Is Harvard admissions unfair?

<p>Each year, thousands of highly qualified high school seniors across globe apply to Harvard, hopeful that they will get to spend next four years of their lives studying among one of the most intellectually vibrant, ambitious, and stimulating academic environments in the world. The admissions got so competitive nowadays to the extent that even many applicants with perfect grades and scores are rejected. Also, this year my younger brother applied to Harvard and it was his number one choice.</p>

<p>Unfortunately, my brother was rejected after early application program despite sporting a ~2300 SAT and top 1% class rank at his high school. At the same time, from his high school, two kids - both with like 27 on ACT and who barely cracked top 25% class rank at his high school, were both admitted. Granted, both were recruited athletes, and both were white kids. (my brother is also white, but he was not a recruited athlete)</p>

<p>This leads me to question if Harvard admissions process is really being meritocratic or not. It is Harvard, not Ohio State University. Harvard should place much more weight on students' academic merit for admissions criteria, and just because some kid can throw a football well enough, he shouldn't be granted admission to this prestigious university despite having very sub-par academic credentials while many others with much higher academic credentials are turned down.</p>

<p>Life is unfair, get used to it.</p>

<p>I have long believed that the football team a college puts on the field should be made up of legitimate students. In other words, kids who earn admission to the University under regular standards. </p>

<p>Some colleges accept kids who can barely read and have 17 ACT scores, because they can play football or basketball.</p>

<p>These "college" teams are basically, in my view, made up of a bunch of hired guns, who are not really representative of the college.</p>

<p>But I think you are missing the bigger picture. I wouldn't be focusing on the athletes. They are a tiny percentage of admitted students.</p>

<p>Every year, super top candidates, especially Asians, are rejected in favor of far less qualified candidates. Yes, such candidates are technically qualified, but they are no where near as qualified as some of the super top asians who are rejected just because their racial group is deemed to be "over-represented". I think it is pretty sad when you read on CC about Asians trying to "hide" the fact that they are asian on their applications.</p>

<p>While I generally disagree with 'boosting' athletes into selective colleges without academic merit, there is a larger and far more relevant fact of life that is brought out by this situation: life isn't about the numbers.</p>

<p>I can get into the top 1% of my class, some guy down the block can get into the top 1% of his class... millions of students nationwide can score perfect SATs and be completely perfect in every numerical academic way.</p>

<p>But save for athletes and legacy students, high-ranking academics are a given for all students who are being seriously considered for college admissions. A number on my report card or SAT score report may tell me how well I have studied for a test--but it will not, however, reveal my personality, determination, or creativity as a young adult. Academics and test scores don't reveal the part of ourselves that truly matters. Colleges, especially the most selective ones, are looking not only for high scores, but for people with genuine substance as creative individuals with uncanny potential.</p>

<p>A quick note: how do you think Harvard, or any other similarly reputable college, gets that "intellectually vibrant" student body? Certainly not by simply classifying students based on their rank in a 2400 or 800 numerical scale.</p>

<p>As you said, they get many applicants with perfect scores, so they end up rejecting a good portion of them. (my guidance counselor, who went to Harvard College and their School of Education, said they reject about 50% of perfect score kids) The process is so hollistic it's not even funny.</p>

<p>Harvard boasts an amazing athletic program (it is the best place for crew, for example) so to keep it amazing, they try to fill it with great athletes. It's not an entirely meritocratic system, everyone knows that. Athletes, URM's, legacies, there's always something to push the application over the edge. Obviously, recruitment counts a lot more than just being Hispanic, but you get the point. There was a video I watched a little while back where the Dean kind of broke it down, a small portion of their spaces goes to mostly athletes, a small portion goes to kids who are very very committed to one thing (for lack of better words), and then the majority of their spots goes to kids who are overall "excellent" (again, for lack of better words) </p>

<p>Constitutionally, as a private university they can admit students on whatever they want (as long as they don't use quotas/point-systems exclusively) They only have so many spaces to go around, there is no way they could even admit all the students with great gpa's/scores. What would you have them focus on instead? There are many reasons why he was rejected, it could've been a letter of recommendation, it could've been extracurriculars, it could've been an essay, there's no way to boil it down--it's not just academic credentials they look at. They mean it when they say it's hollistic. </p>

