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The SAT vs. Extracurriculars: Class Bias in College Admissions?

mackinawmackinaw 2974 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,027 Senior Member
This is from a story, with link to a discussion in the progressive blog DailyKos: http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/4/23/1519330/-The-SAT-vs-Extracurriculars-Class-Bias-in-College-Admissions

Excerpt: "But I want people (mostly the well-off who call for the demise of the SAT) to consider this: Which is more resource-intense--academic excellence or extracurricular experience? Extracurriculars require social connections, disposable income, and the ability to travel. Academic success does require motivation and inspiration, which are hard to come by. Yet access to educational resources is much less dependent upon socioeconomic status (SES) than National Geographic student expeditions or trips to South Africa.

Stanford education professor Sean Reardon has noted in an opinion piece for The New York Times that academic gaps between the rich and poor have increased over the past 30 years in the U.S. But, he notes, “rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.” The rich are putting more effort than ever into enhancing their children’s success in school, and they’re not doing it solely by supporting their children’s academic development...."
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Replies to: The SAT vs. Extracurriculars: Class Bias in College Admissions?

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 76609 replies666 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 77,275 Senior Member
    Colleges which tend to be impressed by expensive extracurriculars or those associated with higher SES may be doing so as a deliberate policy. Doing so may produce an expected result of a frosh class that does not need that much financial aid, but allows the admission process to be nominally need-blind while allowing the available financial aid budget to offer good financial aid to those few admits from non-wealthy families.

    A college that wants to tip the admissions class to include more lower SES students could easily adjust the criteria to favor extracurriculars that are associated with lower SES (e.g. working to help support the family, caring for other family members (young children, those with disabilities, seniors) while the parent(s) are working for pay) over those associated with higher SES students. Of course, it would need to have enough of a financial aid budget to do so effectively.
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  • mackinawmackinaw 2974 replies53 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,027 Senior Member
    edited April 2016
    I think it's conventional to think of athletics participation as a leveler, in which it is talent rather than social background or wealth that matters for success. That may be true of some sports, but not others -- perhaps related to the type of equipment, training, and facilities needed. I think in so-called "major sports" like basketball and especially football resources do matter, including community spending on youth teams and leagues, even if those sports are often seen as socially and racially leveling because success if merit based and hard earned.
    edited April 2016
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  • NJSueNJSue 2842 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2,860 Senior Member
    Don't worry. The SAT is not going anywhere. Good SATs will still help you a lot more than great ECs with admissions and FA at the vast majority of US colleges and universities.

    Recently, I was at a faculty meeting in which our enrollment management person told us that colleges that have gone test-optional for admissions mostly regret the decision.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 8973 replies485 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 9,458 Senior Member
    Agree with @Hanna . I have helped many students write Common app essays. I find the most successful essays (and by successful, I don't mean that the student gets into HYPS. I mean that the essay does a good job of telling the reader something about the student) are usually about small things. One kid wrote about what he learned about human nature by delivering pizzas. A girl wrote about how her night light makes her feel secure wherever she is. Another girl wrote about how coloring her hair brought her unexpected benefits. A boy wrote about his love for his grandmother.

    I read on this site a while back that the essay should be so much like you that if it fell out of your backpack and a friend picked it up, they should know it is your essay. Anyway, I know this post isn't about essays, sorry to get off topic.
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  • 4thfloor4thfloor 785 replies66 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 851 Member
    According to the article below by Steven Pinker, chaired professor of psychology at Harvard (FAS, not Education, please!), contrary to conventional wisdom, "SAT doesn’t track SES all that closely (only about 0.25 on a scale from -1 to 1)," and furthermore, the data show that "adolescents’ test scores track the SES only of their biological parents, not (for adopted kids) of their adoptive parents, suggesting that the tracking reflects shared genes, not economic privilege." Hence, "as for Deresiewicz’s pronouncement that “SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely,” this is bad social science.""

    As for the common claim that "tests don’t predict anything": "all of these hypotheses have been empirically refuted. We have already seen that test scores, as far up the upper tail as you can go, predict a vast range of intellectual, practical, and artistic accomplishments. They’re not perfect, but intuitive judgments based on interviews and other subjective impressions have been shown to be far worse. Test preparation courses, notwithstanding their hard-sell ads, increase scores by a trifling seventh of a standard deviation (with most of the gains in the math component). "

    While SATs do not favor the rich, ECs are starkly favorable to the rich in practice. New York City public high schools present a real-life laboratory for this comparison. The premier test-only school in New York City is Stuyvesant; the premier "holistic admissions" school in New York City is Beacon. In Stuyvesant, which has high immigrant demographics, almost half the students are poor enough to qualify for Federal reduced or free lunch. Beacon is whiter, richer, and more Manhattan (vs the poorer Brooklyn and Queens, representing more of Stuvyesant's students). It also has more children of celebrities and politicians.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/119321/harvard-ivy-league-should-judge-students-standardized-tests
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  • snooznsnoozn 990 replies37 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,027 Senior Member
    Oh, I do looooves me some Steven Pinker! That man can get away with arrogance like nobody's business.

