America’s Holistic College Admissions Process

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Admission to New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, one of the most prestigious high schools in NYC, is based on the results of a test (photo credit: PointsOfNoReturn).

Over the years, some of our international clients have asked us why America’s college admissions system is not based purely on grades and test scores. When posed this question, we describe the merits of the holistic admissions process. We make clear that if America’s highly selective universities admitted students based purely on numbers, it would lead to boring, homogenous student bodies lacking in diversity. Just because a student receives a perfect score on the SAT or ACT doesn’t make that student interesting. And our nation’s elite schools seek to offer admission to interesting students, as they have every right to do.

The Merits of America’s Holistic College Admissions Process

You see, we stand firmly behind the merits of America’s holistic college admissions process. Is it flawed? Undoubtedly. Is there room for improvement? Yes! But an admissions system based purely on grades and test scores would not be discerning. Harvard, as an example, rejects classes worth of applicants with perfect grades and perfect scores. If admission were based only on numbers, how could Harvard whittle down its pool? The school wouldn’t be able to — nor could several other elite universities.

A Case Example of Why Basing Admission Only on Test Results Isn’t Ideal

The controversy surrounding the highly unpopular New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nixed plan to eliminate the SHSAT, an admissions test that is the sole criterion for admission to New York City’s specialized high schools, offers some insight into what could happen to America’s college admissions process if it were based only on test scores. As an example, New York City’s Stuyvesant High School doesn’t exactly boast a diverse student body. Rather, the student body is largely comprised of Asian American students who aced the SHSAT. The percentages of Latinx and African American students at Stuyvesant are, in a word, abysmal.

We Believe in the Merits of Diverse Student Bodies

As we believe in the great value of diverse student bodies at America’s elite universities, we don’t want to see these schools adopt policies similar to New York City’s specialized high schools. It would not serve these schools. It would not serve their students. But it’s not like these schools would even consider adopting such policies — for they likely already have a good sense how it would all turn out with Stuyvesant serving as a case example. And Stuyvesant is a wonderful school. We just think Stuyvesant would be even better if its study body were more diverse — not that Mayor de Blasio’s plan was a good one. It failed for a reason, much like many of his plans.

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