The Ivy Coach Daily

May 13, 2024

Does Harvard Use Racial Quotas in Admissions?

A lawn surrounds red brick buildings at Harvard University.

Previously Published on October 3, 2019:

Over the years, many parents and students have asked us if Harvard uses racial quotas in its admissions process to discriminate against Asian American applicants. Our answer has long been an unequivocal no.

Now, it’s not because Harvard has never used racial quotas. The school infamously used quotas decades ago to discriminate against Jewish applicants (as detailed in sociologist Jerome Karabel’s book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

But while Harvard has, for years, despicably discriminated against Asian American applicants, they have not used quotas to do so.

Does Harvard Use Racial Quotas?

No, This False Assertion Has Been Debunked

While Harvard ultimately lost the legal battle against Students for Fair Admissions in defense of Affirmative Action in June 2023, the judge’s 2019 decision in the U.S. District Court ruling very clearly addressed the issue of quotas in Harvard’s admissions process.

As Judge Allison Burroughs wrote at the time, “Harvard does not have any racial quotas and has not attempted to achieve classes with any specified racial composition…Harvard evaluates the likely racial composition of its class and provides tips to applicants to help it achieve a diverse class. Those tips are necessary to achieve a diverse class given the relative paucity of minority applicants that would be admitted without such a tip. In trying to assure a diverse class, when reviewing an individual applicant, the admissions officers consider various qualitative and numerical indicators of diversity, including the racial composition of the group of students who are expected to be admitted.”

She continued, “Although Harvard tracks and considers various indicators of diversity in the admissions process, including race, the racial composition of Harvard’s admitted classes has varied in a manner inconsistent with the imposition of a racial quota or racial balancing…Since 1980, the Asian American proportion of the admitted class has increased roughly five-fold, and since 1990 the Asian American proportion of the admitted class has increased roughly two-fold. SFFA did not offer expert testimony on racial balancing and instead asserts that the claim can be resolved without any expert analysis.”

However, Admissions Officers Do Discriminate through Implicit Biases

So, how do Harvard admissions officers discriminate against Asian American applicants if racial quotas aren’t in place? That’s easy. We all have implicit biases, including Harvard’s admissions officers. As they sang it in Avenue Q, “We’re all a little bit racist.” Even you.

Just because Harvard doesn’t count the number of Asian American students to discern if they’ve admitted too many and if they should start saying no to more doesn’t mean admissions officers aren’t stereotyping applicants. It doesn’t mean that when they see another Asian American applicant who excels in math and science and plays the violin, they don’t apply the old acronym “LMO” or “Like Many Others.” While Harvard’s admissions officers ceased writing handwritten notes on files since they quickly learned in the Harvard v. SFFA case that it was all subject to discovery, it would be disingenuous to suggest they changed their way of evaluating applicants.

Ivy Coach’s Asian American Applicants Don’t Face the Same Discrimination

Yet, over the last three-plus decades, our Asian American students at Ivy Coach have not faced this same kind of discrimination in Harvard’s admissions process. Why? Because our Asian American students don’t present such profiles. Our students zig when others zag and, in so doing, beat admissions officers at their own game — fairly and ethically.

Our Asian American students at Ivy Coach might play the violin, but they’re certainly not going to list this hobby on their application. Nor will they list piano. Or taekwondo. After all, when the game of highly selective college admissions is all about differentiation, our students will always present wonderfully weird, unique profiles to stand out not only from other Asian American applicants but from all applicants. Our task at Ivy Coach has long been to beat Harvard’s admissions officers at their own game — and this is all part of that strategy.

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