"Race" in College Applications FAQ & Discussion 12


Representation proportioned to population? Can you imagine?

That would mean:
Asian 5%
Jewish 2%

At Harvard it would open up around 30% of the slots. At Yale and Princeton around 25%.

@OHMomof2 Thank you for giving what you would look for to make AA obsolete. I agree with @ucbalumnus that elite schools are looking for the “right mix” that makes their schools most attractive to the largest group of students. That mix probably doesn’t include hitting National demographics by race of high school graduates and may never get there. Going to a demographic mix would be discriminatory against several groups as the racial groups are not at the same levels academically and it would cause a “lowering of the bar” pretty quickly as you go down the elite institution food chain.

I think looking at this from an AP exam level may help some as AP classes are an approximation of college level work. The data below is from about 5 years ago and shows the demographic breakdown of high school students, the percentage of total students who take an AP exam, and the percentage of total exam takers that make a 3 or higher on the exam. For example, 4.6% of AP test takers who got a 3 or higher on at least 1 AP exam was a Black student.

% HSTake AP ex.3 or higher
American Indian
58.3%__ 55.9%___________61.3%

There could be many reasons (lack of access, avoidance of AP exams, or lack of money to pay for AP exams) that generate the numbers above for African American students. So I also took a look at the racial breakdown of actual scores on AP exams and those scores trended much lower for African American students in general and became even more pronounced when looking at what are considered to be harder level AP courses. For African Americans at least, the data points to not competing at the same level (lower level classes and lower scores on AP exams) in high school which makes it very difficult to make the jump up to elite level schools. Latino students are closer in every metric I saw and look to be closing the gaps which is a great sign. I have been in a couple of classes that overwhelmed me (I still hate Physical Chemistry and Electricity and Magnetism which I dropped), and I just don’t like the thought of putting kids in that position at the college level.

@damon30 The outcomes of the 3 boys early admissions decisions to Penn and Princeton in the HBO special didn’t come as a surprise but the story did humanize this discussion. If the outcomes were different, I think there would have been a completely different visceral reaction to the story. Reposting the link to the HBO report for those who may have missed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=746jJ9jzNlQ

I watched this video. To me it was clear that Ryan Henry, the black student who applied and was accepted to Princeton, was the most talented of the three. He was in the running for the school Val, which was not mentioned for the others, and had research published through MIT, and was an officer in one or more clubs. This was not an Affirmative Action admit. This was a pure talent admit.

^ Honestly, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the academic achievements listed for any of the kids in the video, in the context of the tippiest-top of colleges. Glen Ridge HS doesn’t have a large concentration of top performers, and all I really heard as for achievements was top 5% (no big deal in my book for Ivies at a school like that) and an assortment of largely school-specific leadership roles in typical ECs (honors societies, math and physics clubs that don’t win anything, tutoring, etc.) One of the kids was an EMT - frankly that was the most impressive thing I heard.

Numbers of NMSF at a school are not the be-all and end-all of how strong the student body is, but imo are a useful guide. There was only one NMSF student at Glen Ridge for 2019 (one of the kids profiled). You can get a rough gauge of where the school falls by comparing all schools in NJ in the 2019 numbers here: https://www.scribd.com/document/388548175/National-Merit-Scholarship-Program-semifinalists-named-for-2019

Bottom line, this isn’t Stuyvesant, TJ, Bronx Science, Hunter College High School, HTHS or really anything like a strong magnet school. Or even a very strong open admission suburban school (e.g., Princeton HS on that list). Top 5% for HYP? Nah. Maybe the valedictorian. If you have a hook.

@hebegebe I agree that he was an awesome candidate for admission, but it there will always be those that doubt the black student’s accomplishments. The worst part for me is to see the look on his face as his friends did not have the same results and to know that he will not be able to enjoy the accomplishment past that initial burst of happiness.

No doubt the black student was strong. Perhaps the strongest of the three. What I am focused on is the difference between how affirmative action is sold - an implied boost for kids who have faced significant hardships - and the reality.

