LETTER: A misguided admissions policy for a misguided institution

Re: “Yale-NUS plans first admissions cycle,” (Sept. 22): Like much else about the proposed Yale-NUS College, the stated admissions policy for the new institution is marked by contradiction and confusion. On the one hand, we learn, it will not rely mainly on applicants’ test scores, but rather will evaluate them in a holistic manner. On the other, Yale will be coaching teachers at Singapore’s top junior colleges on how to write effective recommendation letters on behalf of those applicants. How does Yale think that students are admitted to Singapore’s top secondary schools and junior colleges, if not on the basis of scores on tests, called the “Primary School Leaving Examination” (the “PSLE”) and the “O-Levels”? If Yale really wants to bring to this island a fresh approach to admissions and education, it must transcend extant norms and standards in a thorough rather than merely superficial way. That would mean offering coaching in recommendation-writing to faculty at such low-ranking local junior colleges as Yishun, Innova, Pioneer, Meridian, Catholic and Serangoon. While lacking in prestige and enrolling students with relatively low PSLE and O-Level results, these schools attract students — many from less affluent backgrounds than their peers at Raffles and Hwa Chong Junior Colleges — who also deserve educational opportunities. Too much about Yale’s half-baked plans for Singapore already represent compromise with the University’s basic values. One hopes that the admissions policy will not be another case in point.

Michael J. Montesano


Sept. 22

The writer is a 1983 graduate of Saybrook College.


  • CrazyBus

    I think you misunderstand the meaning of “holistic” Michael. This means the student is evaluated as a whole person, _including_ test scores. Test scores are unfortunately the only standardized way to compare students from different educational institutions. Grading policies may be different at different schools, but the grading and curve for a standardized test will be the same across the board. Obviously, a student could be brilliant and a bad tester, but such a brilliant student would likely stand out in other ways. If Yale-NUS is trying to be a selective institution (which, apparently, it is), it has to cater to the students that have already proven in a standardized way to be more capable at grasping academic material.

    Yes, perhaps it is elitist, yes it’s not perfectly egalitarian. It sounds like you’re arguing for an approach that would disregard standardized achievement altogether, which is fallacious in its own way as well. Furthermore, it doesn’t sound like other teachers are barred from the sessions, just that they will be held at the more prestigious schools.

    • Michael_Montesano

      Crazy Bus, thanks for your interest in my letter. I can assure you that I know what “holistic” means . . . And what you say makes good sense, of course, but it is not clear to what degree your comments are grounded in familiarity with the social and educational contexts of Singapore. I think that these contexts matter. Do e-mail me if you’d like to hear more.

  • River_Tam

    I don’t know enough about the way the junior college system works, but it seems like the author is implying that kids from less affluent backgrounds don’t really have a chance to do well on these standardized tests / attend a top university.

    Some tests, like the SAT, don’t really strike me as all that biased towards affluence (it’s more an issue of engaged parenting – ie: on average, affluent families will stress the importance of the test, while less affluent families will not), while others, like tests in some nations like Korea, seem to emphasize how many years of private tutoring you can afford.