritocracy as a ganglion of oligarchies that dominate the decision-making precincts of our society. 

Here are a few key quotes from the essay: 

“The idea that admission to the most selective colleges and universities is based on merit presumes that a fast track to comfort, status and wealth doesn’t exist. But that’s just an illusion.” 

Illusions are powerful, however, and this one of a meritocracy is critical to the functioning of so many segments of American Society.  

Sophie Callcott then lifts the curtain on the machinery of the network that can provide access and advantage NOT based exclusively or even primarily on merit.  

“Counselors at elite private high schools have behind-the-scenes access to demystify admissions for their students. When I was deferred from a school I applied to early action, I was told that my high school counselor called the admission officer at the college to ask why, and the person simply responded that I should keep my A in honors calculus, implying that if I did, I would get in during regular decision.” 

Of course, some readers of this may note that getting ‘an A in honors calculus’ represents a marker of merit, but there are many students out there getting that same grade who don’t have a guidance counselor with access to the admissions officer at an elite college.  

“When the American educational landscape is so obviously a pay-to-win game, how can we dare to call it a meritocracy?” 

The answer to this rhetorical question is that we shouldn’t call the American educational landscape a meritocracy and that we should shift those resources currently applied to pure assessment in the serivce of that illusion over to a system that prizes the advancement of learning. Ah, there’s my confirmation bias again. No tests but for learning!