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Research Paper- College Admissions

Jessie Hamlett
Ms. Byrd
AP Language
29 March 2019
Higher Education Admissions Systems
American educator and business man Stephen Covey once said, “Life is not accumulation,
it is about contribution”. Covey presents the idea that it life is not merely about personal gain and
attaining material goods, but life is about contributing to and benefiting the community, something
greater than oneself. Many college admissions systems have embraced similar beliefs; colleges
aim to admit students who will achieve personal academic success, while also contributing to the
success of other students, faculty, and the university. Colleges do not want students to come, get a
degree, and leave; colleges want students who will challenge other students to think critically,
students who will contribute to the education of other students, students who will help the college
to grow and improve. However, this presents a challenge- how do you measure the ability of a
student to contribute to the university’s community? How do you quantify these intangible
attributes and abilities? Colleges have strived to answer these questions to form an admissions
process that will evaluate the students’ academic abilities as well as their ability to become a
successful member of the college’s community. Personally, while applying to colleges and honors
programs, I have faced many similar questions, questions about how my past education and past
experiences have equipped me to become a successful member of society who is able to contribute
to the betterment of the college. This gives way to the broader question of how college applications
should be evaluated- what criteria is most important and what criteria is irrelevant to higher
education admissions. College admissions should evaluate the overall quality of the student and
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admit the most qualified students, academically and personally, students who will contribute to
the success of the fellow students, faculty, and the university.
Colleges should only evaluate students based on the quality of the student; colleges should
not consider factors that do not indicate anything about the actual student. In the 1960s, President
John F. Kennedy implemented the Committee of Equal Employment Opportunity. This committee
was formed to protect against racial bias in the workplace by mandating federally funded projects
to use affirmative action. Affirmative action is “an effort to improve the employment or
educational opportunities of members of minority groups or women” (Zedric). This system
established the use of quotas to ensure that minority groups and women had equal opportunity with
white men. In the past this was issued due to discrimination; however, more recently it has opened
the door to discrimination. In 1973 Bakke, a white male, applied to the medical school at the
University of California Davis. This university had a special application program for
“disadvantaged” students who failed to meet the university’s grade requirements; however, over a
four-year period “63 minorities were admitted to Davis under the special program,” while no white
students were admitted via the program. Bakke filed a lawsuit, claiming reverse discrimination,
because he had better scores and grades than other, admitted applicants. This case reached the US
Supreme Court in 1978 and the court ruled that the specialty program “violated the California
Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…, and the Equal Protection Clause of the
14th Amendment”. The court also ruled that race could be considered as a factor in college
admissions, but it could not be the primary deciding factor (University of California vs. Bakke).
In a “Letter to the Future President” Tam L maintains that affirmative action increases racial bias,
particularly for Asian Americans, and should be banned in the United States. She asserts that
stereotypes play a role in affirmative action policies and Asian Americans have been held to a
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higher standard than other students. Tam concludes that affirmative action “lessens the chances of
whites and Asians to be accepted to universities even if they have the same or better academic
qualifications” (Tam L.). Although affirmative action addressed racial discrimination and served
to protect people’s rights in the past, it has declined academic standards and has allowed
discrimination to continue in the college admissions system. Affirmative action and quotas should
not be used in the college admissions system because it does demonstrate anything about the
quality of the student or the person, it is solely based on factors that people have no control over
or ability to change.
Colleges also consider alumni relation as a factor in the admissions system. In 2010 a study
showed that three-quarters of the nation’s top colleges and universities consider alumni relation in
their admissions decisions. Many elite colleges have claimed that it is only used as a tie breaker;
however, “research from Princeton University's Thomas Espenshade shows that legacy status
provides a boost equal to scoring 160 points higher on the SAT” (Kahlenberg). Other colleges
reconcile using alumni relation as a factor by claiming it is necessary for funding; colleges do not
want to lose boosters or sponsors by taking away benefits to wealthy, alumni families.
Nevertheless, many criticize this practice because, much like affirmative action, it is not based on
the merit or work of a student. A student cannot control where their relatives attended college and
a student cannot control the wealth of their family members. Is it not discriminatory to admit
students because the work and wealth of a relative? Is it not discriminatory to give advantages to
second or third generation college students and not first-generation college students? Personally, I
think that admitting students for their race, gender, or relation to alumni is wrong because it does
not evaluate the superiority or merit of the student, it allows students to rely on these factors rather
than forcing them to work hard for success.
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Colleges should admit students for academic merit and abilities. After all, the purpose of
college is to educate students, so they can pursue their career. College admissions systems should
consider an applicant’s grades and standardized test scores when reviewing applications. A
student’s grades and GPA indicate the success of a student over their whole high school career; a
student must demonstrate a consistent, high-level work ethic to maintain good grades. Grades also
show colleges and universities the rigor of secondary courses taken by the student. The courses
taken in high school show the colleges whether the student is willing to challenge themselves
academically, or if they are content to take easy courses that do not force them to think analytically
and work hard. Stanford University, one of the most selective colleges in the US, deems academic
excellence to be of upmost importance to admission; Stanford evaluates applicant’s high school
transcripts and “expect you to challenge yourself throughout high school and to do it well”.
