imagesThere is a price to pay for the coveted college acceptance letter: years of preparation and countless nights dedicated to filling out the extremely long and detailed Common Application.

When the letters do come in, most of us have been accepted to at least one school that we’ve applied to, even if it is the safest choice and least desirable. At this point, we are so happy that the battle is over that we contently settle with our acceptance package. We erase the “College Application Tips” out of our search history and chuck our advice packets handed to us by our counselors. I, however, wasn’t so lucky.

I only applied to four universities and was rejected by all of them. The time between finally attending college and my rejection gave me time to think thoroughly about the college admission process. Having been through the complete ordeal of been treated as a “college reject,” I was first depressed, then angry, then just curious. Why was I rejected? Exactly how fair is the college admission?

When you type in “college admission process unfair” into Google, you get pages of articles dedicated to this subject, whether it’s about race and ethnicity, or economic status. It’s established that the college admission system is flawed, but if we had come up with a better one, we would likely already be using it. Race and economic status may have affected my acceptance, but are not the biggest problem with the system.

In my resentful days, I was sure that I had been rejected based on my economic status. After all, I couldn’t pay full tuition nor could my dad donate a building. But I may have jumped too soon to that conclusion.

In his blog, Study Hacks, computer scientist and author Cal Newport discusses the relative fairness of college admissions when it comes to economic status. “It’s easy to claim that college admission unfairly rewards the rich because they can afford SAT prep and fancy college counselors. Maybe. My exposure to admission offices, however, seems to emphasize that SAT prep doesn’t do any more good than just taking a few timed sample tests on your own (which is free), and the efforts of college counselors are easily sniffed out on most applications (and tend to annoy admission officers),” he wrote. “In other words, college admissions may turn out to be more fair than we think when it comes to choosing between students from the middle class and those from the upper class.”

But what about race? I’m Asian American, and recently, more and more surveys and studies are showing that the bar for admitting Asians are higher than other races.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, explains in “Applying While Asian: Unfair Sting of College Quotas that asians are discriminated against in the admissions process.

“They are disadvantaged vis-a-vis other minorities and perhaps vis-a-vis whites,” he wrote. “The Center for Equal Opportunity, a think tank opposed to racial preferences, in a 2005 study looked at a male applying to the University of Michigan from in-state who had no parental connection to the school. If he had a 1240 SAT score and a 3.2 GPA, he had a 92 percent chance of admission if black and 88 percent if Latino. If white, he had only a 14 percent chance, and if Asian, a 10 percent chance.”

This might be true, but I went to a high school that had a demographic with over 70 percent Asians, and one of the highest college acceptance rates in the country. If Asians really were being discriminated against in the admissions process, it certainly didn’t stop my peers from going to college.

My GPA was high enough to meet the requirements of all the universities I applied to. I volunteered and interned at a newspaper. I guess the final question I asked was, could I have done better with the application? Given what I had, no. I had done my best to fill in the questions to the best of my abilities. Frankly, the best part of what I had to offer could not be captured on paper.

If every application came with an interview, perhaps the results would be very different. When I think about what I would say to the admission officers that rejected me (which I did, every night for probably a month), it would probably go like this:

“I haven’t been in the Olympics, written a book, or starred in a movie. Instead I moved by myself away from my parents in China to come back to America so I could get a better education and get into a great American college (oh the irony). I worked in a newspaper internship not to impress you and other college admission officers out there, but to learn how to write news so I can help report on human rights issues in China, because my grandmother was unlawfully arrested, detained, and tortured for her beliefs. My grandmother moved to America on refugee status and I had to take care of her single-handedly while balancing school and my internship. I’m hard working and motivated to do better, even if I began behind the starting line.

Sure, I didn’t have a spotless transcript and I am not a famous and accomplished person, but isn’t that what college is all about? Giving us the potential to do that? Isn’t it ironic that you ask us to be already accomplished in order to be given a chance, if not to be accomplished but to at least discover who we are and be educated along the way? Well, if I were a genius and making applications for Mac computers or writing the next Moby Dick, perhaps I wouldn’t be applying!”

The most glaring flaw of our college admission system appears to be its lack of depth and emphasis on the individual applicant. Just SAT scores alone weeds out the “non-eligible,” even some students with stellar extracurriculars and interesting backgrounds.

The essay questions are general and vague, and really aren’t designed to help the applicant express his/her individuality.

Questions like “What single adjective do you think would be most frequently used to describe you by those who know you best?” really isn’t enough to see the full potential of an applicant. In combination with the unfairness brought about by racial and economic inequality, the college application process can be a game that’s impossible to win for some hopeful students.

Unfortunately, I cannot foresee a better alternative in the near future. After all, it is impossible for the colleges to individually interview and get to know each applicant. In terms of race and class, we could opt for a merit based only system, but it will inevitably also be influenced by race and class as wealthier students will have access to more resources-tutors, libraries, etc. It’s impossible to change the admission system without reforming our entire society, which is too massive of a task for anyone to take on.



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  1. You didn’t get in because you only applied to four colleges you need at least eight with realistic safety colleges on your list. This is a matter of either poor counseling or you not being able to come to grips with reality.

  2. As a private college counselor, I will not be the first or the last person to agree that the college admissions process is flawed. I have had students accepted, rejected, and waitlisted this year and I know how frustrating the experience can be. I have no doubt you will have a rewarding four years of college and make many worthwhile contributions to the campus and community.

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