"Race" in College Applications FAQ & Discussion 12

Re: #3807

Of course, the reality at the vast majority of selective colleges is that grades and/or rank, and SAT/ACT scores are the primary or only means of comparing applicants, with other applicant criteria (ECs, essays, etc.) affecting only those at the margins, if considered at all. The arguments here about subjective holistic review and the magnification of criteria other than basic academic stats at the most selective colleges are not really relevant to colleges in general.

Probably the biggest factor that is underestimated by college applicants and the general public is bucketing by major, which colleges use to keep enrollment within department capacity. Unfortunately, colleges tend not to be transparent about that. A few which are more transparent than most about that are San Jose State University ( http://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/impactionresultsfreshmen/index.html and http://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/impactionresultstransfer/index.html ), and the UC system with respect to transfer applicants ( https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/transfers-major ), although many may not realize that such information is available when it is. But that means that, for example, that Asian students rejected from SJSU computer science may mistakenly believe that race was the reason for that while their white/black/Latino classmates were admitted to SJSU (but in majors like English, history, math, physics, sociology, materials engineering).

But then they may have been admitted to and enrolled in a slightly less selective college where they could make such unpleasant comments, right? Or a student at HYPSM may have been rejected from one or more of the others and may attribute it to race/ethnicity, whether or not that was relevant.


But part of that variety of perspectives is inevitably tied to race and culture. Because my white son will never walk down a street and see white women clutch their purses and walk to the other side of the street to avoid him. My daughter hasn’t been dogged by store security as she browses in a department store. My now adult kids have never had difficulty renting an apartment – never have they responded to an open-house listing and been told (falsely) that the apartment had already been rented.

But my kids have experienced anti-semitism – so they have their own perspective in that respect. It is not that they have lived charmed lives – but that their experience is not the same as being black, or being hispanic, or being Asian – or being an immigrant (or of being a rich white protestant). So yes, it is the perspectives that are important, but race & culture are part of that.

In the HBO piece, the African-American applicant mentioned that he had written about how is race impacted his life in his essay. That was a potentially risky, but ultimately smart choice - he probably did a very good job of explaining what perspective he would bring with him, as an African-American kid coming from a more privileged background. (Being black does NOT equate with being poor or attending an inner-city school or being raised in a single parent home – part of diversity is to bring in a broad representation of students. So a policy that restricted consideration of race to lower SES students would tend to have the end result of reinforcing stereotypes, rather than building a student body that broadens perspectives)

Of course, 1992 is a generation ago, and UCB was not as selective then as it is now.

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/freshman-admissions-summary shows that in 1994, UCB frosh applicants with >= 4.2 UC weighted GPA had a 75% admission rate, and those with 3.80-4.19 had a 51% admission rate (the way these GPAs are calculated, they tend to correspond to unweighted GPA about 0.3 lower). English is in the largest division (Letters and Science), which does not admit by major (all in L&S enter undeclared), so campus admission rates should be close enough.

Also, it is doubtful that Korean American was considered URM in any UCB context in 1992.

That literally happens all the time. People looked down on athletes, legacies and wealthy donors for being dumber all the time in college at least where I went, including the same people that looked down on affirmative action recruits. For example Jared Kushner.

I think affirmative action recruits actually get treated almost exactly like athletes, legacies and wealthy donors. I think that athletes, legacies and wealthy donors add more to the campus than affirmative action recruits because the affirmative action recruits are the culturally same upper middle to upper class type of person like everyone else just with a different skin color.

The HBO video focused on Princeton. HYPSM… type colleges are very different than SJS and most publics in major preference. The Harvard lawsuit found very small differences in admission preference by major, smaller than almost any other analyzed admission criteria and in some cases negligible. Rather than make popular majors have far more selective admissions as SJS does, HYPSM… type colleges tend to let major size grow as demand changes. For example, Harvard’s website indicates the number of CS concentrators has increased during each of the past 10 years that are listed, growing from 94 students to 494 students in 2017 – a 5x increase in students pursuing the major and on pace to become Harvard’s most popular major in the near future.

However, I agree that there is not enough information to estimate chances, and major selection contributes to the admission selection, including how the major selections fits with the rest of the application. If you want to pursue CS, it helps to have an application that suggests you are strong in math/science/CS including top grades in highest available level courses, strong math//science test scores, math/science/CS ECs/awards, LORs and essays supporting a math/science/CS interest and talent, etc… much like the CS Princeton acceptance kid I listed earlier.

