While angel investors and early-stage venture capitalists invest pre-revenue or sometimes even pre-product, university admissions officers are the true early-stage investors: they invest pre-idea! When you think about it, it’s actually striking how similar admissions officers are to VCs: they invest in people, they (the university) hope for large returns in the future (by way of donations), it’s an expensive investment on both sides, and a stamp of approval and access to the network of a cream of the crop ‘investor’ is highly valuable.
As much as I bash universities for not providing the right educational experience for students and allowing enough room for experimentation – most of my learning definitely happened outside of the classroom –, there is no denying that my Harvard diploma has opened doors that would have been a lot harder to maneuver into without. That stamp of approval – similar to an investment from Kleiner or Sequoia – has made it a lot easier for people to have faith in me at a young age. And of course, my peer-group at the universities I’ve attended has also been a huge factor in my success.
Are universities paying enough attention to who they hire as admissions officers? Probably not: it’s not exactly the most prestigious and sought-after employment position, and I’m sure it does not pay anywhere near what a venture firm pays. As a result, the people they hire are not anything like the world-changing rock stars they should aspire to admit. A similar argument can, should, and has been made for teachers, but this seems like a much easier issue for universities to fix - an issue that directly affects their top line.
When I say ‘fix,’ I mean universities should hire admissions offers good enough to identify passion, creativity, tenacity, and a big vision, without simply relying on easily-gamed, non-representative indicators like GPAs, standardized test scores, club memberships, and application essays. Wake up, Harvard - you’re hiring poor investors and it’s going to hurt when you’re the last one in the room to figure that out.
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Juventas Fugit is designed and written by Justin Wohlstadter, who, when not writing in the third person, can be found in a coffee shop talking about startups, thinking about the future of education, and generally procrastinating something important.
- Passions: startups that positively affect the world, education innovation, good design, learning, and meeting those with an equally insatiable curiosity.
- Play: working on something really neat....
- Previously: was director of product design at Enterproid. Before that I built the early-stage venture arm of Penny Black and co-founded BOLDstart Ventures, where I was lucky enough to invest in some awesome startups including Rapportive (sold to Linkedin), Blaze (sold to Akamai), GoInstant (sold to Salesforce), Klout, Indiegogo, Enterproid, ShowMe, LocalResponse, and many more. And before all of this I was involved in a bunch of other crazy, less successful startup ventures involving fire extinguishers, measuring philanthropic impact, and creative spaces.
- Pedantry: most of the important stuff I taught myself or learned from friends, but I’m fortunate to have also (barely received) degrees from Harvard and Oxford. At Oxford I wrote my dissertation on how internet innovation will disrupt access to higher education.
- Procrastination: can be found on Twitter, Linkedin, AngelList and other web spaces, and be reached via email at my first name at this domain.