We came across an op-ed in “The Los Angeles Times” written a few weeks back by Sara Harberson entitled “The truth about ‘holistic’ college admissions” that we wanted to share with our readers. It is a terrific op-ed written by a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer. We at Ivy Coach applaud Ms. Harberson for telling it like it is, for being transparent, for adding her voice to the chorus that sings the tune of how highly selective colleges discriminate against Asian American (and Asian) applicants. We’ve written extensively over the years and particularly over the last couple of months about the discrimination that Asian American and Asian applicants face in highly selective college admissions process. But Ms. Harberson’s description of the discrimination is spot on so we figured we’d share her own words. Which we entirely agree with.
In describing her conversations with Asian American applicants who didn’t earn admission, Ms. Harberson writes, “There was always a reason. Once in a while, it was something concrete, like the student got a low grade in an academic course even though his or her overall GPA remained high. Often, it had to do with the fact that the application had no ‘tag.’ A tag is the proverbial golden ticket for a student applying to an elite institution. A tag identifies a student as a high priority for the institution. Typically students with tags are recruited athletes, children of alumni, children of donors or potential donors, or students who are connected to the well connected. The lack of a tag can hinder an otherwise strong, high-achieving student. Asian American students typically don’t have these tags. Asian Americans are rarely children of alumni at the Ivies, for example. There aren’t as many recruited athletes coming from the Asian American applicant pool. Nor are they typically earmarked as ‘actual’ or ‘potential’ donors. They simply don’t have long-standing connections to these institutions.”
Well said, Ms. Harberson. Well said. And while you don’t need a tag to gain admission to highly selective colleges (we work with Asian American and Asian students every year who gain admission to these universities in spite of not having such tags), they sure can help. Connections help. Being a recruited athlete helps. Being a legacy helps. Being the child of a major donor helps. To suggest otherwise would be incorrect. So, Sara Harberson, thank you for your candor, for letting the world know that Asian Americans do indeed face discrimination, and that you rarely — if ever — encountered Asian American applicants with tags. And thank you for sharing your story of the guilt you felt when speaking with Asian American applicants who didn’t get in and trying to explain why. We understand why you couldn’t tell them exactly why they didn’t get in then, but now you’ve offered this insight to them in your very open and honest op-ed.