Take a look at the houses the kids live in. And if you know Glen Ridge, you know this is not the inner city. Nice houses, intact families, safe neighborhoods. No one is overcoming anything here. This is about as privileged as you can get.

A vague notion of class rank and listing a few sentences about ECs is far too little information to estimate chance of admission. I have no idea who was the strongest applicant of the 3, and whether the admission decisions would have changed without racial preferences. I suspect that the student selection and corresponding admission decisions were contrived for television, such as following >3 students who were selected based on a combination of criteria beyond rank/race, then only airing a specific selection of those were followed.

“To me it was clear that Ryan Henry, the black student who applied and was accepted to Princeton, was the most talented of the three. He was in the running for the school Val, which was not mentioned for the others, and had research published through MIT, and was an officer in one or more clubs.”

It was not clear at all, the report I think wanted to track students with similar profiles with only race separating them. There’s no way to determine if val meant something because if they don’t weigh classes than an A in a college prep class is the same as a A in an AP class. And presidents and vice presidents of clubs and honor societies are a dime a dozen at places like Princeton and Penn. An elected officer, or a national, international award would mean a lot more, but we didn’t see any of the applicants mention them, but of course we don’t know their full application including essays and recommendations.

“And if you know Glen Ridge, you know this is not the inner city. Nice houses, intact families, safe neighborhood”

I grew up in good ole NJ, and it’s basically a binary state, there are really good places and really bad places. Yeah there’s some middle class cities, but you have Hoboken and you have Upper Saddle River. So I googled average income and Glen Ridge is $170K, Upper Saddle River, $250K. That’s bay area, Florida keys kind of wealth.

It should be obvious in these days of soft quotas (legal), blacks are compared to other blacks, Asians compared to other Asians. Changethegame also mentioned many times the problem of young black men in today’s society, and the difference between black men and women wrt academics, i.e. women do much better. So a black male from an affluent suburb who’s a valedictorian is gold to place like Princeton, pure gold.

“This was not an Affirmative Action admit. This was a pure talent admit.”

Can’t you be both, he got in because he was talented and black? imo, that was one of the messages in the piece.

Here’s the most recent profile of Glen Ridge High School:

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/hillsboroughtowncalifornia,losaltoshillstowncalifornia,piedmontcitycalifornia,athertontowncalifornia,glenridgeboroughnewjersey/PST045218 indicates that there are not too many places in the San Francisco bay area that have higher incomes than Glen Ridge, NJ.

Glen Ridge, NJ does have much less expensive housing, though.

I was focusing more on the “research published at MIT” part. So doing a quick search on “ryan henry mit”, I saw the following link the on the first page of search results: ieee.scripts.mit.edu/conference/2018AcceptedPapers.pdf

And in there, Ryan Henry is listed as a co-author on an accepted paper titled “Synthesis and Characterization of Simplified Nuclear Waste Glasses Containing Molybdenum”, and his affiliation is listed as the The New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology, a summer program, so given the name, timing and location, that’s a pretty good chance that’s him.

Most of the other accepted papers there were from college students, so it is a strong level of scholarship for high school students. While this is certainly below the level of a paper published in an academic journal, this is the level of accomplishment I typically see for science students of all races that are accepted at places like Princeton et al.

^ Here’s the paper: https://soe.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/imce/pdfs/gset-2018/Synthesis%20and%20Characterization%20of%20Nuclear%20Waste%20Glass%20Containing%20Molybdenum.pdf

Yeah, that is something for sure. Co-author out of a summer program that is not very easy to get into. I really can’t opine on the substance, but it looks like the kids had access to some fun equipment at Rutgers!

The Governor’s School summer program gives a boost to “diverse” economic backgrounds:


I’m not sure that Glen Ridge qualifies as “diverse” though :wink:

Each school gets to submit one applicant, and one additional applicant for every 325 juniors. So places like Glen Ridge cannot monopolize the applicant pool. And of these applicants from all over the state, about 20 percent get admitted.

