Issue 8: Harvard University (2/2), Here’s How the Harvard Admissions Process Really Works
Exclusive Insider Interview: Harvard University, Alumni Admissions Interviewer
Dear Socrates Q&A
This week, we selected a question from Chloe in Oregon:
“Where is the algorithm for fit between student and colleges? It seems difficult to ascertain what colleges are seeking in a student. They can’t all be outgoing community volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect SAT scores….where is the personality fit category revealed by colleges? Not all perfect score students want MIT.”
Astute observations, Chloe. You’re absolutely right that not all students are outgoing volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect academics. And even if they are, not all of them want to get into the most competitive and selective colleges like MIT.
You mention that colleges don’t do a good job of sharing what characteristic traits they’re looking for in students. I can see why you think that. When we attend college fairs, read college websites, or talk to admissions reps, we oftentimes hear the same things about academic qualifications, application requirements, and generic recruiting terms like “strong student,” “well-rounded individual,” “leaders,” or “unique qualities.” These keywords don’t tell us much about fit.
And that’s because the “fit” determination can only be defined by you — the applicant.
Colleges will do their best to communicate or sell you on what they have to offer during presentations, in brochures, and during campus tours. But they usually receive way more applications than they can accept and, therefore, do not need to develop a complex fit algorithm to admit students. As long as they have confidence the applicant will contribute something positive to the campus, or — at the very least — succeed academically, they don’t need to spend time investigating every last bit of the applicant’s personality, political views, religious views, etc.
They’re less concerned about whether or not that student will feel comfortable and cozy at the university than whether he’ll inspire his classmates and be someone they like.
As the applicant, however, you’re concerned about more than that. Do you fit into the campus culture? Do you fit into its political vibe? Do you fit into its intellectual character? And, of course, will you perform well in academics and social situations?
“Race plays a significant role in [Harvard] admissions decisions. Consider the example of an Asian American applicant who is male, is not disadvantaged,3 and has other characteristics that result in a 25% chance of admission. Simply changing the race of this applicant to white—and leaving all his other characteristics the same—would increase his chance of admission to 36%. Changing his race to Hispanic (and leaving all other characteristics the same) would increase his chance of admission to 77%. Changing his race to African American (again, leaving all other characteristics the same) would increase his chance of admission to 95%.”
Despite having the strongest academic and extracurricular profiles, Asian Americans experience the lowest acceptance rates among the top four races (White, Asian, Hispanic, and Black) represented among applicants to Harvard College.
The Students For Fair Admissions, a group of 20,000 members who believe race should not play a role in university admissions, sued Harvard for discriminating against Asian Americans.
The trial commenced in Boston on October 15, and throughout the course of the hearing, Harvard’s admissions and selection practices have been unveiled.
We’ve been keeping up with the trial and reading the docs so you don’t have to. Now, for the first time ever, applicants can know exactly how their files are graded by Harvard admissions.