Another Admissions Wrinkle

Advocates for MSMS have long described it as the most diverse city block in Mississippi. However, a lawsuit against Harvard University, brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, challenges the assumption that diversity enriches an educational experience. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Harvard has violated their rights by using a quota system for admissions. Oral arguments ended last week, and observers expect the Supreme Court, which has taken a turn to the right with the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, to reshape the ways that schools can use race and identity in the admissions process.

What I’ve learned about admissions suggests that it is more an art than a science. Should a well-rounded student–a nice person with a letter of recommendation from both research mentor and the school’s custodian–be selected over somebody with higher standardized test scores and grades? How should we measure an 18-year-old’s preparedness for college? It all depends on the college, and on the way it wants to be perceived. 

However, “it all depends” doesn’t exactly satisfy plaintiffs in cases like these. They want a standards and formulas; they want certainty. This strikes me as somewhat ironic, as there are few things less certain than the directions in which a college freshman’s life will go. Perhaps the larger issue posed by this lawsuit involves how it will result in broader changes to affirmative action.

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31 Responses to Another Admissions Wrinkle

  1. Samaria Swims says:

    I believe letters of recommendation and standardized test scores should be equally important for a student to get into college. I do not think race should be determine for a student to get in college. Race should not be a factor in that decision. Colleges admissions should be more about how the student represent themselves with personal essays and also test scores. It should not be based on one factor, but multiple factors.

  2. Dennis Lee says:

    Affirmative action in university started off as a noble effort to jump-start racial integration and foster equal opportunity. But somewhere along the decades, it has lost its way. Because our legal doctrine prohibits racial quotas, it is currently impossible to have an honest discussion of these questions. The truth is that, in addition to a holistic review of each applicant that considers race as one factor, colleges undertake some amount of balancing so that they do not end up with a class that is swamped by members of any particular race—or with too many scientists, poets, or dancers, for that matter. But admissions offices cannot admit to efforts at racial balancing or anything that sounds remotely like quotas. Hence, Harvard’s litigation position must attribute the resulting race composition and the percentage of Asians in its class solely to the holistic method, admitting to no racial balancing. This account is plausible if, in fact, despite disproportionately strong academic credentials, Asian applicants are severely less likely than white ones to have the special personal qualities that colleges seek. That is the inevitable implication of Harvard’s position, which would be in line with long-standing perceptions of Asians as indistinguishable from one another. The lawsuit may well entail an inquiry into whether Asian applicants’ non-academic qualifications were disproportionately un-special compared to those of white applicants. [1]

    Over time, it has become a political lightning rod and one of our most divisive social policies. It has evolved into a regime of racial preferences at almost all selective schools — preferences so strikingly large and politically unpopular that administrators work hard to conceal them. The largest, most aggressive preferences are usually reserved for upper-middle-class minorities on whom they often inflict significant academic harm, whereas more modest policies that could help working-class and poor people of all races are given short shrift. Academic leaders often find themselves flouting the law and acting in ways that aggravate the worst consequences of large preferences. They have become prisoners of a system that many privately deplore for its often-perverse unintended effects but feel they cannot escape.

    The single biggest problem in this system is the tendency of large preferences to boomerang and harm their intended beneficiaries. Large preferences often place students in environments where they can neither learn nor compete effectively — even though these same students would thrive had they gone to less competitive but still quite good schools.

    The fact, however, is that even though blacks are more likely to enter college than are whites with similar backgrounds, they will usually get much lower grades, rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out. Because of this phenomenon – often called “mismatch” – racial preference policies often stigmatize minorities, reinforce pernicious stereotypes, and undermine the self-confidence of beneficiaries, rather than creating the diverse racial utopias so often advertised in college campus brochures.

