ALIA WONG 7:30 AM ET EDUCATION This is the second story in a three-part series looking at elite-college admissions. 

In 2011, close to 200 higher-education professionals from selective institutions across the country gathered at the University of Southern California to come up with a plan to reshape college admissions. “The values and behaviors this system signals as important, and its tendency to reward only a narrow band of students,” a report on the meeting concluded, is crippling the mission of education. It’s also undermining “the social, economic, and civic vitality of our nation’s future.” The gathering confirmed the growing consensus—even among those intimately involved in the most notorious aspects of admissions—that the system is in desperate need of reform. The intense competition it fuels undermines students’ well-being; pressures applicants to fine-tune their test-taking skills and inflate their resumes; and distorts the purpose of higher education.

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