While it’s an impressive paper and EC, it’s still far too little information to estimate chances. For example, does his transcript suggest he excels in the field that he plans to study at Princeton, and took the most rigorous classes available to him in that field? How were his test scores? His LORs? His essays? His interview? How were the ECs/awards that he worked towards all year long , beyond a one time shared paper with many other co-authors, and how do they fit with his planned field of study? Does he have any additional hooks/tips/connections beyond race? Does his full application suggest he will be successful at Princeton both in and out of the classroom, and beyond?

I interviewed for a HYPSM school and have spoken with several students who did a similar level of published research. Most times they were obviously passionate the research, drawing diagrams on my notepad, and acted like they could have talked all day about it. However, I’ve also interviewed persons whose research had nothing to do with their planned field of study, and appeared to be unable to provide much detail beyond a 10,000 foot overview. It’s difficult to make assumptions without more information.

“listed as a co-author on an accepted paper”

Ok, there are six other authors, three other high school students, you make it sound like it was just one other person, we have no idea of who contributed how much, since the they’re listed alphabetically.

“this is the level of accomplishment I typically see for science students of all races that are accepted at places like Princeton et al.”

All races? Not true, an Asian or white with that research is not getting into Princeton early, they’ll be deferred, now they may get in RD. If he had turned this into a intel science fair winner or finalist or science olympiad medalist, that would be significant, then you have the attention of MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Cal Tech - where the top 500 or 1000 best STEM students apply. His name was on a paper, good enough for Princeton, but MIT would figure out how much he contributed relative to his peers.

Maybe they’ll get in early, maybe they won’t. It depends on far more than a research paper. For example, looking at the most recent Princeton SCEA decision thread on this site, a brief summary of the two Asian acceptances is below. Both accepted students had impressive ECs related to their prospective field of study, high stats, excelled in many additional sections of the application, and sounded like they’d be extremely successful in their proposed field of study. It’s unclear whether the same could be said for any of the 3 students at Glen Ridge

  1. Prospective political science with regional debate awards and law office work, High stats, Low income and Questbridge scholar, Thinks essays were the strongest part of her application
  2. Propsective CS with lots of robotics experience (captain of coached team) and NASA internship ; High stats, Took external college classes in CS and math

An African American kid will have his accomplishments questioned no matter how qualified the student is. If either of the other 2 students were accepted, there would be no question of those kids qualifications or any debate about the merit of the acceptance. It is one of the toughest parts of the debate about AA for me because a co-author of published research from MIT and possible high school valedictorian will have his credentials questioned because he is black.

One thing mentioned by the interviewer that I also noticed is that the African American and Asian American parents both used similar terminology to describe the plight of dealing with being of African and Asian ancestry. Both sides feel discriminated against and deal with institutional barriers that block reaching goals and it is sad, because they are both right. Watching the Asian American mother tear up was very tough to watch, and believe that AA was the cause for her son’s getting deferred. And she could be right. We will never know.

African Americans males of high academic standing are among the rarest commodities in elite college admissions. I live in one of the top areas for African American academic achievement in America and they are still very rare (to the point that I have never seen an African American male valedictorian or salutatorian in 14 years at any of our suburban school district schools with a white/Asian American combined majority student body as they post the pictures every year).

Part of that come from an educational system that has treated my African American son differently most steps of the way (Teacher not testing son for gifted program without our intervention, my very quiet and introverted child getting conduct demerits for frivolous infractions when I have personally observed other children being a distraction to class without a receiving a warning, and a seemingly lack of expectations for my child in comparison to other children). But my son has had it easy in comparison to most African American young men. Now that my son has proven himself as a high standardized test taker at the high school level, I have noticed a change and the system has “flipped” to his advantage.

