Curious which topic generates the most comments on the pages of this college admissions blog? That’s an easy one. It’s Affirmative Action. Whenever we post about the process through which our nation’s elite colleges take race into account in admissions, folks come out of the woodwork to let us know how it’s not underrepresented minorities but rather white males who actually need a boost in admissions, a suggestion that elicits only eye rolls here. So many of these folks, after you cut through their choice words for us and their always colorful tirades on race-conscious admissions, make the argument that grades and scores should be the determinants of admissions. And if our nation’s elite colleges were to rely on grades and scores alone, they so often argue, they would be more respectable in their eyes.
Elite Colleges Do Value Grades, Courses, and Scores Above All But There Are Other Key Factors Too
But what these folks seem not to understand is that our nation’s elite universities reject classes worth of students with near-perfect grades and scores. Yes, our nation’s elite universities reject more applicants with near-perfect grades and scores than are available spots in the incoming classes at these institutions. The journalist Jeffrey Selingo correctly pointed this out in his latest book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions. As he writes in his book, “When the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans in 2019 about eight admissions criteria colleges should consider, grades and test scores topped the list, by far, well above athletic ability, race, or first-generation and legacy status. The reality is that by using only those two measures there are simply many more qualified applicants than there are spots at any selective school.”
There Are More Applicants with Great Grades and Scores Than Seats in Each Incoming Class at Elite Colleges
Well said, Mr. Selingo. Well said indeed. Harvard’s longtime Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons once said how Harvard rejects five classes worth of students with perfect grades and perfect scores. It’s why admission to Harvard — and admission to all highly selective universities in America — is not only about grades and scores. Are they two key factors? Absolutely. But they are two key factors within a holistic admissions process. By restricting factors in admissions decision-making to grades and scores, the math simply wouldn’t work. There are only so many seats!
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