College admissions is rigged against all of us

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In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, a group of over a dozen Asian American students, sued Harvard University for allegedly using a race-based quota system in admissions.

In a case that may be headed for the Supreme Court, Students for Fair Admissions alleges that the Harvard admissions office violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by unconstitutionally practicing “racial balancing” of the student body and thus systematically discriminating against Asian applicants.

Of course Harvard considers race when evaluating applicants. Of course every competitive school in the United States considers race when evaluating applicants. Of course the admissions process is broken and, we would go as far as to say, unjust.

At a high school where college feels like an expectation rather than an achievement, where terms like “acceptance rate” and “legacy” are part of our vernacular, where the mention of “late March” triggers visceral reactions in anxious seniors, we are pros at the game of college admissions.

Now, we do not know to what extent Harvard considers race when evaluating applicants. That is up to the courts to decide.

But, what we do know is this: We are told for four years that as long as we earn the GPA deemed “good” by Naviance, as long as we commit hours to social service and take a leadership role to demonstrate our “well-roundedness,” as long as our test scores are on par with those of our competitors, then we will be admitted to that school.

You know, that school. It might be the school that your parents attended and expect you to attend. It might be the school that has a world-class stem cell research center or a Nobel Laureate professor. It might be the school whose name looks really good on a sweatshirt. Whatever the reason, we all have that school that makes us feel warm and fuzzy and special.

The cold and harsh truth of the situation is that few of us actually get to go to those schools. In fact, many of us are denied admission to schools based on factors that have nothing to do with us. Namely, we are denied admission based on factors such as geography and financial aid and race.

Contrary to what parents and counselors and admissions representatives have long told us, our “academic excellence” and “well-roundedness” no longer are sufficient. Not even close. Not when there are hundreds of thousands of other students out there who also take Honors classes, who also play on championship-winning teams, who also serve on boards and committees, and who also spend their summers volunteering in Guatemala.

When admissions offices weigh arbitrary factors like these to differentiate candidates, they devalue the hard work that all of us put in to achieve our goals, regardless of our backgrounds. When admissions offices weigh arbitrary factors like these, their decisions have simultaneously nothing to do with us and everything to do with us. The system is rigged—not against one group of students, but against all students.

We acknowledge that there are many students who are denied admission to colleges based on relevant factors. We are not referring to those cases.

We are referring to the aforementioned glaring flaws of the system of college admissions. Are prospective students, many of whom obsess over GPAs and purchase ACT prep books and subscribe to College Confidential threads, partially responsible for quite literally buying into this system? Yes. But, can you really blame us for seeking some semblance of control over a process that we clearly have little control over? Can you really begrudge Students for Fair Admissions for demanding some transparency from Harvard and schools like Harvard, which seem to take pride in their single-digit acceptance rates and elusive prestige?

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