    I agree with pretty much everything he said in that article. I do have to wonder if I agree with him because my own kids would be better off judged by SAT's than by EC's. I don't think so -- he certainly has the science behind him.

    My one little nit-pick (not really relevant here -- sorry!) is that Pinker lumps in arts such as music and dance with sports as purely recreational, while editing the school paper is educational. Schools that offer music and dance majors obviously view these subjects as having educational merit. I think activities like music and dance can be done as recreation or education. To my knowledge there are no schools that offer a crew or football major (at least not officially), so yes, these sports would be recreation.
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  • GMTplus7GMTplus7 14270 replies297 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 14,567 Senior Member
    Maybe the less selective colleges are targeting higher SES students who can pay the tuition.


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  • rayrickrayrick 828 replies27 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 855 Member
    Here's the stat that, for me, most dramatically highlights the huge influence of high SES on the ability to mold a knock-your-socks-off college applicant. Consider this collection of facts, all from the Princeton University website: Princeton has need-blind admissions -- everyone is admitted on the basis of pure "merit"; Princeton provides need-based aid to 60% of its students; Princeton gives some aid to 100% of families with incomes up to $180K.

    Ergo, fully 40% of the students that Princeton decides, in its entirely need-blind process, are worthy of admission to their esteemed institution come from families making >$180K/year, i.e, the top 8% of the family income distribution. And I'll bet that's typical for their peer institutions. Let that sink in for a minute.

    This doesn't point the finger at EC's or test scores or academics in particular, but I have little doubt that lots of money is enormously helpful in facilitating outstanding levels of achievement in all of those arenas.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 76609 replies666 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 77,275 Senior Member
    rayrick wrote:
    This doesn't point the finger at EC's or test scores or academics in particular, but I have little doubt that lots of money is enormously helpful in facilitating outstanding levels of achievement in all of those arenas.

    Particularly the levels and types of achievements that those schools look for in applicants. Indeed, there are likely deliberate policy decisions with respect to admission criteria and processes to yield an admissions class of expected level of financial need (that the financial aid budget can handle), without having to be explicitly need-aware in the process.
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  • rayrickrayrick 828 replies27 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 855 Member
    That's an even more depressing take, @ucbalumnus. You're saying that elite institutions are explicitly designing their admissions obstacle courses in such a way that they're very difficult to complete without being financially turbo-charged, in order to insure the requisite number of full-pay families. That's disturbingly plausible.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 76609 replies666 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 77,275 Senior Member
    edited April 2016
    rayrick wrote:
    You're saying that elite institutions are explicitly designing their admissions obstacle courses in such a way that they're very difficult to complete without being financially turbo-charged, in order to insure the requisite number of full-pay families. That's disturbingly plausible.

    Consider a top student at a high school in a lower or lower-middle income area where few go on to college, and mostly to the local community college or less selective commuter state university. Assume that the student is from a lower or lower-middle income family, and is the first generation to college in his/her family. Chances are, the following application requirements or criteria typical of highly selective universities disadvantage such a student:

    * SAT subject test requirements. May not even know until it is too late, because other students, parents, and counselors do not normally encounter that requirement at the local less selective commuter university.
    * Recommendations. May not even know until it is too late, for similar reasons as the above. Also, counselor and teachers may not have had much practice writing recommendations that will impress the highly selective universities' admissions readers.
    * CSS Profile. May not even know until it is too late, for similar reasons as the above. Also, students with divorced uncooperative parents (probably overrepresented in the lower and lower-middle income ranges compared to the upper income ranges) are usually blocked from getting financial aid at schools using the CSS Profile.
    * Extracurriculars. From questions on these forums, it seems that many students do not realize that working for pay to help support the family, or caring for siblings, disabled family members, etc. can count. However, a university being more impressed with some types of extracurriculars than others could tip the SES mix one way or the other. If expensive or high SES associated extracurriculars are favored, then that favors those from high SES backgrounds.
    * Legacy. Obviously means that first-generation-to-college applicants cannot possibly get such a preference. At the fast-track-to-Wall-Street-and-consulting schools, the legacy pool is likely much higher income than the overall pool.
    * Early decision. Those uncertain of finances may not want to commit before they see all financial aid and scholarship offers.

    Now, the super-selective universities may want a few students from lower to middle income families among their students. But probably not too many, since they have a financial aid budget to meet. And they can probably get the few that they want through Questbridge.
    edited April 2016
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