    In the pursuit of diversity, some amount of racial balancing seems unavoidable, however taboo. We should not want the composition of our élite universities to be wildly out of proportion to the racial composition of our country. Such lopsided access to gateways of opportunity and power—say, with whites being severely underrepresented at schools like Harvard—has the potential to fuel dangerous resentment and disturb social peace, at least if the change occurs too far ahead of demographic changes that are projected to make whites a minority in this country in less than three decades. I would not relish seeing the nation’s most élite colleges become majority Asian, which is what has resulted at selective high schools, such as Stuyvesant, that do not consider race in admissions at all. It is also extremely troubling when solely test-based admissions such as Stuyvesant’s reflect the failure to remedy structural disadvantages suffered by black and Latino students. What is needed instead, then, is race-conscious affirmative action, to address the historic discrimination and underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos, in combination with far less severity in the favoring of whites relative to Asians. [2]

    Improperly cited sources

    [1] https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/

    [2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-uncomfortable-truth-about-affirmative-action-and-asian-americans

  3. Collin says:

    In the process of admitting teenagers into higher levels of education, one factor (standardized test scores, essays, GPA, etc.) cannot be given precedence over the others. Colleges should look for the intelligence in each application. The idea that students should be admitted based on how their application segments correlate to their intended major is very reasonable. A physics major should not be degraded because of their lacking skills in the essay portion. Colleges also should not be determining their acceptances based on race/ethnicity. The section asking about race or ethnicity should be taken out to give everyone an equal opportunity in the admissions process.

  4. Ellen Overstreet says:

    I’ve never really seen the point of standardized tests. They just make everyone super stressed for no reason. I agree with Elijah’s idea that a test should be given for the specific thing the student is applying for. It would give the people making the final decision a better idea of who is actually prepared for/interested in the course.
    I don’t think that race should be the determining factor for who gets into a program at a college. No one should be seen as more prepared for something because of their ethnicity. Admissions should really be looking for someone who will work hard while taking the course and actually cares about what they would be learning.

  5. Elijah Dosda says:

    I believe that while Standardized tests are the bane of our existence, we have no sure way otherwise to rank the top students applying to a particular college otherwise. The best way to mitigate these issues would be that if a person is applying for a certain program at a college maybe have them take a test specifically related to that course to gauge their performance there instead of the basic Science Math and English test subjects of the Act/Sat.

  6. H20 says:

    In math class, an occasional topic of discussion is “when will I ever use this in the real world?”, and as my suitemate says “when will I ever need derivatives in the real world?”. Although one’s SAT, ACT, PSAT, and any other standardized tests that can be thought of, play a role in the admission process, it should not determine an applicant’s acceptance to a college or university. Colleges and universities usually want someone who is capable of using their education to contribute back to them. Having a high standardized test score shows that one is capable of succeeding in college, but what about the work ethic? This is definitely a good tool to measure how prepared seniors are in their transition to college, but smartness can only get one so far. A well rounded student with a letter of recommendation from both research mentor and the school’s custodian shouldn’t be selected over somebody with higher standardized test scores and grades. Some individuals may be naturally smart and excelling in academics, but terribly anti-social. This is why during application processes, applicants are most likely interviewed. How one expresses oneself speaks about about themselves. However, this also causes an unintentional tendency to judge the applicant by their physical features. Everyone should be treated equal no matter if it’s politics, school, or religion. They should measure a senior’s preparedness based on how they use their skills, both in academics and communication, in the real world.

  7. Catherine says:

    I like the idea of leaving your ethnicity unknown when applying to colleges. Being accepted to college should not be based on someone’s race, it should be based on things like standardized test scores, GPA, teacher recommendation letters, and how well-rounded the student is. GPA and test scores do reflect how hardworking a student is, however it doesn’t show everything a student can do. I think being well-rounded is more important than a perfect ACT score and a 4.0 GPA. While having those things are excellent, students who have a 3.8 GPA and 30 ACT score, but also put themselves out there trying new things and being involved is better. It is hard to be able to tell how a student will do in a residential environment, but I think the admissions committee can see during interviews asking questions relating to that topic.

