About Me

My name is Spencer. I'm 23 years old, and I'm a junior at Princeton. So far college has taken me five years. I've taken time off to work, transferred to USC and come back, and learned a lot along the way.

I like to think about life and what I'm going to do with mine.

I've met a lot of people my age with the same sorts of thoughts so feel free to read, take surveys, and comment.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The "Unknown Factors" of College Admissions

First off, let me apologize for the lack of posts in the last couple weeks. I've been very busy, but my schedule has cleared up so I'll be back to posting!

In my post concerning Jeremy Lin, I mentioned that discrimination is a major factor in college applications. Now, I don't only mean race when I say that. Geographic location, athletics, money, parents' education, and other circumstances also come into play. I warn you, don't by any means think these are trivial factors. In fact, a lot of times, they make all the difference.

Before I get into things, I think it's very important to mention that even though the college process seems unfair most of the time, there really isn't a much better solution that I've heard of or can think of. The only idea that I've had cannot possible work given the time constraints of admissions officers. In a previous post (paragraph 4), my suggestion would require admissions officers to live and interact with applicants for a month at a minimum to truly get an overview of the student. Still, even with unlimited time and resources, there would be so many qualified applicants, that choosing would be another nightmare in itself. Ultimately, prospective students would undoubtedly get disappointed and that system would be called unfair as well.

I know that accepting the process for what it is and the inevitable rejection at some colleges is extremely difficult, especially for those of you who are currently going through the process or (I reluctantly include) those who have children waiting to hear back from colleges. I've been through the process, and it's horrible, stressful, and sometimes just depressing; however, as I go over the "unknown factors," you will find that there are many factors beyond our control.

Getting into the thick of things, many of you who've been through the "modern era" of college applications, meaning in my generation forward (because I'm not old enough to know beyond that), may or may not realize just how many "unknown factors" contribute to your college admissions. It's true that many people speculate about these things; however, unless you have some sort of relationship with college counselors and/or admissions officers or have done extensive research on the subject, it's often very hard to form concrete generalizations.

As for me, I do know a few very experienced and qualified college counselors and admissions officers whom I've spoken to extensively on the subject. Nevertheless, with regard to speculation, take my knowledge with, perhaps, a quarter grain of salt.

Let's start with the most sensitive of the "unknown factors": race (and, for reasons I'll explain later, let's place geographic location in here as well).

Some call it discrimination and reverse-discrimination, others call it quotas, and some just say affirmative action. In a nutshell, when it comes to college admissions, all these terms refer to the same things: minorities. Philosophically, we, as Americans, generally believe in a fair distribution such as democracy; however, in a way, it makes college admissions all the more challenging. Nowadays, not only do admissions workers have to find the cream of the crop, they also need a certain percentage of each race, each gender, and each geographical area, including foreigners. The list goes on and on, but these are the major areas of consideration.

As a general trend, that I've seen and been told by college counselors, there are a few situations that give a student an advantage in the admissions process: students of Hispanic, African-American, or Native-American descent, students from states where many kids don't go out of state for school (i.e. there aren't many applicants to a lot of schools, and colleges like to have students from all fifty states), students whose parents did not attend college, students from famous families (celebrity parent, well known family name, etc), and obviously, students whose parents donate a building or something in that monetary range.

Don't by any means, think that I am against affirmative action or against what's fair; however, in my opinion, there are many times when such programs don't help the people they're meant to help. I know students of minority backgrounds who need financial help and really cannot afford to go to college, and in those cases, I think it's great for schools to make a priority to admit and help those students. Nevertheless, I also know quite a number of students of minority backgrounds who do not need any financial assistance, but they use the minority card to help them get into schools (like any smart person would).

This, again, is an aspect of college admissions that's not exactly the most fair, but it's as fair as it's going to get. We cannot presume or assume anything. Admissions officers don't know the specifics of everybody's life. We cannot change our race or whether our parents went to college. I guess we could move to an extremely low populous state whose students never apply anywhere other than a state school, but that's a drastic change.

In fact, I only have one major complaint when it comes to accepting certain minority groups and that is our acceptance of so many international students. I understand that getting to know kids from other parts of the world is a fascinating and very important cultural learning experience. Despite that, I don't exactly love that universities boast about how international their campuses are when it's such a stressful and difficult time getting ourselves into our own colleges. I know that many schools other than those in the United States (for example in England) charge an exponentially greater sum for foreigners to attend as opposed to those from the United Kingdom. If the case is that schools need the money, then why not charge more?

Plus, it's so hard for U.S. citizens to get jobs now, then why aren't we accepting more Americans into college as opposed to foreigners so that they may have a greater opportunity? People complain about jobs being outsourced, but isn't this similar to our education being outsourced?

Furthermore, I personally think that our international student acceptances make college admissions very hard for Asian-Americans. Yes, I have been to campuses that have many, many Asian students; however, we have to think about how many spots are taken by international Asian students. Think about that. Even if only 0.01% of the Chinese population applied to American schools, that's 31 MILLION... or roughly 10% of the United States population. That makes the competition for Asian-Americans all the more steep simply based on the number of applicants there are.

Another large chunk of college student populations is reserved for recruited athletes. I've heard from a student-athlete friend, that at her Ivy League college about 30-40% of the student body is on varsity sports teams. My first thought was...Ivy Leagues don't even recruit in the typical sense.What about those huge recruiting schools who fight for the NCAA football championship every year? They must have hundreds on the team.

Although it's great to have school spirit... I wonder just how many spots are taken by athletes (some of whom even leave after one year of college). Keep in mind that the academic standard for many recruited athletes is far, far lower than any normal applicant...

By now you may be wondering..."What if I'm none of those things?" Maybe you're just a typical student, or, even, a spectacular student with straight A's and tons of extracurricular activities. I'm sorry to say that the competition is stiff. There's millions of other students who boast the same things as you do. The only thing we can try to do is separate ourselves from the pack. Stand out and try to get the admissions board's attention. Fact is, if you include the spots reserved for recruited athletes, minorities, etc, that means everybody else is competing for the remaining number of spots. So the majority ends up fighting for the remaining 40-50%...

Your knowledge of these "unknown factors" may allow you to feel less stress and pressure, they may make you jaded towards the college process and college in general, or they may have no effect on you whatsoever. In any case, a major part of this process becomes learning to accept the way things are, and, perhaps, even someday striving to improve them. After all, it's what you make of your experience. Yes, I do realize that the school you go to may (or may not) open doors and improve opportunities; however, we're young and at this point, no doors are closed forever. All you can do is continue to work hard no matter where you end up.

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