October 10, 2006

Idea: College Admissions reality show

I think there could be a very interesting reality show based around college admissions. I don’t mean a reality show where people are voted off or put in contrived situations. I mean a show like “The Hill” or “Tabloid Wars” on Bravo, which were each just a few episodes long, and shot like a documentary. This program would ideally be aired during the time of year when kids are applying to college.

It would follow half a dozen high school students all applying to the same high-end (Ivy League perhaps) college. Maybe theres a kid with Straight As who seems like a sure thing to be accepted, but may not be able to afford it if she gets in. Then there’s the really smart kid who seems like he could be a straight A student, but he was so bored by high school that he didn’t get very good grades, which puts him in danger of not being accepted to college. Maybe there’s the kid who really wants to go to this school specifically, and the kid for whom this is his third choice. A good cross section of kinds of students, and kinds of people, would be best.

The series would also show the admissions board. We’d follow them as they consider each student. What do they consider? Do they weigh certain issues more than others when it comes to certain students? Do they have disagreements about any of the students? How much do those low SAT scores matter for a kid who got good grades? Just how much do those extra-curricular activities come into play? What exactly do they consider most?

Seeing inside the process would be fascinating, and learning about these kids would give viewers a more vested interest in finding out who gets in and who doesn’t.

I think I would find the show really interesting. But when I mentioned it to someone who actually works in the Reality TV industry, he said that without putting people in contrived situations, the college admission process might end up just being really boring.

Perhaps I need to re-tool the idea, then. Maybe it should be a reality show about admission to clown college. Hmm…


Years ago, quite possibly a full decade ago, the show 48 hours did a college admissions special (about my high school, no less). They followed two senior girls through the admissions process. One was African American with good but not spectacular grades. The other was Caucasian with better grades. Long story short, the first girl got into Harvard, the second one didn’t - and girl 1 dropped out after only a year. Girl 2’s family eventually filed a lawsuit and her younger sister got into the Big H, no problem.

Generally, I’d agree with your friend, as the single episode of 48 hours essentially anchored itself on the issue of affirmative action by handpicking its subjects. It was interesting, but only because they cut together several weeks’ worth of footage into an hour segment. As to why there aren’t more such reality programs, my guess is that the entire process is too touchy and secretive - not to mention lawsuit prone - to risk it.

It would be fascinating but there’s no way Harvard is going to give away the keys to the castle.

I would watch it. Maybe you should try selling it to PBS or something like that. It sounds like something they would do.

Having worked in college admissions before I can tell you that this would sadly be a very short series… Applicants are really only examined in a matter of minutes initially and at some of the more “prestigious” schools, well over half of the applications are more-or-less ignored. The handful that make the first cut don’t receive much more attention. Sad but true