Remember college admissions? Remember how stressful that was?
We passed through that cruel gauntlet, but our brothers and sisters still have to go through it. I want to start talking about how destructive some of the components of the process are.
One famous example – the SAT’s are weighed towards class and race.
Another – Legacy admissions: affirmative action for rich people.
NOW IS the winter of high school seniors’ discontent. But then every winter is one of discontent as seniors file their college applications with a mix of dread and hope – mainly dread. Those applying to the most selective schools have the odds stacked against them no matter how sterling their high school records, though college admissions officers typically offer the cold comfort that rejection is not equivalent to failure and that, as one Yale admissions officer put it, “It matters far less which strong college admits you than it matters what you do with your opportunities once you are there.’’ To which most high school seniors would say, “Hogwash.’’
They know that it does matter where you go to college, if not educationally then in terms of social recognition and opportunity. They know that America, for all its professions of meritocracy, is a virtual oligarchy where the graduates of the Ivies and the other best schools enjoy tremendous advantages in the job market. They know that Harvard or Stanford or MIT is a label in our “designer education’’ not unlike Chanel or Prada in clothes.
So here is another, more realistic comfort to those anxious seniors who will soon be flagellating themselves as unworthy: The admissions system of the so-called “best’’ schools is rigged against you. If you are a middle-class youth or minority from poor circumstances, you have little chance of getting in to one of those schools. Indeed, the system exists not to provide social mobility but to prevent it and to perpetuate the prevailing social order.
Why is college admissions messed up? The op-ed provides these arguments:
- “the so-called “best’’ schools give heavy preferences to the wealthy; as many as one-third of admissions, he writes, are flagged for special treatment at the elite universities, one-half at the elite liberal arts colleges, and the number of open spaces for the non-privileged is reduced accordingly. “
- Affirmative action for the rich comes in through three vectors:
- Legacy admissions
- Athletes, who are “primarily wealthy white kids who are adept at lacrosse, rugby, crew and polo.”
- Admissions slots for kids with parents who pledged to donate to the school
- Early admissions is great for the rich, because they don’t have to worry about being saddled with inadequate financial aid if they do get in. Thus, they are more likely to apply early, and applying early increases your chances of getting in.
- “A well-rounded student body” means lots of people who are exceptional at different things. Yet, become a great musician, for example, implies a lot of money sunk into lessons, instruments, etc.”
- The full quote: Then there is the “well-rounded student body’’ argument, which any parent accompanying his child on the college tour rounds has heard ad nauseam. According to this approach, colleges are not looking for the well-rounded individual student. They are aiming instead for a diverse student body: an exceptional athlete, an exceptional musician, an exceptional scientist, an exceptional poet. Except that exceptionality, as most parents can attest, doesn’t come cheap. Athletes require coaching and often traveling teams; musicians require lessons and instruments; scientists require labs and internships; poets require classes and opportunities for publication. None of these things is readily available to the average middle-class family, to say nothing of the high school student who must work at McDonald’s to earn spending money (even though colleges say they take this into account).
- “Racial Diversity” usually means admitting African students instead of “African Americans” (instead of a good amount of both, you get a lot of one group disguised as another)
- “Need Blind” admissions aren’t as great as you might think:
- “Any admissions officer, she said, could tell from your zip code whether you were likely to need aid or not, and students needing aid were much less desirable than those who didn’t need it.”
- The SAT reflects class biases: “SAT scores correlate highly to family income – an average of 12 point increments for every $20,000 of income, which this year amounted to a 130 difference on critical reasoning, 80 points on math and 70 on writing between the lowest income and highest income groups.”
I’m going to call Brandeis tomorrow and ask what percentage of their admissions is set aside for legacy admissions. My goal: getting it down to 0%. Beyond that, I’d love for someone from Brandeis to reassure us on how they’re aware of these problems, and the extent that Brandeis is working to ameliorate this rigged system.