<p>Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it in any way a reflection on your brother's worth as a person? Hell no. Will he find a great school that he can be happy at? If he keeps an open mind, yes. The process is what it is, and especially when applying to the extremely selective schools it's like a lottery. On the whole, kids are accepted and rejected on the little things because they receive just so many that could do the work.</p>

<p>(For the record, I was accepted EA. I have no idea why. I don't think I deserve it, but I am extremely grateful that they sport a hollistic process because it gives amazing opportunities to kids who don't have perfect scores as well as those who do)</p>

<p>Your brother has ~2300 SAT and top 1% rank, this shows he can be a good student but what about the person? this is the first thing...
HE IS A GOOD PERSON, BUT IS HE USEFUL AND PERFECT BOIL FOR "HARVARD"...
second thing, college isn't the place where we stuff up hundreds of geeks who cut one another's throat for four years and never breathe, never explore or never expand...</p>

<p>Third thing, college admission seems to be more like potential-based than achievement based... ( even I don't see much difference in these two things until I really want to see the difference)</p>

<p>AND YEAH!! IF YOU EXPECT ANYTHING, ANYWHERE IN LIFE TO BE FAIR, I WOULD SAY...............................................................................</p>

<p>Though there are serious issues with regard to minority, legacy, and athlete admissions (many of which, incidentally, will probably be solved through the courts over the next few years), as a practical matter, anyone rejected by Harvard EA this year with a 2300/top 1% Class rank probably had a serious, dealbreaking issue with their application - they only rejected around 12% of applicants.</p>

<p>
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millions of students nationwide can score perfect SATs and be completely perfect in every numerical academic way.

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<p>In any given year, only around 1500 students manage a 2350+ on the SAT, so it's quite a bit rarer then you suggest - the statistical equivalent of playing D1 football at a major school.</p>

<p>Those athletes brought something to the school that your brother couldn't. They wanted what the athletes had, not what your brother had. That is why they got in. I am sure your brother is going to get into amazing schools, but Harvard just wasn't looking for what he had. It sucks but that's life.</p>

<p>The problem is that there are 15,000 other kids who applied to Harvard with scores at or near those of your brother. Most them probably cancel each other out in the sense that there isn't much more to them than that. I would expect that Harvard probably reads the applications "backwards," meaning that they look to see if the applicant is interesting or special in some way and, if he/she is, then they look at the stats to see whether the kid can handle the academics. Why bother STARTING to look at stats when you know that most everyone who applies has them? Better to spend quality reading time looking at the ECs, recs, and essay (a total of 5 - 10 minutes) and then, if interest holds, look at the scores. At the Harvard level, the scores will never compell the reader to look more seriously at the "story"; rather, it is the "story" that compells the reader to look at the scores. If you look at it from this point of view, "fairness" is not based on the criterion (stats) that you argue for. If an institution places weight on a particular set of criteria, then this is not unfair. If Harvard's criteria happen to include prowess in sports, then it is not "unfair" for Harvard to apply those criteria to its applications. It is simply one of Harvard's criteria. You know this already, of course (remember the "holistic" argument?). If Harvard applies its holistic criteria fairly, then some with great sports talent get in and some with great stats get in -- it is never one or the other. And that's fair.</p>

<p>^^</p>

<p>A very interesting point.</p>

<p>It's certainly not a complete meritocracy, no. But I'm not sure that's the same as it not being fair. There's also certainly an element of randomness, but again, not sure that's inherently unfair.</p>

<p>It's all too subjective to tell. I wouldn't be surprised if they just flip a coin on most of their applicants lol.</p>

<p>Your brother or anyone else for that matter is not entitled to a spot in H's class. They can choose to give admission to any kid they want regardless of credentials.</p>

<p>I know the issue of affirmative action has been beat to death on CC, but I disagree with many of the above posts. </p>

<p>Many times, in my view, "holistic" admissions is just an excuse to work backwards to arrive at predetermined ethnic percentage breakdowns, which we now call "goals" rather than "quotas". </p>

<p>The truth is that many of the "perfect SAT" Asians who are rejected have just as good or better ECs than the URMs, but by declaring that admissions should be "holistic", this allows the admission process to be "subjective" rather than "objective". When I read a post on CC by an asian, that person will often have stupendous ECs, as well as super top academic credentials. </p>

