America’s most elite colleges and universities really don’t want the public to take a peek behind the curtain and get a better understanding of who gets admitted and why. And it’s not for the reasons you might think.
The urban legend endures that any Latino or African-American who applies to one of these ultra-selective schools can write their own ticket. But the truth is, the people who get the lion’s share of those tickets, who issue the tickets, and who, in fact, run the ticket booth are white.
The real pigs at the trough are white people who have connections, make donations or otherwise encourage wealthy alumni boosters to send more checks. T’was always thus.
Dirty Secrets of College Admissions
A new study proves what the relatively few students of color who will ever have the chance to attend selective colleges and universities have long suspected: Despite what people call “imposter syndrome”—i.e., the insecurity that some Latinos and African Americans feel about whether they deserve the opportunities they’ve been afforded—they aren’t imposters at all. Far from it. Rather, they’re among the most deserving of admission.
The numbers show that, for the most part, students of color had to work harder in high school to get into these elite schools than white ones with hook-ups, deep pockets or alumni pedigrees.
Moreover, in many cases, this pattern will continue throughout their entire professional lives. Merit only gets you so far.
Just look at the experience of what might be called whites without privilege. Working-class whites who don’t have a foot in the door are being kept out of top schools not by Latinos and African Americans but by ruling class whites who are working an angle.
All this comes to light thanks to a lawsuit accusing Harvard of practicing discrimination in its undergraduate admissions process. In 2014, an organization calling itself Students for Fair Admissions and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Harvard College in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, claiming that the school discriminates against Asian American applicants by holding them to a higher standard than other applicants.
That’s been a hard case to make given that the college’s student body is now about 25% Asian. Both the District Court and the First Circuit of Appeals have rejected the claim, and now the plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the lower court’s rulings.
But the lawsuit itself isn’t what matters here. It’s the public documents that the lawsuit brought to light.
Researchers from Duke University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Oklahoma dove into those documents and analyzed something that looms large in the admissions process of elite schools yet is rarely talked about: admissions preferences for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the “dean’s interest list” (read: donors), and children of faculty and staff—a group collectively referred to by the unwieldy acronym of ALDC).
Using data from the Harvard lawsuit on 166,727 U.S. applicants to Harvard between 2009-2014, the professors did a good job of breaking down who has been getting in and why they’ve been getting in.
According to their findings, more than 43 percent of the white students admitted were ALDC. But the share for African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos was less than 16 percent. Furthermore, the research shows, roughly three-quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if not for their ALDC status. Finally, eliminating preferences for athletes and legacies would make the pool of admitted students much less white.