With the Supreme Court’s 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 college admissions questions, and we’ve answered some of them below.
I won prizes in an extracurricular activity. Does this help?
How important are extracurriculars in 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 go to get into a Top 20, or my dream school, Columbia? —Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, Folsom, Calif.
This is a difficult question to answer without a clearer picture of the whole application.
But we ran your application from Terry Mady-Grove, a college admissions counselor based in Port Washington, New York. He said it was highly unlikely that a single extracurricular activity would propel you into a Top 20 college.
Even winning a writing contest won’t necessarily be your ticket to Columbia, she said, but exhibiting a long-term passion for writing could go a long way.
« What can really distinguish a student is dedication over a period of time, » Ms. Mady-Grove said. « While entering contests might be an advantage, genuine and sustained dedication and demonstrating a true love of writing will be key. »
Yes, male students are required.
Do men have an advantage since female candidates outnumber them? —Denise Somsak, Evendale, Ohio
You’ve encountered an issue that poses a dilemma for college admissions officials: the gender gap.
Nationwide, more women than men enroll in college, attend college, and receive graduate degrees. Female students make up nearly 60% of students across the country.
While it would be hard to get an admissions officer to confirm this, there have been relationships this suggests that male students have an easier time getting into college.
An analysis by The Brown Daily Herald of the 2021-22 admissions cycle found that Brown University received 13,000 more applications from women and that men had a distinct advantage in admissions. During that cycle, 6.73 percent of male applicants were admitted, compared to 4.06 percent of women, according to the analysis.
But a look at the 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 since more women than men apply, more women are admitted.
Why not pick names from a hat?
If there are no standards (no SAT score required), if we can’t talk about race (no affirmative action), and if it’s based only on grade point average, why don’t we just switch to a lottery system? — Chelsey Kueffer, Captain Cook, Hawaii
The idea of admitting students to very selective schools, like the Ivy League, by lottery seems like the very antithesis of the current process. But some academics have started talking about lotteries as a potential way to reform college admissions.
Whether that will ever happen is an open question.
Michael Sandel, a Harvard political theorist, wrote a book that attacked meritocracy, « The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? »
He feared that students at elite colleges didn’t recognize that luck, not just hard work, was at the root of their success. And he has proposed that elite schools like Harvard hold a 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 lottery concept.
“What I like about the lottery admission idea is that it’s more transparent,” he said in an interview.
It would be a kind of guided lottery, he says. Students would first have to hit a certain threshold — say, grades or test scores or some other metric — and then their names would go into the hat.
« We’re assuming that every single person above the line can be successful in school, » said Dr. Richardson. « And so now we can shape the class however we want to or not, or not shape it at all and just have it be a lottery. »
A college could maintain its values, for example, by giving alumni families two tickets, if it had a legacy admissions policy. Or it could give more tickets to high-paying or low-income students.
The lottery, he said, would eliminate the most subjective part of admissions: who is reading the file.
« Each of us has our own biases, whether they’re aware of it or not, » she said. “And so what a lottery system does is take it away. Students might say they’re still special because they’re 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 that should be fighting, he admits.
So, she adds, « I think that’s why a lot of schools probably wouldn’t do it. »
Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.