The Ivy Coach Daily

August 8, 2022

The Refugees of Afghanistan in Elite College Admissions

A piece in The New York Times highlights some remarkably brave women who fled war-torn Afghanistan in search of a better life.

Some years ago, someone asked us, “Who is the best college applicant ever?” We didn’t miss a beat. “William Kamkwamba, without a doubt,” we replied. For those who are not loyal readers of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog, William Kamkwamba, is, of course, “the boy who harnessed the wind.” William, a native of a small Malawi village, designed a windmill — made of old bicycle parts and other discarded junk — to power his village and offer hope to his people. His story was chronicled in a book he co-authored, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which was a New York Times bestseller before he even applied to American universities. William ultimately attended, and graduated from, Dartmouth College. Since William’s admission to Dartmouth, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner ever of the Nobel Peace Prize, whose tremendous courage in the face of terrorists in her native Pakistan gave hope to millions of young women around the globe seeking an education, also applied to and earned admission to Stanford University. Malala has since graduated from Stanford. But William and Malala are not alone among a group of truly extraordinary applicants to America’s elite universities. In fact, a piece in today’s New York Times shines a spotlight on a group of young women who too are among the most impressive candidates for admission we’ve ever heard. They hail from Afghanistan. When the United States pulled out, a group of brave young women — university students — came to America, Fort McCoy specifically, and some of our nation’s finest schools offered them opportunities to continue their educations.

As Maddy Crowell report in a wonderful piece entitled “She’s at Brown. Her Heart’s Still in Kabul,” “At Fort McCoy, [ ] Hashimi had heard the rumors she ad her cohort would be transferring into American universities, but she was skeptical it would happen. ’I was worried the schools wouldn’t trust Afghan girls,’ she says…But, in fact, 10 universities were interested in taking them in: Arizona State, Brown, Cornell, Delaware, DePaul, Georgia State, North Texas, Suffolk, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and West Virginia. Some of them offered immediate acceptance, while others required more extensive applications. In November, Hashimi, to her surprise, received an email from Brown requesting that she write separate essays about her personal story, her academic interests and her goals and dreams. She had no computer, so she drafted her essays on her cell phone. After that, she says, she checked her email ’every second.’…[In total,] fourteen women ended up at Brown; nine at Cornell; 67 at Arizona State; 15 at the University of Delaware. All of them would be on full scholarships, covered by donations raised by the universities.”

We commend these institutions for offering these young women who fled war-torn Afghanistan to continue their educations. And while we anticipate some of our more conservative-leaning readers writing in, lamenting how America’s elite universities should be reserved for Americans first, these are private institutions that have every right to admit the students they wish to have on their campuses. Besides, the educations of America’s students are made stronger by their exposure to these brave young women. That being said, while we are delighted that Brown and Cornell, among other universities, offered these women safe harbor, we’re discouraged they have not yet been offered the chance to earn degrees. As Crowell points out, “At Cornell, the women were let in as ’visiting interns’ for the school year; at Brown, the 14 women were considered ’nondegree special students for the 2021-2022 academic year.’ Nobody there was sure what would happen after May.” Come on Brown. Come on Cornell. Let them stay and earn their degrees. These young women deserve it!

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