Thursday, November 13, 2014
Bradshaw: Essays carry more sway than ethnicity
Dear Mr. Bradshaw:
I am a junior in high school and I am concerned about “ethnic quotas” in admission to top colleges. I am Asian-American, and my Asian friends tell me that several of them who applied to elite schools had nearly perfect test scores and grades but were rejected.
How can I escape the same fate when I apply?
It is thought by many that ethnicity-based admission standards — implicit or explicit — exist at many top colleges. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has examined complaints that Ivy League schools have discriminated against Asian-American undergraduate applicants, but both Harvard and Princeton have denied any bias.
In a New York Times article, a Harvard official was quoted as saying that their applicant file reviews are “highly individualized and holistic” and that they “give serious consideration to all of the information they receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community.” The official went on to cite the fact that Harvard admitted only 5.9 percent of applicants for the class of 2018 as a possible reason why many of the top candidates on paper were rejected.
Princeton University officials say that they “make admissions decisions on a case-by-case basis in our efforts to build a well-rounded, diverse class. Princeton University treats each application individually and we do not discriminate on the basis of race or national origin.”
That said, many parents still worry their children might not be able to stand out among a group of highly qualified students.
While there will always be disparities in college admissions standards, it is my job as a college admissions counselor to help students feel comfortable in the application process.
A great many rejection letters come because brilliant students who have won all kinds of academic accolades rehash these accomplishments over and over again in a series of boring essays. I tell my clients to open up and talk honestly about themselves. Your personality has to jump off the page in the essays in order to impress the admissions committee.
The best way to beat the competition is to show them who you are as an individual and differentiate yourself from the other applicants by making it clear how you will contribute socially, academically and culturally.
Most top students today have terrific test scores, top grades and a list of extracurricular activities that would shame a Harvard graduate from 50 years ago. But it takes more than academic credentials to “sell” an applicant. You need to show evidence of leadership potential, perhaps tell about how you overcame a hardship or illustrate an unusually strong commitment to helping others.
My advice is to take advantage of the extracurricular opportunities your high school has to offer, especially if those activities suit your career aspirations. And when you write your personal essays during the application process, remember that you need to stress any leadership roles you have had in these activities.
It is safe to say that most students who gain admission have written strong essays that show their leadership potential.
Gerald Bradshaw is CEO of Bradshaw College Consulting.