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What’s fair?

Angel Pérez, President of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, supports affirmative action:

“Admission officers are often criticized for not doing more to admit low-income, first-generation students of color. And now, they face the possibility that the Court will remove their ability to use race in the holistic review of a candidate. To do so would be a leap backward. It threatens to impose blinders on American colleges and universities to the abundant racial injustices in our society and in our educational systems.”

He refers to the first part of the Affirmative Action question (explained by Columbia law professor Johnson in the podcast below). While I heard the Supreme Court argument, I remembered this MIT case study I shared last year.

•Valedictorian, private high school in suburban Colorado • Perfect testing-18 AP courses, all scores of 5, AP Spanish 4 • Took AP Calculus BC as a freshman (score of 5) • Chemistry teacher wrote glowing rec: “Best student in 25 years.” • Conducted research in Finland over the summer • Received additional evaluation from the Finland professor• Applying to major in chemistry, electrical engineering or energy technology • Conducted energy research at a local university • Co-founded an app development company; received some venture funding • Academic all-state in tennis in Colorado • ISEF – made it to the finalist level. Received grand award in Chemical Energy (21 categories—got the top award in his category) • MIT alumni interviewer raved about him.

There were so many extracurriculars that I omitted several. Some of my colleagues were angry, saying, “What more can a student do?”

What’s fair?

Another student, equally academically impressive, was a first-generation, inner-city resident who attended a public school that offered few AP courses. He did not have access to opportunities like conducting research in Finland, but exhibited academic curiosity by asking his physics teacher to help him conduct research. Along with “inquisitiveness,” he exhibited “compassion.” For elite colleges, that means creating/participating in projects that better the lives of others at the non-profit or professional level. He did this in his neighborhood.

Admissions reps say it best: don’t expect the admissions process to be fair. Colleges with single digit admit rates deny nearly all students, regardless of family income or legacy. Most admitted applicants with economic privilege (the MIT-denied student above was admitted to three Ivy League colleges, among others) will go on to enjoy great success. Applicants who are academically-gifted, but economically-challenged, have fewer chances. They know, like we all do, that life is not always “fair.”


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