With the Supreme Court decision banning race-conscious affirmative action, the college admissions process is about to change for everyone. Hundreds of colleges have stopped requiring standardized tests, essays are likely to be much more important, and admissions decisions could become much more subjective.
We asked readers to send us their questions about colleges, and answered some of them below.
I have won awards in extracurricular activities. Does that help?
How much do extracurriculars count on an application? For example, I’m a writer who has entered a handful of contests and self-published a few stories. How far do I have to take that to get into Top 20, or my dream school, Columbia? – Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, Folsom, California.
That’s a tough question to answer without a clearer picture of your entire application.
But we took care of your question from Terry Mady-Grove, a college admissions consultant based in Port Washington, NY. She said it’s highly unlikely that one extracurricular activity alone would propel you into a Top 20 college.
Even winning an essay contest won’t necessarily be the ticket to Columbia, she said, but exhibiting a long-term passion for writing could be a big help.
“What can really set a student apart is dedication over a period of time,” Ms Mady-Grove said. “While entering competitions could be a plus, genuine, sustained dedication and demonstrating a true love of writing will be key.”
Yes, male students are required.
Do men have an advantage because women candidates outnumber them? – Denise Somsak, Evendale, Ohio
You’ve hit on a problem that presents a dilemma for college officials: the gender gap.
Nationally, more women than men apply to college, attend college, and receive degrees. Students make up nearly 60 percent of students across the country.
Although you’d be hard-pressed to get an admissions officer to confirm it, there is reports this suggests that male students have an easier time getting into college.
The Brown Daily Herald’s analysis of the 2021-22 admissions cycle found that Brown University received 13,000 more applications from women, and that men had a decided advantage in admissions. During that cycle, 6.73 percent of male applicants were accepted, compared to 4.06 percent of women, the analysis found.
But look at admissions numbers at another highly selective campus, the University of Virginia, found that the acceptance rate was about the same for men and women. But because more women than men apply, more women are accepted.
Why not pick names out of a hat?
If there are no standards (no required SAT scores), if we can’t talk about race (no affirmative action) and if it’s based only on nightly averages, why don’t we just move to a lottery system? – Chelsey Kueffer, Captain Cook, Hawaii
The idea of admitting students to highly selective schools, such as the Ivy League, through a lottery seems the very antithesis of the current process. But some academics have begun talking about lotteries as a possible way to reform college admissions.
Whether it will ever happen is an open question.
Michael Sandel, a Harvard political theorist, wrote a book that attacked meritocracy, “The Tyranny of Merit: What Becomes of the Common Good?”
He worried that students at elite colleges did not recognize that luck, not just hard work, went into their success. And he suggested that elite schools like Harvard hold lottery for students above a basic minimum threshold.
How would that work?
L. Song Richardson, president of Colorado College, said she was intrigued by Mr. Sandel’s concept of a lottery.
“What I like about the lottery admissions idea is that it’s more transparent,” she said in an interview.
It would be something of a guided lottery, she says. Students would have to meet a certain threshold first — say, grades or test scores or some other metric — and then their names would go into the hat.
“We assume that every single person above the line can succeed in school,” Dr. Richardson said. “And so now we can shape the class as we want or not, or not shape it at all and just let it be a lottery.”
A college could preserve its values, for example, by giving two tickets to alumni families if it had a policy of legacy admission. Or it could give more tickets to full-paying students or poor students.
The lottery, she said, would eliminate the most subjective part of admissions: who happens to read the file.
“We each have our own biases, whether they’re conscious or not,” she said. “And so what a lottery system does, it takes that away. Students might say they are special yet because they are above the line.”
The downside is that a lottery takes away that almost magical feeling of being chosen by a hidden power, a greater wisdom, the very syndrome it’s supposed to combat, she admits.
So, she adds, “I think that’s why a lot of schools probably wouldn’t do it.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.