College Admissions: Race, Power and Money

By Olivia Wong (USA)
Published on November 14th, 2020

College. The transition from high school to adulthood. A place where dreams start and bloom into reality. Where the imagination and creativity of each student are molded into ambitious doctors and artists ready to take on the world. Yet, that is only a dream. Getting into a college is a unique journey of its own. From the time a student steps into high school to graduation day, college is typically all they think about. The admissions process is the struggle almost every college-minded teen around the world endures. This endless endeavor is to earn a spot into some of America’s most prestigious universities, particularly the Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. The chance of attaining that special acceptance letter from such colleges is just like winning the lottery, relying on GPA’s, extracurriculars, and a small chance of luck. Even though the chances are slim, there is a deeper and vicious process behind the scenes in college admissions based on an applicant’s racial identity, power, and money.

What happens behind the closed doors of the admissions offices? It turns out that it is much more than just a glance at a report card. Hidden in universities is a system of hidden discriminatory ideals. Going against the Ivy league’s “holistic” approach to viewing a persons’ resume, racism has been a hidden problem in our society ever since the turn of the century. Let's take Harvard, one of the most prestigious schools in the world. There were reports of admissions officers racially discriminating against Asian Americans. They stated that they have rejected qualified applicants because “their resume is typical to any other application from a student of Asian descent.”(P.R. Lockhart). Studies have shown that Asian students who did stereotypical Asian activities were 50% less likely to get into college than a white applicant with the same application. These activities include playing a musical instrument, fencing, math team, and science team participants.

Harvard is not the only prestigious University to do such a thing. One former university application officer reported that she was given orders to throw away White and Asian applications for college financial aid. She was told that they should all be assumed to be “better off” than other applicants. This is indeed unfair to many qualified students who are financially unstable and had their requests denied because of their race. To be eligible to attain financial aid, one must be judged by their living standards, instead of merely their race. In addition, data has also been collected which shows us that the struggle for students from low income families of color to get into a selective school starts before college. In other words, money and race will be great contributors for an individual to get into a good college.

In addition to financial obstacles, socioeconomic power is also a huge force in the application process. It is reported that 62% of all of Columbia University’s student population are from the top 20%, and only 5.1% of the student population stem from the bottom 20% (the New York Times). The legacy of the wealthiest has almost always guaranteed admission into these profound universities. Apart from Columbia, 19% of the students who attend Yale are from the top 1%. This puts a disadvantage on the qualified applicants with a lower income, and families without legacy ties to any school. An infamous example of individuals who abuse their power to gain a spot in college is the Olivia Jade scandal. A couple years back, Olivia Jade’s family--her mother being famous actress Lori Loughlin--created a fake resume along with amassing 500,000 dollars in order to get into the University of Southern California. They bribed a University school official to falsely present her as a crew team recruit. As a result, an individual who is not qualified “earned” a spot where a person more qualified than Olivia should be. According to the Los Angeles Times, children of donors have the biggest advantage in the admissions process and “can even make up from 10 to 25 percent of the student body” even if their scores are not up to par with other qualified applicants.

The college admissions process is a very complicated process that has proven to include biases of races and power into the mix. Unfortunately, money, power, and race prove to be three great contributors that will determine if a student gets into a top college or not. From Harvard to the University of Southern California, these hidden tactics for choosing future scholars are truly unfair to low income families and individuals of color.

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