Monday, August 31, 2009

An Impossible Task

I am teaching a Harvard freshman seminar this semester (in addition to ec 10), and one of my first tasks is to choose the 15 students. About 200 applied. That means that getting into my seminar is about as hard as getting into Harvard--except that you first have to get into Harvard before you can even apply!

Having spent much of yesterday reading through the applications, I fully recognize how difficult and somewhat random such admissions processes are. I could fill almost the entire seminar with kids with perfect SAT scores (2400), but I won't, as there is more to life than test scores. I am looking also for passion about the subject, interesting life experiences, and a balance among the group of students to promote good discussion. But judging that from a few brief essays is very, very hard. To those students I do not pick: I am sorry, and it is my loss as well for not having the opportunity to get to know you better.

For those blog readers who might be interested in what the seminar will be reading, here is the list of books:
  • The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner
  • Spin-Free Economics, by Nariman Behravesh
  • Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman
  • Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, by Arthur Okun
  • Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
  • The Return of Depression Economics, by Paul Krugman
  • Animal Spirits, by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller
  • The Myth of the Rational Voter, by Bryan Caplan
  • Economic Gangsters, by Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel
  • The Price of Everything, by Russell Roberts

All the students will be taking ec 10 concurrently (or have already passed the Advanced Placement exam in economics).

Update: At the students' behest, Superfreakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt was added to the list of readings.