The truth about 'holistic' college admissions

" … has holistic admissions become a guise for allowing cultural and even racial biases to dictate the admissions process?" …

Absolutely yes.

A well balanced, truthful article from an admissions personnel at UofP. I agree completely with her. Transparency is key. Schools need to publish % accepted for each applicant pool and their test scores and GPAs, not just by race but also by tag - athletic, legacy, development etc. Even if they don’t receive state funding, all of these schools still benefit from their land grant status and do not have to pay property taxes to the state, they also do not pay state and federal taxes on their endowment income, receive hundreds of millions in federally funded research, and receive indirect federal funding through Pell grant and federal student loans. The public has a right to demand transparency of their admissions data. If they want to keep it all shrounded under secrecy then start paying property taxes, taxes on their endowment income, refuse any federal funding either for research or tuition. Fair is fair.

A small amount of student loan funding is direct to private colleges. So it is even worse than you think. I posted a link to an article about NYU and Columbia being among the largest landowners in New York City. Each time they buy a building it costs the taxpayers more money since these schools do not pay taxes and therefore do not pay their fair share of essential services such as police and sanitation. Meanwhile Columbia tends to take very few students from downstate New York unless they are hooks.

What she refers to as “tags” seem to be what most forum posters refer to as “hooks”.

Most of this article is a lot of whining and complaining about the high stat Asian students that get denied from elite schools. It is about time they stop whining and complaining. I wonder if this article is somehow motivated by the lawsuits brought against schools by Asian groups.

Asians are about 5% of the US population but represent as much 20% - 25% of the student population at some elite schools.

I see no reason to complain. Rather than complain, apply to schools where Asian populations are lower.

These Asian parents should also stop being hypocrites. They complain about quotas and typecasting but they practice their own forms when it comes to picking schools for their kids.

If holistic admissions were not used, Hispanic and African American students would suffer and for some the impact would be much greater.

A high stat Asian student being “forced” to go to Vanderbilt or Notre Dame or another school with a small Asian population doesn’t seem like so much of a tradegy to me.

I don’t understand what the furor is all about.

As long as the laws of supply and demand dictate that the number of qualified applicants will vastly exceed a top school’s admissions numbers, schools will be forced to choose, and a large number of qualified applicants will be left out. “Holistic admissions” just means that schools can take advantage of this fact and take whomever they want, based on whatever criteria they want. It’s hard to imagine them doing otherwise. Many applicants get to play a variation of the same game, picking whichever school they prefer out of those that accepts them, for a variety of reasons (prestige, specific programs, extracurricular opportunities, financial aid, location, social scene, etc.).

I don’t know why schools need to be “transparent”. Fairness really isn’t part of the equation, especially for elite schools. They are the best judges of who they think will best take advantage of the resources which they have to offer, and who will best help to make up a vibrant and diverse student body. It’s impossible to be truly equitable - someone will always feel slighted. Students wishing to increase their chances of admission should embrace activities that reflect their passions and will help them stand out from the crowd, regardless of demographics.

Life isn’t “fair”, by anyone’s definition. College admissions is just the beginning, and there are vastly different skills needed to succeed at different points in life. Kids need to learn how to play the game early on, and to deal with “rejection”. As Winston Churchill famously said, success is stumbling from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Show the b-st-rds that they made a mistake by succeeding elsewhere. The current provost of Stanford is a legacy who was rejected when he applied.

Agree with the last couple of posters, and I really don’t see how “transparency” is going to be some sort of magic bullet that makes everything better.

Beyond that, the underlying assumption of the critics seems to be that objective measures of academic achievement, be they test scores or grades or whatever, are near perfect indicators of an applicant’s potential. That’s a somewhat dubious proposition, and the problem with much of the criticism here and elsewhere is that it is predicated almost entirely on that assumption.


Jews are even more overrepresented at top colleges than Asians, 25% of the students at these schools vs. 3% of the overall population. I don’t see anyone complaining or campaigning to reduce their overrepresentation?