  8. Sophie Tipton says:

    I think this is all something that depends on the college you are going to. If it is a school specifically to lead someone to become a doctor, all the 100s in your art classes probably don’t matter that much, while it could be said in other ways for an art prep school, those may be more important to them. In the end, though, making perfect grades and scores on all the standardized tests is a hard task for most people. some people have no problem with it, but more than just that ‘some’ amount want to go to college. There is really no way to make college admissions equal across the board. The admissions board will judge everyone in the end and have to set up limitations to try to be more equal. Of course, I could end up making remarks more into that that would only come off as racist or anti-American and problem causing, and as much as I want to push this topic further, I don’t want to be berated for something I’m going to say. Which is why I’m going to leave it with, diversity is important everywhere, but so is finding fair and better ways to make situations more equal for people. But, you’ll usually never be able to achieve the best of both of them without making some group of people angry with the results.

  9. E. says:

    As much as colleges try to get a “holistic” application, they will fail in some regard or another. Success in college and life, I would argue is by far a product of tenacity and personal motivation. Standardized test scores and GPA all contribute to how admission committees judge this part of you. Standardized tests like ACT and SAT are vastly different testing methods than traditional schooling so its necessary to learn methods to do well on it. Then this becomes a question of having the resources of teaching material and time to learn which varies vastly household to household. GPA is supposed is to show the work done on a daily base in the classroom. However, contrasting how some schools use easier class standards but achieve high marks, some students work extremely hard and get poor results. This hopefully leads to my next point that this means different things for different people. The application is centralized with a handful of people reading applications. Their applicants come from the best schools in the nation. Their applicants come from low-income families. Due to their environment and family, these applicants range widely in their work and personal motivation, so its impossible to judge them solely on a few numbers.

  10. Kelsey Hollingsworth says:

    Not everyone can make a 35 or 36 on the ACT. Props to those who can but it’s just not an easy task. I have taken it 10 times, my 11th will be this weekend, and I have taken classes to prepare, read books, online practice, you name it. And my highest score is a 32 and the same as someone that I used to know’s first attempt without any aid. This same person had reached a 35 by their third attempt and is a semifinalist for National Merit. He is gifted at taking standardized tests.
    Not everyone can have a 4.0 GPA either. As someone who almost failed 8th grade, my high school transcript is filled with C’s and this pulls my overall GPA down which makes me look like a poor student. This low GPA doesn’t measure my intelligence or my work ethic, it measures the respect I had for myself as I struggled with mental illness and being unable to find motivation to get out of bed and go to class.
    My roommate studies countless hours every night, yet she still doesn’t have the straight 100’s as someone who just naturally understands advanced chemistry or calculus II. This doesn’t mean she won’t go as far in life as them or be as successful as them, she just has to put in more hours.
    To be completely honest, I think admissions should pay more attention to the substance in the applications, such as personal essays, letters of recommendation from teachers, and resumes because these show the real things. People are more than just a number and I don’t think that its fair for me to be competing against someone who has floated through life with their naturally high grades when I have had to work everyday for what I have.

    • Zakkaria Reaves says:

      Kelsey, I would have to agree with you 100%. I believe schools should focus more on what people have to say about their applicants, what good the applicants have done for their community, what the applicant has to say about themselves, and etc. We should not be forced to obtain top-of-the-line grades, GPAs, and standardized test scores in order to get into a decent college. Yes, they must be put under the impression that they are allowing someone into their institute that deems beneficial to their foundation, but everything should be considered thoroughly before turning someone down because their test scores were lower than other applicants. As long as their transcript shows some effort was given, and their application was diligently completed, I believe they should be considered. Yes, colleges always say they consider all parts of the application, but sometimes, that is profoundly hard to believe. GPAs and test scores does not define us as people. What we put into this world, whether it is through community service or charitable giving, and our character should determine our acceptance into colleges.

