Monday, July 20, 2009

Watch out for random advice

I am back from my vacation and am well tanned and overfed. There is something wonderful about a long vacation that allows for time to relax, read, and think about things (usually it focused on food or napping, but occasionally it was about more serious issues). I was also able to do some reading, and I was finally able to finish "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb. It was not an easy book to read, but it opened up my mind to a number of different ideas.

One great quote from the book was about an idea from the philosopher Wittgenstein called "Wittgenstein's ruler".
  • "Unless you have confidence in the ruler's reliability, if you use use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler."
Admissions counselors all over are always asked about a student's chances of admission based upon limited data, such as a test score or a GPA, and at UGA, the usual answer is a non-answer. Without looking at both the individual student and the applicant pool as a whole, we have no idea what the chances would be for admission.

But in PTO meetings, college discussion web sites, high schools and private counselor sessions across the nation, random individuals are more than happy to voice their thoughts on a student's chances of admission. Look back at Wittgenstein's ruler and tell me, are student's learning more about themselves, or about the reliability (or lack of) of the person giving the advice. My suggestion, ignore the advice and work directly with the colleges to which you are considering applying. Colleges are generally very open as to what they look at for admissions, and the level of importance of different variables.

For a good look at an example of some of the highs and lows of people getting and giving advice, take a look at a recent NY Times article about independent college counselors. It is a very revealing story!

Please remember that when you hear advice, measure both the advice and (more importantly!) the advice-giver!


  1. Hello!

    This is a bit off-topic, but I was wondering if your could provide any information as to when the Foundation Fellows application will become available?



  2. Amanda: We expect the Foundation Fellows/Ramsey Scholars application to be available sometime between mid to late August. There are a few changes that you will see with this year's Foundation Fellows/Ramsey process, but nothing to major.