Is Affirmative Action in College Admissions Unfair?

Author: Alexx | Category: Education | Politics | Society | Date: 09-16-2017

I have been troubled by special breaks that some applicants get in college admissions…I think all of these special breaks should be abolished.  Do you think so too?


Let’s first look at the main preference categories:

1.  BIG DONORS’ KIDS (BDK)—There are a lot of rich kids of all races and ethnicities whose parents bought their way into top American schools.  In fact, the practice is so widespread that  if you meet a rich Chinese kid who is at an Ivy, Stanford, MIT, etc.  you can safely assume that the kid did not get in on his or her own merits. He or she is most likely a BDK. Read this about a BDK scandal at Harvard.  

2. LEGACY KIDS: Children of alumni. American universities have always engaged in the practice of giving the children of graduates a “discount” when they apply.  But, unlike BDKs, it must be said that  generally speaking, legacy kids have much higher GPAs and SAT scores than other special preference kids.  One explanation of the motive behind this practice is that American universities want to keep alums happy so that they will keep on contributing.  Legacy kids have much higher chances of getting into top schools.  Although schools do not release figures for preference category admits, estimates are that for a school like Harvard (regular admit rate is now under 5%), legacy kids have a 30 to 40% chance of getting in.

3. STAR ATHLETES:  Athletes have always been admitted with much lower qualifications than most students, including kids in all of the other preference categories. The motive? Sports play a major role in building school spirit and sustaining the fun, competitive atmosphere, but most of all, sports competitions keep alumni interested, so that the contributions pipeline will be continully greased.  

4. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION  students  (Underrepresented minorities or UMs) UMs are mostly African Americans, non-affluent Latinos/Asian groups (Vietnamese, Filipino, etc.), and native Americans.  Many of these minorities are top students at their high schools, but have lower SAT scores and less stellar activities than the average admit. The rationale for affirmative action is that these students have faced much great adversities than others—either from racism or socioeconomic deprivation—so it is only fair to give them a break.  One criticism is that affirmative action should but does not apply to kids from impoverished backgrounds.

5. FACULTY/ADMIN “BRATS”: These are children of professors and top administrators.  Generally speaking, at top universities they get a moderate “discount,” meaning that their GPAs and SAT scores do not have to be as highly as those for regular admits.  Many sub-standard faculty/admin brats  that can’t meet the lowered standards are rejected. There is no explicit rationale except that it is harder to turn away one of your own.

6. VIP Kids: These are children of important people—politicians, movie stars, and other notables.  Their chances are about the same as legacy kids’. The implicit rationale (never clearly stated) is that it brings fame to the school and thereby, it raises the visibility and status of the school in the public’s eye.  

7. GENIUSES in one area: These are students who excel in one area, such as winning a prestigious international medal in math, but may not have very high overall GPAs. The rationale for this is simple: schools are, after all, centers of learning, so accepting someone who is superb in just one area can be easily justified on the basis of the core mission of institutions of higher learning..

Based on the above, it seems that only numbers 4 (affirmative action for underrepresented minorities) and 7 (geniuses in one area) can be justified on the basis of fairness and idealistic core values.

All the other preference categories  are hard to justify on any grounds other than the institution’s self-interest and some may even be said to represent forms of  corruption (e.g. the big donor kids who buy their way in).


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