Of course they could be. Fit for college is a mutable trait. By fit for college, I mean those who can handle real college work. This doesn’t include the people taking high school remedial classes in state colleges. I’d put the threshold around 550-600 for each SAT and 550-600 on a few subject tests. This is the bare minimum.

I don’t think that URMs admitted to elite colleges are unfit for college. I’m using this definition to refer to the “expected” demographics of the elite colleges. The demographics of the entire school system can’t be used because many high schoolers that graduate aren’t fit for college. The expected demographics (those that should be used for affirmative action) are different from the demographics of the entire school system.

URMs are underrepresented in the population that are fit for college just like they are underrepresented in the top colleges. The under-representation in top colleges in not unexpected when using the correct applicant pool.

UCs can’t outright discriminate based on race but they have certainly been attempting it by adopting admission criteria that just so happens to increase URM %, obviously against the spirit of the law:



1NJParent’s point was that the matriculating student body at Harvard (and presumably other HYPSM… colleges) is a biased sample of the ~5% who were admitted, ignoring the ~95% who were rejected. While there are some students in the freshman survey who say Harvard was not their first choice and may feel that URM got their spot at their first choice YPSM…, as whole the student body is largely full of success stories with the current college admission system. There aren’t many near perfect stat applicants who were rejected by all the holistic Ivy-type “reach” colleges they applied to and instead attended their safety. I’d make a similar statement for Princeton. The CIRP survey does suggest that the overall distribution of college students has a more balanced opinion about AA, with very different percentages than occurs on similar questions in surveys at HYPSM…

I was slightly impressed when I heard about it in the video but not at all after seeing the actual paper. It looks like he tagged along with a random group of people in his summer program (where the summer program is designed to handhold students through writing papers like this) and just put his name on the paper, something that anyone in his program could have done.

I think that in order for a paper to truly count for colleges, the applicant has clearly be the main author who had initiative and didn’t get handheld by a summer program. I don’t think that’s the case here.

You realize how many students who have ticked off the STEM achievement and class standing boxes get rejected from the ivies much less Princeton? His race would be the defining factor, the differentiator, in his application compared to his competition.

I think all 3 had a similar profile in the video and can all fit in the Ivy league colleges but they had a low-ish chance (~20%) at getting into even 1 HYPSM (if race wasn’t a factor).

I will say that it sounds like Ryan got in because of his race. This is the statistics speaking.

Using estimated numbers: if an applicant only has a ~20% chance to get in ignoring race but a 80% chance of getting in when taking into account race, what is probability that race was the tipping factor if the applicant got in? It’s hard to draw other conclusions when the rate of success is high when race is taken into account but the rate of success is low when it isn’t.

On a side note, Ryan’s parents were very arrogant. This may be a reflective of a larger trend in political discourse.

Interviewer: “do you think it’s unfair if Ryan makes it to the top of the list because he’s black”
Ryan’s Parents: “no”

While the other parents were like “the other side has good reasons. I just don’t want my kid to be discriminated against”

I think that ORMs get penalized for major but URMs do not. The broader trend has been that STEM URMs have a clear advantage over STEM and non-STEM ORMs and might even get more of a boost because of how rare STEM URMs are.

Just want to say wow by the amount posted today.

@UndeservingURM We have a difference of opinion on the how URM are treated in comparison to other preferences but that is okay. The biggest difference is that it is easy to point out URM students while a legacy or donor class student could easily hide under the radar. I have never seen a stigma from being an athlete at the level of the one placed on URMs for possibly not belonging, but they are a more identifiable group.

Also thank you for the articles on the UCs. I have no issue with UCs using SES factors as that should help all races so I don’t consider it to be a form of discrimination. With the current demographics splits at the UCs, I just have a hard time seeing discrimination in current admissions practices. But since most laws have loopholes, I can not question that the “spirit of the law” could be abused either.

^there is no sports and no good weather, so people got nothing better to do than reading and posting here. :slight_smile:

I think UC system nowadays is very much like Texas system, where top 10% of class is pretty much guaranteed a spot at UC’s most selective campuses. If you take a look at Ca NMSF list and UCB/UCLA acceptances based on individual Ca high school you will find that a school with 30 NMSF and a school with none have about the same chance of UCB/UCLA acceptances, around 14%. Although the race is no longer considered, because the schools are largely segregated with typically 30+ NMSF schools 80% Asian and zero NMSF 80% URM, the effect of such top 10% policy is that the difference in standardized test scores among racial groups is probably close to if not larger than those before Prop 209 for UCB/UCLA campuses.

