How the Harvard Admissions Process Really Works

“Race plays a significant role in [Harvard] admissions decisions. Consider the example of an Asian American applicant who is male, is not disadvantaged, 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%.”

Does this sound familiar?

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.

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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.

“Seems to be tug of war between Chinese and American cultures”
“Lots of e/c’s – w/out depth”
“Good, solid, but no special punch”
“Little e/c activity. TRS say gifted; not so motivated”
“Scores avg & no hook”
“Complex, unusual person”
“Nothing here to make a case”
“Father/alum – contributor. Academics make it hopeless”
“E/A reject outright”
“Not distinctive. Writes a rather odd essay about his Filipino roots.”
“Feisty personality = a plus”
“Nothing dazzling”
“Transcript not solid. 2 C’s, bunch of B’s”
“English trouble – TOEFL not reassuring”
“Alum IV very low”
“BORING!”
“Why would we choose him?”
“Just a bunch of high scores”
“A bit immature – 16 years old”
“App is simplistic – I think transition to Harvard would be too much”
“Water polo is hook – but we’ll have bigger fish to fry”
“No hook. There is considerably more hard work here than natural talent”
“Appealing case that falls short due to taciturn school support – sigh”
“Deserving, likeable guy, but too much of a stretch”
“Double lineage. Not strong enough on her own”
“Parents from Iran. Harvard is not the place for her”
“Strong silent type. Bright & active but not competitive”

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These are just a few of the comments that Harvard admissions officers have previously written about candidates, taken from Harvard admissions records in the 90s.

But let’s break it down into numbers. What does this mean for the applicant?

You’re being assessed on a scale of 1-6 in these categories. 1 is the best and 6 is the worst.

  1. Academics
  2. Extracurriculars

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