  11. M says:

    I don’t think race should be considered in college applications at all. The students who get in should be chosen based on their merit, scores, extra curriculars, and recommendations. Whether a school decides to admit based on essays or score, resumes or GPA, race should not be brought into the decision. Ultimately it’s up to a college to decide what kinds of students they want to admit, but that “kind of student” shouldn’t be white, or black, or Asian, or Native American. It should be good test takers, or artists, or leaders, or helpers

  12. JoJo Kaler says:

    When looking at an application I believe the most important consideration should be not their ACT score or other form of standardize tests because these do not show how well they will perform over multiple years in college. The ACT reflects how well you can perform on an exam that spans only a few hours. In order to properly look at how a student will perform over multiple years of college they should look at their performance over the last couple of years not just how they did on one test on one day. They should look at the difficulty of classes taken and their involvement in different clubs and things. A very important distinction should be the classes taken. For example a student with a 3.7 GPA after taking 3 AP classes a year should be weighted far above a student with a 4.0 GPA taking quite easy classes over all the years of high school. Any student who decided to challenge themselves rather than take the easy way out is a student I’d rather have the at my college.

    Secondly, The measure of a student’s performance is far better reflected on how they are perceived by those who have a measured interest in their education than an exam that has no true reflection on their dedication to their schoolwork. A teacher sees how a student performs in the classroom and how they interact with other students and the teacher. The ACT cannot predict how engaged and dedicated a student is to their schoolwork however a teacher directly sees that in the classroom.

  13. Kailah says:

    When I initially started my upperclassmen career at MSMS I believed whole heartedly that I would graduate 110% ready for the rest of my life. I’m not sure if it was the school or common teenage thoughts, but I’ve never in my life felt how useless college seems until now. I look up to people nowadays that don’t even use the degree they earned in college and are living comfortably. It’s a shame that colleges sometimes pick students that end up proving them wrong because of that baseline that they set for everyone to match up with. I wish there was a way to present your strengths and weaknesses without knowing what they are. Universities should be past accepting students with the impressive statistics and high grades and really work on looking for deeper qualities within the students. No two people have the same circumstances, mindsets, or personalities. They should measure initiative and strength, not just education.

  14. Anonymous says:

    How do you determine whether a student is prepared for college outside of their application? Frankly, you cannot. There is no unflawed system in which colleges can use to determine whether an applicant deserves admission into that college or not. However, on the diversity subject regarding a “quota”, I feel that the students attempt to stir a problem is kind of ignorant. Do they really believe that Harvard will accept a student solely based on race rather than their track record? I do not, being black or Asian or Latino is apart of their identity, yes, but I do not think that Harvard overlooks other great potential students because they NEED a certain amount of Latino students. With a school like Harvard, their acceptance rate is quite low, 5.6% between 2015-16. With an acceptance rate of that number, I do not believe that they would pick just any student. In addition, high scores do not measure the efficiency and endurance of a student, it just demonstrates how well they can take a test. A 36 on the ACT does not define the success of a student at an institution. According to BlogPrep Scholar, a high ACT score is relatively good at predicting how well a student will do their first year of college or so, however you cannot make concrete judgements on whether it measures long term success. Any system of college acceptance is flawed, however asking for a concrete unflawed system is like a looking for a dog in a pig sty, you won’t find anything but the same ol’ pigs rolling in mud.

  15. Khytavia Fleming says:

    College admissions should be about the students themselves and no their test scores first. Professors can teach a kind- hearted and respectful student, but a snobby little brat with a 36 on the ACT who thinks their smarter than the professor is another story. Not saying that everyone with a 36 is a snob, but students should mean more to a college than just a number on a test. However, this will probably never change, and who can blame the colleges for doing this. It’s a smart idea to have quotas at least from the people running the colleges perspective. What better way to limit how much money you give out to students than to limit the amount of minorities you accept. It’s terrible for the students who have worked their butts off in high school just to be denied because a college says they have enough of “that race.” This is truly sad, but money makes the world go aorund and limiting the amount of minorities accepted into big colleges like Harvard will keep it going around and around.