A Ca public school near where I live has 27 NMSF(all Asians) this year, but their UCLA acceptance rate was 13.4% last year, no better than an average Ca school. The school would be lucky to have a single HYPS admit in any given year, and last year saw none. The most typical colleges its the graduates go to are community colleges at 38%. Compared to kids in this Ca suburban school, I think Glen Ridge HS’s Asians in the video had too unrealistic expectations for their EA/ED. The disconnect between what the public and media think is happening vs what the reality is can be pretty large.

These sound like guesses. Some examples odds ratios from the Harvard lawsuit are below, assuming full sample and full controls (comparing applicants with similar stats, admission reader ratings, LOR ratings, SCEA/RD status, …). I believe that none of the listed prospective major differences reach statistical significance. They also vary notably between the original analysis and rebuttal analysis, due to the slight difference in controls. I used an average of the two for the concentration coefficients below. Odds ratio of 1.0x means no influence.

If Harvard is significantly penalizing ORMs for being in STEM, then this penalization is not reflected in the analysis. The standard error of all of these coefficients was fairly small, suggesting that there is not a drastic difference between concentration effect for different racial groups. If there is a small difference for URMs, than that small difference for prospective major would be minuscule portion of the impact of URM and other hooks, such that a URM in STEM benefit would be dwarfed by the general URM hook.

Odds Ratio for Harvard Admissions
Athlete: 1800x
Black: 14x
Dean’s List: 10x
Legacy: 6x
Hispanic: 4x

Computer Science: 1.2x
Female: 1.15x
Physical Sciences: 1.1x
Engineering: 1.1x
Mathematics: 1.0x
Biology: 1.0x

Asian: 0.8x


Do you have any idea how many white (and asian) students who have less DO get accepted?

It is not a matter of objective criteria.

Objective criteria get students past the first cut. It essentially is their ticket for consideration, not admission.

Holistic admission is determined by human beings based on subjective impressions in combination with objective factors.

I think LOR’s are huge, but most students seem to happily sign away their rights to even see or review such letters.

Essays are important too … but I think many fail to understand the purpose and goal of the essay.

The actual policy is that an approximation of the top 9% in each CA high school and top 9% statewide are offered a place in the UC system (in practice UC Merced) if they otherwise get shut out. Note that these are UC recalculated approximations, not high school class ranks.

UCB needs to be nearly the size of the UC system to be able to offer admission to 10% of CA high school seniors.

It’s not a simple either the paper counts or doesn’t count. It’s a good achievement and EC that contributes to the overall decision. It’s more looking for a consistent pattern across the full application than looking for a single isolated achievement. As you noted, it can be difficult to draw conclusions from a single isolated event. However, I certainly would not assume he “tagged along” and “just put his name on the paper.” I doubt Princeton admissions would make this assumption as well. Princeton admissions would likely be influenced by how he described the experience at Rutgers and related research in his essays, interview, and possibly LOR.

There is no way to estimate that they had a 20% chance of admission from the available information. According to https://admission.princeton.edu/how-apply/admission-statistics , Princeton applicants with a perfect 4.0 GPA only have an 8% rate of admission. If the Glen Ridge kids instead had a 3.9x GPA, then the average admit rate drops to 6%. Do you think you have enough information to determine how much greater chance each Glen Ridge applicant has than the average 4.0 GPA Princeton applicant?

As usual, outsiders guessing at the admission qualifications of the applicants cannot see important (to super selective colleges) components like essays and recommendations of the specific applicants and the rest of the applicant pool. So it is hard to really know, as opposed to falling back on preset assumptions.

@Data10 I’m going to assume you interview for S but nonetheless I don’t think you interview for P. I think institutionally schools will look at research achievements differently. I think P values most research equally as it assumes 70%+ of students are going to change majors based on what they thought they’d major in when they applied. Possibly M, S and others value more intense, passionate research as their major switch rate is lower.

What do legacy and donor-kid students (as opposed to perhaps their parents and their donations, for whose kids the college admission preferences are effectively like an aristocratic inheritance) add to the campus over other students?

Indeed, strictly looking on the basis of personal academic merit, legacy and donor-kid students may have the least of all students of comparable academic achievement, since they are much more likely to have come from highly advantaged families (with attendant support and help in achieving to the top of one’s potential) than “unhooked” students. For comparison, recruited athletes with comparable academic achievement had to achieve to a high level in a sport as well. URMs are somewhat more likely to have encountered barriers to climb over to reach a given level of achievement, compared to others of similar SES.