Your Son Didn’t Get Rejected Because He Is White
Originally Published on February 18, 2019:
Being White Has Nothing to Do With College Rejection
It’s a refrain we often hear from parents — who are not our clients at Ivy Coach — navigating the college admissions process: “My white male son…” It’s a refrain that disgusts us because no matter how these parents follow up their words, they’ve implied in their first utterance that their child is at a hopeless disadvantage as a white male in the elite college admissions process. It’s not true.
The White Male in Admissions Argument
A few years back, we came across a “Dear Therapist” letter in The Atlantic that we shared with our readers. In a letter to Lori Gottlieb, Lisa from Mendham, New Jersey complained of a rigged admissions system:
“My son is in the middle of the college-application process. He has very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores; he is an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team. He is also white, male, and upper-middle-class—and that is the problem. According to all of the statistics and reports, he should be accepted at Ivy League schools, but he has not been. He will eventually get into a ‘good’ school, but it is my guess (based on what we are seeing with his peer group) that he will be overqualified for the school he ends up at.”
Ivy Coach’s Response to the Tired White Male in Admissions Argument
The Myth of the Well-Rounded Applicant Argument to Ivy League Schools
Lisa, you wrote that your son had failed to earn admission to Ivy League schools. Based on the date of the publication of your letter, he was presumably deferred or denied admission in the Early round. You wrote that he had “very good” grades and scores, was an Eagle Scout, and ran cross country before citing that he’s a white male. Of his demographics, you write: “That is the problem.”
Oh, how we at Ivy Coach beg to differ! Want to know why your son likely didn’t get in? Suppose your son presented himself in his college applications similarly to how you portrayed him in your letter to The Atlantic. In that case, it’s no wonder he didn’t get in: Ivy League schools aren’t seeking out Eagle Scouts, an organization that, historically, hasn’t been all that accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. They’re not seeing out cross-country runners unless those student-athletes are fast enough to be recruited by the school’s cross-country coach. If not, this activity only serves to make an applicant well-rounded.
As Ivy Coach’s loyal readers know, highly selective colleges, like the Ivy League colleges, have not sought to admit well-rounded students for decades. Instead, they wish to admit singularly talented students who excel in one area that will help fulfill an institutional need.
The Myth of the Disadvantaged Male Applicant Argument to Ivy League Schools
These singularly talented students that elite colleges seek to admit come in all different shapes and sizes: male, female, non-binary, white, black, Asian, Latino, Native American, Jewish, Muslim — you name it. Yet it’s clear that Lisa believes males have the deck stacked against them in the admissions process. That’s just plain false.
Elite colleges, including the Ivy League colleges, want to admit gender-balanced classes. Yet, the applicant pool skews heavily female at most highly selective colleges. So, because the institutional need is gender balance, it’s actually easier at most of these schools for males to earn admission than females.
Let’s take Brown University as an example. At Brown, for the 2022-2023 academic year, there were 3,538 undergraduates who self-identified as men and 3,651 who identified as women. At Yale University, during this same year, 3,164 undergraduates self-identified as men and 3,315 as woman. At Harvard University, during the 2021-2022 academic year, the most recent year Harvard has reported to date, 3,536 undergraduates self-identified as men while 3,582 self-identified as women.
Are our readers starting to get the idea? And, remember, imagine the applicant pools if these institutions are trying to balance the classes by gender — even if they’re not succeeding since women regularly outnumber men.
The Myth that It’s Nearly Impossible for White Students to Earn Admission to Ivy League Schools
Now that we’ve dismantled the disadvantaged male argument, let’s address the race component of Lisa’s thesis — with more data.
At Brown, during the 2022-2023 academic year, 3,871 undergraduates self-identified as white out of a total undergraduate student body of 11,189 students — meaning that 34.6% of Brown undergraduates are white.
At Yale, during the 2022-2023 academic year, 2,336 undergraduates self-identified as white out of a total undergraduate student body of 6,645 students. By our arithmetic, 35.15% of Yale undergraduates are thus white.
At Harvard, 2,533 undergraduates out of a total of 7,153 self-identified as white during the 2021-2022 academic year, the most recent year Harvard has reported to The Common Data Set. That’s 35.41% white!
Evidently, it’s not impossible to get into Ivy League schools as white applicants when about 35% of their undergraduate student bodies are white.
There’s No Such Thing as ‘Qualified’ for Admission to the Ivy League
Finally, Lisa, there is also no such thing as being “qualified” for admission to Ivy League schools. Many applicants with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores are denied admission year in and year out. Harvard could fill an entire incoming class — and then some — from the piles of denied students with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores. To suggest that your son is qualified for admission is thus nonsensical. Admission to America’s elite universities is a holistic process.
Misconceptions About Ivy League Admissions Can Lead to Sexist, Racist Leaps of Logic
Lisa’s assertions are based on misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process, perpetuated by students, parents, school counselors, private college counselors, and others. But then, when she takes the giant leap by asserting that her son’s gender and race are “the problem,” — it’s utterly mind-boggling.
If Lisa wants to believe as much, she has that right. But it sure would have been nice if the therapist responding to the letter in The Atlantic called her out on her misguided sense of the college admissions process rather than soothe her sexist, racist insecurities.
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