  16. Alicia A says:

    Ever since integration in this country, “diversification” has been a prevalent factor in admission processes whether it be for colleges, workplaces, or other activities. Nevertheless, quotas signify the touchy history of our nations, and that is why do not think that they will ever go away. Judging an applicant solely on their grades isn’t okay. Taking in their overall aura as well as what they could offer the institution should be the main goals, but that will never solely be the case. Honestly, I think quotas are a win-lose situation. Win: Harvard looks “well-rounded” by having a certain percentage of Asians. Lose: The first qualified, deserving Asian applicant to tip the scale and ones to come after that are rejected because Harvard has “enough”. This mentality is ridiculous and could be considered a form of racism, but understandable to an extent nevertheless. It sucks, but I hope it changes.

  17. Samantha H says:

    I believe that it is absolutely absurd the quotas and regulations for diversity. While test scores are not an accurate measure of someone’s intelligence as there are many factors that could be the cause of good or bad grades disregarding the student’s knowledge. Some of those factors are test anxiety, cheating, suspension, etc. There are students who make it through the entirety of high school without learning anything because they sat next to the people who make good grades and do well on tests. Additionally, your intelligence has nothing to do with what race you are or where you were born. There are numerous scholarships that are available to Latino people and Indian people just for their ancestry. Most of these schools that offer such scholarships are Ivy leagues. The competition is already high enough to get into the school, and these quotas are making it extremely harder for people which are not considered “diverse” like white males.

  18. Andie Nanney says:

    “It all depends” should depend on which college it is, and the college’s core values. Ivy League schools such as Harvard have an issue in that they not only expect extremely high GPAs and test scores but also well-roundedness and character. It’s an issue to expect and only admit those who exemplify both, because placing importance over one becomes difficult, and no student is outstanding in both departments. If a college wants to help shape the future, they must first decide what their vision of the future looks like, whether it be full of scientists, lawyers, politicians, social activists, or historians. The admissions standards from there should follow.

  19. Mykailla says:

    Test scores alone should not determine the intelligence of a student whether it’s for college applications or everyday school. Many students suffer from test anxiety which makes them struggle to make precise grades . Most test in high school are irrelevant anyways and discourage children .

  20. alexandra magee says:

    Generally, I think well-rounded students are chosen over students with good grades because colleges and universities do not only want a smart student but they want a promising person who will make the school a better place and bring new money making prospects. With that being said, there is not an even distribution of races in this country, therefore, if potential students view a prominent university to only see one race or social status of individuals – in the dorms, in the cafeteria, playing the fields – those future leaders will go elsewhere because they will not feel as welcome. Diversity leads to an array of ideas from different points of view. In a perfect world, neither college nor job applications would not request the knowledge of sex or race because culture and gender bias is nonexistent. Unfortunately, this is today’s society. Affirmative action may present the idea that a person is accepted because of race, but it is designed to give everyone a chance.

  21. Emily Penton says:

    An admissions process will never be certain. Each year the university is looking for something different than the year before, take the college of veterinary medicine at MSU. Every year they may take more out of state students than the year before. They might look for more leadership skills than test scores another. These students will never get the certainty that they want because the university is never certain what they want.

  22. Ethan Xavier Lucas-Cooper says:

    The system of admissions for educational institutions should not be based on whether the student’s previous ‘verifications’ are are valid to the director of admissions or not. I think that the admission process should be standardized to a certain point. My opinion is that there should be a nationalized set of requirements for admission, then each of the institutions should enact their own special, requirements, unique to the institution.

  23. Taylor says:

    I do think it is important to display relatively high test scores because this shows that many students are dedicated to education and attempt at these standardized test. However, it should not be the only factor that contributes to the selection process because some students are merely bad test takers, but this does not necessarily mean that they do not possess the intelligence to be successful at a university such as Harvard. As for race and identity, it does not make sense to choose any one person because they are a certain race. If there is both a white student and an asian student with extremely similar resumes and qualities, one isn’t necessarily more eligible than the other, for both can bring similar amounts of success to the school. I think that universities are so caught up in labeling themselves as a “diverse” school with all types of different races and ethnicities that they sometimes lose sight of who the best candidate is. While this trait is not favorable for many students, it’s how many universities work, and it’s very unlikely that they will alter their selection process in the near future.