<p>Many people on CC seem to think the holistic admissions process is the "normal" way to admit students to universities, but it is my understanding that in the UK and Canada, for example, they go strictly by the numbers. I don't necessarily agree with that approach either. There needs to be a middle ground, but I think the current system has become far too skewed in favor of vague terms like "diversity". When I need a doctor to operate on my heart, or an engineer to build a nuclear power plant, or a pilot to fly the plane I am on, I want the guy or gal most qualified, without regard to their race, sex, religion, or socio-economic background. Yes, let's give preference to people who have overcome adversity and show high potential, but let's not give out coveted admission spots just because a college has determined that we "need" more hispanics, or we need more asians, or we need more African Americans, just for the sake of "diversity". </p>

<p>In America, society has determined that it would be an unacceptable outcome to have a college class at a UC Berkeley with almost no URMs, and 75% asians, so we adjust the standards to obtain a predetermined result. So be it, but let's not pretend that this is not what is sometimes going, on by engaging in politically correct talk. </p>

<p>I just got an email yesterday from Columbia, where they were bragging that 50% of their students are "people of color", as if this is a desirable end, in and of itself. </p>

<p>I am 100% in favor of true affirmative action for people who have experienced true discrimination. Only a dope would think that a URM from the inner city starts the race at the same starting line as the white kid from Scarsdale. And I am willing to concede that many African Americans deserve some affirmative action. But, for example, does a rich kid from Miami deserve admissions preference, just because he is "hispanic". That kid may be indistinguishable in appearance from his "regular" white classmate. The spot we give him could go to an African American, who is more likely to have experienced serious discrimination.</p>

<p>floridadad55: As a wealthy pseudo-Hispanic (my mother is from Spain), I feel I can combat your points based on my own personal experiences. I have never been discriminated against because of my ethnicity and I doubt many African-American applicants have either. Times have changed and "serious discrimination" is no longer rampant. Your idea that URMs are admitted as some sort of reparations for past racism and discrimination is tragically flawed. Such individuals are granted acceptance for the differences and uniqueness they bring to the student body. </p>

<p>There are thousands of Asian students with high test scores and great extracurriculars, but what many lack is a personality or experiences that differentiate them from each other. Harvard (or any other university really) doesn't need 800 Asian students with perfect scores that all play the piano or violin. They need a melting pot of various viewpoints, cultures, and beliefs. A homogenous campus does not lend itself towards critical thinking, exploration, and maturation.</p>

<p>As I mentioned before, I am a well-off, Hispanic individual who has never gone through hardship. I didn't mark Hispanic on my application to try and game the system. I put it down because it is an integral part of who I am and leaving it out would be to leave out 50% of my identity. I look "white," I talk "white," but I am not strictly "white." My family dynamic, culture, and beliefs are different (not better, worse, or more tragic as you sometimes imply in regards to URMS) than those of my "regular" white classmates. What I bring to the table is fundamentally different and adds a separate voice into the mix.</p>

<p>With that said, I was deferred EA from Harvard this year. Imagine that! A hispanic applicant with a 2340 SAT, 36 ACT, and boatloads of extracurriculars being deferred?!? It doesn't upset me though when I see others with far worse academic stats accepted "in my place." I know they painted a better picture of themselves and had more to offer to the university at that moment.</p>

<p>I don't have much to add to this thread at the moment, but I think GreyWolf makes some excellent points.</p>

<p>My problem with Greywolf is assuming all Asians are automatically the same because they are Asian. This shows an inherent flaw in the system: there are obvious cultural differences between every category on college apps. Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, etc. all have very different backgrounds and could bring something diverse and unique to the campus. I am considered fully "white," though my dad is Arabic and my mom Irish. My dad's parents have completely different customs than my mom's do, and its really a different way of life. So, by simply stating that because you are Hispanic that you have something unique to bring is wrong. Every group has subgroups that are equally different and unique, and until we can effectively separate those subgroups that argument is invalid.</p>

<p>
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The problem is that there are 15,000 other kids who applied to Harvard with scores at or near those of your brother. Most them probably cancel each other out in the sense that there isn't much more to them than that. I would expect that Harvard probably reads the applications "backwards," meaning that they look to see if the applicant is interesting or special in some way and, if he/she is, then they look at the stats to see whether the kid can handle the academics. Why bother STARTING to look at stats when you know that most everyone who applies has them? Better to spend quality reading time looking at the ECs, recs, and essay (a total of 5 - 10 minutes) and then, if interest holds, look at the scores. At the Harvard level, the scores will never compell the reader to look more seriously at the "story"; rather, it is the "story" that compells the reader to look at the scores. If you look at it from this point of view, "fairness" is not based on the criterion (stats) that you argue for. If an institution places weight on a particular set of criteria, then this is not unfair. If Harvard's criteria happen to include prowess in sports, then it is not "unfair" for Harvard to apply those criteria to its applications. It is simply one of Harvard's criteria. You know this already, of course (remember the "holistic" argument?). If Harvard applies its holistic criteria fairly, then some with great sports talent get in and some with great stats get in -- it is never one or the other. And that's fair.

