You Can Go to College! (Maybe) by Docta Smooth
This year between October 1st and November 30th, the Common App website processed a record number of 2.5 million college applications. Before 2012, the average high school senior applied to 4.35 colleges; this number has now risen to 6.81. The reason for this dramatic increase is simple- worry. Students are worried that colleges will not accept them, so they apply to more in order to increase their chances of admission. And this anxiety is not unjustified. Colleges are receiving more applications and admitting less people every year. Harvard is one of America’s most selective schools, and in 2012 it accepted a mere 6.2% of its 35,000 applicants. In comparison, in 1990 Harvard received 13,600 applications and accepted 16.1%. This same trend can be seen across the country, with acceptance rates dropping an average of 8.12% and applicants rising an additional 10.5% since 1990. College is harder to get into now more than ever, and the confusing, misleading and often biased admissions process means that no one is guaranteed a letter of acceptance.
There are currently 263 college students accepted in 2012 roaming the UC Berkeley campus who earned a GPA below the nationwide average and an SAT score (M+CR) between 600 and 1000. The same year of these students’ admission, 3,200 applicants with SAT scores of 1400 or above and GPA’s of 4.0 or above were denied admission. According to the dean of admissions, this is because colleges want a “diverse and unique class,” which some colleges seem to interpret as “deny worthy applicants admission in the interest of affirmative action.” For example, in the SAT scores of students that have been accepted into private universities, African-American applicants have a 310 point advantage over Caucasians. This means that between the collective averages of these two ethnicities, Caucasians have a score that is 310 points higher. Hispanics, with a 130 point advantage, also seem to benefit from the admissions process, while Asians have a 140 point disadvantage. This means that when compared to African-Americans, Asians have an average SAT score that is 450 points higher.
And while tests aren’t the only component of an application that matter, if you think your extracurriculars will help you stand out from the crowd- think again. When filling out the California State University application, do you remember the extracurricular section? If not, then don’t feel bad, because there wasn’t one. Under the personal information section, the CSU application only asks for 3 things besides basic information: SAT scores, high school grades, and demographic information. So, the CSU system only evaluates the three aspects of an application that are most prone to bias. In contrast, the UC application does include an extracurricular and volunteer work section. But the question remains- how important is this section in admissions decisions? The answer, unfortunately, is not as much as you might think. Ex- UC Berkeley application reader Ruth Starkman admits that while many extracurricular activities are nice to see on a college app, they are more of “an indication of the student’s interests and passions.” So, despite being one of the few factors that can distinguish a student from thousands of others with similar GPA’s and SAT’s, extracurriculars don’t actually hold that much value in the admissions process.
It is nearing the time when high school seniors start receiving letters in the mail that either read “Congratulations!” or “We regret to inform you…,” and it is unsettling to think that a decision with such a large impact on students’ futures is left in the hands of an incredibly unreliable process. In their attempts to make college admissions more equal and fair, admissions offices have actually accomplished the exact opposite. And with college acceptance rates trickling downwards every year, admissions will only become harder and harder. When it comes to college acceptance, the only thing sure about this unpredictable and biased procedure is that nothing is sure.