  24. Linda Arnoldus says:

    The subject of Harvard’s quotas is one that is very relevant in my life. The Asian Community is particularly angry because it’s hard enough as it is to get into college without quotas. However, I am a personal believer that diversity is something to be sought after. Ethnically ambiguous or mixed race people are stronger and healthier genetically, and I believe the same is true for college campuses. Having a campus where everyone is from the same background doesn’t teach you much, and doesn’t introduce you to new ideas. Diversity educates, and not just in a school setting- people need to be exposed to other types of people.

  25. Om Chimma says:

    By any means, a student shouldn’t be judged just based off of grades alone. A well-rounded student that is a productive citizen should always be considered just as an extremely intelligent, overachieving, and sharp student.

  26. Erin says:

    I don’t think there is a good way to determine how well an 18-year-old will do in college. Some 18-year-olds aren’t great at standardized tests but are really hard workers. Other 18-year-olds have 4.3 GPA’s and high standardized test scores and do not work hard and/or cheat on school assignments. I feel like students should be well-rounded people to be of any good to a school. I don’t think college admissions people can really tell how well rounded a person is until they meet and sit down to talk to the person. Also, letters of recommendation are good things and bad things to use in applications because most recommenders know the student well. Because of the student knowing and/or being close with their recommender, they recommender could bend the truth to put in a good word for a student.

  27. KT says:

    At places like Harvard, those who apply are typically very good students, and they either deserve to get in or simply believe that they do. I don’t think that race should really be a determining factor on if a student gets into a college or not, I believe that it should be solely based on their ability to preform both academically and socially. Both of these things matter a great deal in stressful schools that keep its residents close together (kind of sounds familiar). Diversity means little if attendees are under-qualified. Diversity can be good if everyone is over-qualified, such as in Harvard. It brings people together and builds a community.

  28. X says:

    Standardized test scores and letters of recommendation should be considered equally in a student’s ability to do well at a college. Standardized test scores show how well you are prepared for college, along with grades and a transcript. The courses and the grades in the courses reflect whether or not, to colleges, a student can survive there. The letters of recommendation show the student’s character in class and out of class. It’s the impression the teachers get from the student, so the admission committee can see the student in a different light. I think that colleges should hide a student’s race from the selection committee, and when they make the decision of whether or not a specific student belongs on their campus, they can then reveal the race. This eliminates any racial bias during the consideration of the applicant.
    There is no real way to measure a student’s preparedness for college. One suggestion could be that the college provides an entrance exam, and the student could take it. The results could reflect whether or not the student would be able to survive in their classes. Interviews, letters of recommendation, essays, and grades in class are pretty reflective of a student’s character. However, a student’s college readiness should also consider his or her ability to live in a residential environment, ability to budget expenses, and ability to balance grades and a job. College is not like high school where parents would help the students through everything. Students at MSMS already have an advantage because they have experienced the dorm life and living away from parents. But overall, a student’s preparedness for college can be measured through the ways suggested above, on top of the current evaluations.

    • G says:

      I agree with you on that race/thenicity should be hidden from the selection committee as to not cause any bias the committee may have for or against any race. This should not be a factor that defines how well they can perform at a college and how prepared they are for it.

  29. Cameron Thomas says:

    Of course it is important to have high standardized test scores and a high GPA to get into colleges like Harvard. However, college life is nothing like high school(unless you’re at a school like MSMS). They want to make sure that you can handle college; they do this by using the essays and recommendation letters to see how well-rounded you are. Affirmative action does have its flaws, but it is there for a reason. For example, the school that I came from did not have a math higher than Algebra II or any ACT prep classes, so are they implying that I am supposed to go to community college like everyone else from home just because of circumstances that I can’t control and regardless of how intelligent I actually am? They are looking for equality, which is everyone having an equal chance of getting accepted, but that is assuming that everyone started in the same place and had availability to the same resources. Whether we acknowledge it or not, everyone does not. It should be about equity, which is giving everyone what they personally need to be successful. Affirmative action is not the best way, but it’s the necessary way.

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