The only study on AA that I know which analyzed the subjective factors in admission was a Duke study which found that Asians were the strongest in every subjective factor minus personal qualities where they were a close second to the white students. Btw the same study found that white students had a significantly higher socioeconomic status than the Asian students, who had approximately the same socioeconomic status as Hispanics and higher than the black students.

Admissions should be race blind - period.

@theanaconda Judaism is a religion. You can convert to it or from it. Race is not the same thing. Even if you are referring to cultural Jews, you don’t have to stick with that culture, so I don’t see how that is at all relevant.

No, it shouldn’t be. Diversity is good and sometimes requires a little effort to achieve.

If you use race or religion to advance one ethnic group over another in the admissions process, then you are discriminating. Cloak it in whatever “holistic” or “diversity” frame that you like, but it is what it is.

@Nerdyparent As I posted above, your position is entirely predicated on the premise that test scores are truly objective measures of academic potential. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that factors like race, gender, and socio-economic status have major impacts on test results.

Really? Maybe the scorned high stat Asian applicants should look in the mirror and ask themselves why they weren’t amongst he tens of thousands of Asian students that ARE accepted to top schools? No it is easier to try to pull down another ethnic group.

In our area an Asian girl was accepted to all 5 Ivy League schools that she applied to with under a 2100 SAT and will be attending Yale. Why? The same holistic process that was allegedly set up to discriminate against her. My AA S had much better stats, but when they both head off to their respective Ivy League schools who do you think will be the one that professors and fellow students feel doesn’t deserve to be there?

Have not read the Duke study but will say when I took an admission test to get into HS science program at a certain ivy league I was one of 3 non-Asians in a room of 60 students (and there were about 30 such rooms, 2000 students applied). We got a little lost getting there, we realized we were in the right place when we saw the BMWs with Jersey plates, many with MD designations lining the street and Asian and South East Asian sophomores getting out holding the admission tickets.

Jewish people faced many quotas. There are some who believe that certain schools, especially Columbia, have become very anti semitic. I have not researched this so I cannot say if it is true. However I know more Jewish people who happened to have gotten into each of Yale and Princeton than into Columbia in the last few years, especially from the Downstate New York area. Some of those rejected were legacies and or had stats well above the 75%

Someone posted a history of Michigan recently where he talked about the reason Michigan rose to prominance that many Jewish people who were excluded from the Ivys went there instead in the 20s and 30s.

@CaliCash makes an excellent point

There were some interesting points made in the article about Asians failing to network. She says she almost never gets a letter of support from prominent Asians on behalf of applicants. Since there are many prominent Asians in government (especially on the West Coast) and many business leaders who are Asian, for whatever reason, if you know these people or have interned for them, ask them for their help getting into college. Is it a cultural Asian issue that they do not like asking? I have no idea

Second, it would never occur to me to ask my senator or state senator for help getting into college but it sounds like people do. So second lesson is, if you do not know anyone these colleges would consider important, find ways of meeting them and impressing them so they will recommend you (gee stupid me I thought I just had to impress my teachers and GC). Who knew this was so necessary

Fun fact - some prominent and credible historians believe that the entire concept of “legacy preferences” was nothing more than a mechanism to prevent the Ivies from being flooded with academically qualified Jewish students in the early part of the 20th century.

Interesting double standard here. Asian students should aim for schools which have very small Asian populations, but it appears to be a deal breaker for many white students if a school is not majority white, according to (#17, #32).

Of course that’s the case. White fragility would say that white people, so ingrained with being the majority, can’t handle when they aren’t because it would require them to be cognizant of the fact that racial stress exists.

@SaphireNY: My daughter who is a rising junior took an SAT subject test last Saturday. The testing site was at a historically black university, yet there were no black highschoolers in her testing room and she was one of two white girls. All other students where Asians, some of them 7th or 8th graders taking subject tests after Bio Honors. Similar to what you describe above.

In our region students tend to go to the state flagships that do not require SAT subject tests. In fact, none of my daughter’s friends had even heard about them and thought she was crazy to take one after the appropriate high school course.

I just think that Asian parents value education in a completely different way than everybody else and see it as their only means to better their offspring. No excuses for those kids …