It would be nice if people also pointed to other preferences that make up a large potion of each class in elite college admissions (legacy, athletes, donor class) as impediments, but that will never happen. But with unhooked white and Asian American students having such a hard time receiving acceptance to top schools, I can empathize as they look for any path that helps them reach their goals.

@ChangeTheGame - I don’t think AA is the issue in that setting – it’s just the excuse. If there was no such thing as AA, then people with racial biases would find other reasons to question accomplishments. For example, a suggestion that the person must have cheated to get where they were.

Years ago when my daughter was accepted to elite colleges with bottom quartile test scores, a CC’er questioned whether she was URM – and when I posted that she was not, the CC’er then posted that I must have written her essays for her. Because the big problem is one of entitlement – some people think that they (or their kids) are entitled, and look for reasons or excuses to denigrate others who have been given whatever it is they think they are entitled to. There is a sort of cognitive dissonance that comes into play – they can’t accept that the person who they view as “lesser” can be chosen in a fair manner.

On CC there is an obsession with standardized test scores - but in other contexts that sense of entitlement may stem from other criteria. But basically, the person with the sense of entitlement simply cannot accept the fact that in a competitive setting, judgments are made based on multiple criteria. And in college admissions, one of those criteria happens to be that colleges are looking for multiple kinds of diversity – not just racial diversity, but diversity of interests, diversity of talents, geographic diversity, etc.

@ChangeTheGame wrote:

Very well, and succinctly said.

This whole debate about Ryan Henry is helping me to think about my own biases, and where they lay. I think most of my gut feel reaction against affirmative action stems from the way it is sold by the elite institutions. Namely, that boosts are being given for overcoming significant obstacles or discrimination, and the attendant reinforcement of a narrative of “us” versus “them,” the reinforcement of a narrative that every black student (and no other) is automatically “oppressed,” both of which I think are very damaging messages for society - even if it may have some elements of truth.

So, when I see an obviously very high SES - very “privileged” black student - gaining an acceptance, the contrast with how affirmative action is sold is too jarring. (It’s not hard to find on CC either the constant equating affirmative action with a “the elite are here to rescue you” that is its own form of paternalistic condescension, noblesse oblige.) You’re right, part of the assumption is that race played a huge role in Henry’s admission decision. That’s unfair both to the student as well as the whole process. I think @Data10 has a good take on it: we just don’t know precisely how much - if at all - race played a role here, and I guess I personally have to be careful that I am not letting assumptions cloud my thinking. I still think for me this is mostly about my distrust of the motives of elite admissions policies. But thank you to all the posters for helping me to think about this more deeply in the context of whether my distrust of elite admissions priorities really is too much coloring my perception of the results.

Schools are terrified of testing African American children. Testing was originally conceived as a way to help kids, a way of figuring out what works for which kids. When disparities showed up by race, anyone supporting it was demonized. They still are. It is actually illegal to ability test black children - and I think the law is still technically only applicable to black children - but in practice really no kids of any race are ability tested any longer in elementary school.

People interested in this history should start with the Larry P. v. Riles case, available here: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/495/926/2007878/. It’s been 40 years, a lot of liberals feel very good about themselves - the “Self Congratulation of the Anointed” - but we have lost two generations’ time now in trying to help poor kids in bad school districts, many of whom are African American, but now increasingly Hispanic. There has been plenty of commentary about Riles over the years; it’s not hard to find.

CC does URM a huge disservice in the forums by constantly minimizing test scores and peddling nonsense like schools can fill their classes with perfect score candidates. Take a look at the accept rates by test scores (academic index) in the Harvard litigation. While test scores are not a huge distinguishing factor for other races, they make a huge difference for black applicants. High scores are instant credibility in my experience, and the data appear to support that. (I wonder if Ryan Henry had been the only kid at Glen Ridge High School to have gotten NMSF rather than the Asian kid, would anyone - myself included - have questioned his early acceptance?) I do think that message should get out there, namely that one of the biggest things URM can do to boost their chances at elite schools is to prep, prep and prep some more to ensure that their scores match their true potential.