"Race" in College Applications FAQ & Discussion 12

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.

Well @ucbalumnus, the obvious answer is: "It’s all about the “Benjamins!”

Legacy students are much more likely to be full pay than other applicants. It allows colleges to tout themselves as “need-blind”, allowing the admissions staff to honestly rate applicants without knowing their financial situation. But the decision to give a “legacy tilt” is made above their pay grade, by the financial managers of the university, and that has a natural effect of increasing the amount of tuition collected. Development candidates are that on steroids.

Now, there is another benefit to legacy students in that they may come to campus already knowing much of the history, culture, and traditions of the college. That too is valuable.

Now it’s true that having a legacy tilt may allow a college to provide more financial aid to its most needy students. Note however that MIT manages to do fine without a legacy bump.

“whereas Chen was deferred - and he and his parents were absolutely delighted that it wasn’t a rejection.”

Are we seeing the same video, one of the Asian mothers was distraught and crying. No one is delighted at being deferred, it usually means rejection down the road. Now the applicants getting deferred SCEA or ED will be competing RD with people that did not get in to or were deferred by Harvard, Stanford, MIT or Cal Tech. Good luck with that. His best shot was SCEA and I think they knew it.

“students has a more balanced opinion about AA, with very different percentages than occurs on similar questions in surveys at HYPSM… :”

These are students from five campuses in liberal or blue states, of course they’re going to say AA is great. If would be politically incorrect if they didn’t. This is a biased sample, no doubt, the gallup numbers indicate that generally people favor AA, except when it hurts them :-).

“Now, there is another benefit to legacy students in that they may come to campus already knowing much of the history, culture, and traditions of the college. That too is valuable.”

Here’s the thing with legacy, it can be a tremendous hook (33% of legacies get in at Harvard, compared to 3% RD) for doing nothing to achieve it, nothing.

“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.”

Ok, you can’t assume he tagged along when the others didn’t just because he’s black and the other three were not (looks like two are Asian and one white).

“Princeton admissions would likely be influenced by how he described the experience at Rutgers and related research in his essays, interview, and possibly LOR.”

His essay was on identity and race as someone mentioned earlier, maybe in the interview he went into it in more detail. There’s now way to tell who did what from just looking at the authors except it was sponsored by the professor and the two RU students helping out.

Picking up on @hebegebe’s comment, I have known many HYPS legacies (and their parents) - some very well indeed. I would say the following about them:

As a group, they have - and this is not pejorative, not at all - by far the highest social capital of anyone on campus (meaning the social attributes conducive to success there). Oh sure - there will always be a few non-legacy kids of really wealthy, powerful people, and some others who are truly gifted in interpersonal relations while being smart / talented. Each class, though, will contain 150-200 legacies who come very well-equipped to deal with life at their school, and in many ways have more in common with each other than most other people there (in fact, many of them will know each other before they enroll - as will their parents).

Yes, there are a few stereotypical legacies that you can identify on sight - they’ve clearly had a certain sort of upbringing, and there’s no obvious academic / extracurricular reason for the school to have admitted them. In my experience, though, the preponderance of legacies are the sort of bright and capable kids that are a dime a dozen at these places, but with greater insider knowledge of the school and its culture. They are, by and large, set up to succeed on campus and afterward (even if they don’t necessarily have the fire in the belly of someone who came from nothing).

They definitionally have at least one parent who graduated from the school, so are likely to come from a family that cares about education. They are more likely to be high-SES / full-pay (so often aren’t stressing about money - although some are), and probably live in a good neighborhood / went to a good school, which prepared them to do the work that these places require in order to do well (if not necessarily win a Rhodes Scholarship, although some do). They’ve got some familiarity with the place and awareness of its traditions, have a sense of which clubs to try to join, may (as noted) arrive already knowing some of the their classmates, and generally don’t have the impostor syndrome / self-doubt that many other kids suffer from. Increasingly, they’re of color (I know at least one third-gen HYPS URM legacy).

Meanwhile, the parents are pleased as punch that Junior has followed in Mom’s / Dad’s footsteps at Alma Mater (although they can’t crow about it too loudly at reunions, because most of their classmates’ children didn’t get in). They are energized (if they weren’t already) to be involved, engaged alumni who provide reach for the school into many areas of society, donate time and money and try to give the school’s graduates a leg up when they come calling for a job or an introduction. That’s really important to the school.

The kids are probably going to have an enjoyable four years, do fine in the classroom, have a great time outside it (often having leadership roles in various student organizations / clubs), collect their credentials and be very well-positioned to go into their chosen field, where they may already have personal connections. Apart from finance, consulting and tech, many of them will go into academia, government service, politics and any number of other areas. Then they’re going to continue following in Mom’s / Dad’s footsteps and become engaged alumni, useful to the school in many ways.

All of which is to say, legacy admissions is a complex topic that shouldn’t be caricatured (as some - not @hebegebe - do on here) as a kind of affirmative action for dim preppies, and a purely mercenary transaction from everyone’s perspective.

Have any others seen Hasan Minhaj’s entertaining take on AA and college admissions on Netflix? Didn’t agree with everything he had to say but found much truth. https://youtu.be/zm5QVcTI2I8

Summarizing reply #3834, legacy students are valued for parental money and parental connections, not for their own personal achievements beyond a high baseline that everyone has to meet for elite-admissions schools. In comparison, “unhooked” students had to earn their places with even higher achievements.

So will the high achieving non-legacy students at the same school.