However, different secondary schools have various methods of grading and various difficulty or
courses, so it is not enough to only consider a student’s transcript when evaluating an application
and making an admissions decision. Colleges should also consider standardized test scores, such
as the SAT and the ACT. These tests are standardized and therefore provide colleges with a
consistent assessment and grading scale nationwide, allowing for comparison between students
from different schools. Once again, it is not enough to only consider test scores because it is just
one test and some students naturally test well while other do not test well. Additionally, a student’s
ability to study and prepare for one test does not necessarily reflect their work ethic and dedication
of the student throughout their high school career. Some students become so focused and reliant
on standardize test that they sacrifice their sleep, health, and happiness to increase their chances
of performing well. Due to increased competition for admission into top colleges many students
have spent all their time and efforts working to get into the “right college”, neglecting to prepare
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themselves for college and life after college (Wong). Many students have lost sight of the end goal;
college has become the goal rather than the means and starting point of achieving goals and
objectives. While grades are important, colleges cannot solely evaluate a student’s academic
performance, colleges must be able to see the student behind the numbers and scores to grasp who
they are as a person and what they have to offer the college.
It is also imperative for colleges to consider other factors like personal essays and extracurricular activities. These factors allow colleges to obtain an idea of who the applicant is as a
student, and more importantly as a person. Colleges ask students a variety of questions regarding
their education, hobbies, memorable experiences, and ambitions. Many of the colleges I applied
to ask questions about how I desired to be impacted by my college experience and how I can assist
in improving the college community and helping it thrive. The goal of these essays and extracurricular activities if to form a picture of who a student is beyond grades and test scores. Essays
help colleges determine what motivates students and what goals they hope to achieve in college
and in the years following college. Personal essays are a necessity, especially for Ivy League
colleges because nearly all the applicants have excellent grades and nearly perfect standardized
test scores; essays allow these colleges to distinguish between these identical students and
determine the best student for the university. Academic advisor and former president of Southern
Vermont College contends that admissions officers “a singularly poor at determining which
students are more likely to succeed then others”. Grades and test scores do not illustrate a student’s
character and aptitude for hard work and success, or the student’s ability to contribute to the
university’s community. On “Thinking Schools International” a teacher responded to an article
about biases in the college admissions system with a simple cartoon. The cartoon illustrated an
admissions officer, a variety of animals, and a tree. The admissions officer said, “For a fair
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selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree.” (Cartoon). Some animals,
monkeys and birds, have a clear advantage, but others physically cannot climb a tree. This is
because monkeys were made to climb trees, it is what they were built to do, but no matter how
hard a fish tries or wants to climb a tree it is not able to, because it was made to swim. While this
is a humorous example it shows how many colleges desire students who fit a mold- their idea of a
“perfect” student. Often this mold is one-dimensional and neglects many talents and abilities that
students may possess. Colleges should not limit themselves to students who are only academically
talented and have nothing else to offer. While personal essays are important for obtaining a
complete picture of who the student is, both in and out of the classroom, letters of recommendation
provide admissions officers with an outside perspective on the student.
Letters of recommendation are equally, if not more, important as all these other factors
because many times teachers, coaches, and mentors see attributes and characteristics in students
that the students do not see in themselves. Students are not always able to recognize their best
qualities that set them apart from their peers, whereas these qualities jump out at other people in
the student’s life. In practically all sports it is a lot easier to coach players who are willing to work
hard and adapt to fit their role on the team than players who rely on pure talent and athleticism
alone My mom is a volleyball coach and she refers to these traits as “intangibles”. Essentially
intangibles are the traits that a coach cannot teach, they are the athlete’s motivation, determination,
work ethic, and desire to compete, and win, at a high level. One of my teachers, a former athletic
director, describes these intangibles as the “fire in the belly”, it must come from within oneself.
These traits and passion cannot be taught on a court, field, or classroom, but the can be cultivated
and amplified within athletes and students. Some students are willing to work hard and struggle so
that they can succeed while others may be naturally intelligent and unwilling to work. Therefore,
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letters of recommendation are essential to the admissions process because no standardized test can
evaluate these intangible qualities or characteristics. Many colleges and universities strive to take
these characteristics into account; however often the values stressed in college admissions systems
miss many important qualities revealed in letters od recommendation. Ironically, many
university’s “don’t always measure the key qualities [they] want to see if [their] graduates”
(Gross). Letters of recommendation are imperative to college admissions because it allows
colleges to obtain a picture of who a student is both in and out of the classroom while offering an
idea how the student can benefit the university.
Stanford University is one of the most selective universities in the United States today;
Stanford’s “overall application review is holistic, focusing on academic excellence, intellectual
vitality and personal context”. They aim to procure a complete depiction of their applicants, so
they can accurately determine the best students for their university. Other top-ranking universities
evaluate applicants similarly. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has initiated a system which
allows applicants to construct a portfolio to demonstrate their “technical creativity” and to show
their abilities outside the realm of academics. These portfolios are an “intriguing glimpse of how
a college might better align its process with its culture and values”. Colleges should strive to admit
the most qualified students; to determine which students are most qualified colleges should
consider academic abilities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation. These criterion paint
a picture of the whole student and allow colleges to decide which applicants are best suited for the
university. Colleges should strive to accept a class “that will benefit from the experience of college
— enriching each other, the faculty, staff and the community (both near and far)” (Gross). In order
to ascertain which applicants are most qualified a college must decide what characteristics make a
good student. While pure academic ability is important, a good student is much more than good
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grades. A good student must be diligent and motivated; a good student must have a willingness
and desire to learn; a good student must be able to collaborate and communicate ideas with other
students and teacher; a good student must take ownership of their learning and pursue learning
outside the education system; a good student must be willing to challenge themselves academically
and allow themselves to “fail forward”. Gender, race, and alumni relation do not contribute
anything to determining which students possess intangible characteristics and qualities; they do
not reveal anything about the student to the college at all and, therefore, should not be considered
in the admissions process. Some higher education admissions systems are working towards
admitting the best students while other colleges are still consumed with the idea of students fitting
their mold. I believe that some college admissions systems need to be maintained while others
need to be revised. I believe college admissions systems should endeavor to determine and admit
the best overall students, students who will challenge themselves, challenge others, and make the
university a better place.