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<p>You mention some good points. However, I wanted to point out the following:</p>

<p>1) those with 2300+ SAT constitute a very small portion of high school seniors. If only .05-.1% of all test takers get such result on the test score, that implies there is certainly a limited supply of those with such scores. Now, multiply this probability with the probability that someone is top 1-5% of his/her high school class. Clearly, it is highly unlikely that a given individual fulfills both of these criteria. Now, whether or not such individual with these scores merit a Harvard acceptance is a different question. </p>

<p>2) Consider medical school or law school admissions. At Harvard Law, never in one hundred years will somebody with a 169 LSAT score will be admitted over someone else with a 172 LSAT score. It is just that elite professional graduate schools, including top medical or law schools, are much more objective and clearly much more numbers-based, hence resulting in a more meritocratic system. Yet, no one questions the methodology or rationale involved with such admissions policy with Harvard Law, nor does anyone question the caliber and capability of Harvard Law student body. Essentially, nobody criticizes Harvard Law or Harvard Medical Schools for admitting students based primarily on an applicant's academic merit.</p>

<p>Now, this just begs the question that: why does Harvard undergrad admissions devalue academic credentials so much, to the extent that notable differences in SAT scores among individuals, at least in some occasions, go unnoticed? Where I am getting at is that the academic credentials SHOULD play LARGER role than other criteria, including the ability to throw football or having that nice stroke on the golf swing. This is Harvard, where its reputation and tradition are grounded on academic excellence, not on academic merit. (that title would go to schools such as OSU, Florida State, or U Texas) I could understand if someone with 2100 SAT gets over someone else with 2200 SAT for whatever reason, but I fail to see how it is 'fair' that someone with 26 ACT will get in due to URM status or being an athlete, while many others with 36 ACT will be rejected.</p>

<p>In all, I do think that the current system that Harvard college deploys for its admissions policy is unfair and the current system results in large degree of unpredictability. In addition, it sucks that some people who are dumb as rocks will get into Harvard while many other bright minds won't have the chance to attend, which really is a shame.</p>

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Those athletes brought something to the school that your brother couldn't. They wanted what the athletes had, not what your brother had. That is why they got in. I am sure your brother is going to get into amazing schools, but Harvard just wasn't looking for what he had. It sucks but that's life.

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<p>I am unsympathetic with those athletes who get into Harvard despite having terrible SAT scores, largely based on my experience with those types of folks. I attended a different Ivy and I've interacted with a fair share of recruited athletes at my college. Undoubtedly, some of the dumbest people that I've met at my college all happened to be those football, track & field, or golf athletes at my college. Many times, it was striking to observe such a huge discrepancy that existed between 'regular' classmates at my college and sports athlete students, in terms of intelligence, academic zeal, motivation, curiosity, or work ethic. </p>

<p>In addition, many of athletes that get admitted to Harvard or other top Ivies aren't that amazing athletes to begin with. Or, Harvard should have elite football, basketball, or baseball teams. Sadly, most of varsity Harvard athletic teams suck compared to true elite sports teams, such as Texas, Florida, Ohio State, etc. </p>

<p>Then, do these athletes who get into Harvard or other top Ivies really demonstrate justice regarding admissions policy? Clearly, many of these sports athletes at Harvard aren't 'elite' athletes, nor are they 'elite' students. Although these sports recruits get admitted to Harvard specifically because of their athletic merit, it seems that their athletic merit isn't even that strong to begin with.</p>

<p>Honestly, if we are to inject a fair system into this equation and say that Harvard is to preserve certain percentage of its class for sports athletes, then LeBron James or Kobe Bryant-like athletes should be the first to be admitted or recruited. All I see is a bunch of middling athletes with mediocre grades who gamed the system and got into Harvard.</p>