There’s no question that the legacy students are more moneyed, more cultured (some would say more elitist?) compared to the non-legacy students as a group. It may also be true that, as a group, legacy students are more “qualified” based on the standards set by the admission offices, compared to the non-legacy students as a whole. However, they’re unlikely to be more “qualified” than totally unhooked students as a group. If they were, why would they need the legacy preferences in the first place?

@theloniusmonk – if I recall the names correctly, Chen was the student whose mother was white & Amerian-born, father Asian, and was deferred from Princeton. His parents seemed really chill. The Asian mother who was upset was the parent of the young man deferred from Penn. (But Penn is ED rather than EA, with a somewhat higher admit rate during the ED round… so one more reason for different expectations. Along with the fact that EA students are more likely already be in the process of applying to other colleges RD ).

And many people are indeed delighted at being deferred rather than rejected. I remember my daughter whooping for joy the day she received the deferral letter from her U. of Chicago EA application. Not everyone is smug and entitled – there are a lot of students who fully understand and are prepared for rejection, and are very happy to learn they are still in the running.

ETA – I rewatched the video and the last name is Che, not Chen. The father is a Taiwanese immigrant, and both parents expressed support for AA. The reaction shot for Che’s deferral is at about the 10:00 min mark of the video. Son smiles and says, “That’s good”, Mom says in a cheery voice, “OK, I mean it’s nota no. So that’s good.” The other Asian family’s last name was Cai.

@ucbalumnus - that’s not at all what I said (and I’ll also respond here to @1NJParent’s mention of being “qualified”. Legacies are valued not only (or even necessarily) because they bring the benefits of their families but because they are perceived by the college (i) to enrich it as culture carriers while there, and (ii) to be among the “best graduates” as opposed to necessarily the best students (even though some HYPS legacies are among the best students / highest achievers at their schools), with a higher-than-average likelihood of success and continuing interest in their alma mater. This, to the college, is a powerful argument in an academically-strong or otherwise talented legacy’s favor relative to others who might be admitted - because the college is trying to assemble the class that, as a whole, best suits its interests as it sees them.

Following on from that, “higher achievements” is fundamentally meaningless in this context, because the college application process makes it impossible to compare anyone’s “achievements” to anyone else’s with any consistency or precision (essays and LORs, anyone? champion figure skater vs. concert violinist? appropriate grades and scores if you’re a champion figure skater vs. a concert violinist?), even if there were a universally agreed definition of the “achievements” that should be considered in college admissions. The only “achievements” that are relevant are those that each college considers important, individual by individual, in constructing a class.

I would suggest you’re falling victim to what I call the “universal ranking fallacy”, which is the implicit or explicit belief that all applicants to a college can be ranked in sequence and that legacies, by virtue of being legacies, get to jump the line and take the places of those higher up the list.

This is false because:

(i) there is no such ranking (and therefore no one’s place is being taken undeservedly);

(ii) classes are built holistically, in response to each college’s individual collection of perceived institutional needs and wants (the desired numbers of athletes, members of various racial / ethnic groups, faculty brats, development cases, artists, writers, specific majors, natives of given states, world-champion unicyclists and whatever else the college wants or feels it needs, including alumni children), and therefore applicants aren’t competing against everyone else but only against that narrow slice of the applicant pool that is most directly comparable to them; and finally, and most importantly

(iii) the only ranking that matters in this context is this hierarchy of institutional needs and wants, which manifests itself, as noted above, in the relative desirability of each applicant and is driven by the mix of students the college deems to be in its best interest to enroll there. Morality and deservedness don’t come into it.

Let’s say you think there is or should be a universal ranking and that academics should be its criterion. As has been unearthed by the Harvard admissions lawsuit, although these days Harvard gets over 40k applications per year, of which it admits about 2k to get a class of around 1.6k, only around 100-200 of each year’s applicants are deemed to be academic “1s”, i.e., likely to be among the foremost scholars of their generation. Of the millions of students who take the SAT and/or ACT each year, maybe 2k in total get a one-and-done 1600 or “true” 36 (perfect in each subsection) - and not all, or even most, apply to Harvard. So Harvard can’t begin to fill its class with those people. Something like half of Harvard’s applicant pool, however, is ranked an academic “2” or above - so that’s where you’d go next, assuming academics were all-important.

If you think it’s possible to rank-order by academic ability some 20k applicants deemed to have the same broad level of smarts (which number, by the way, probably includes well over half of the 1k or more legacies who apply each year), we will have to disagree. Academically, each year a number of applicants equivalent to at least several multiples of the entire class is fundamentally interchangeable.

But of course, they don’t just judge on academics - in the name of building a collection of “leaders” of various kinds (not just top-shelf academics, of which they want some, but not enough to be close to half the class) they look at things like “extracurriculars” and “personality”, i.e., fuzzy perceptions of all the other things these kids bring to the party, many of which have little or nothing to do with academics - and there’s a good dose of randomness involved.

I don’t think this is how the process works. The admissions officers don’t rank-order everyone and say “oh, these two are equally qualified and we’re going to admit one - let’s take the legacy”. They look at each applicant’s portfolio, as a whole and including legacy status where it exists, and decide if they want that person or not, based on everything (including all the institutional wants, needs and limits). The whole portfolio IS the qualification, and the only meaningful criterion by which it is measured is how good that applicant is for the college, viewed in the context of the rest of the individuals the college may offer admission. There is no “qualification” beyond what the university thinks is best for it. At the end of the day, these places are businesses and run themselves as such.