Ivy-bound Asians need extra-high SATs

Asian students accepted to elite private universities in 1997 had much higher SAT scores than whites, Hispanics or blacks, concluded a study by Thomas Epenshade, a Princeton sociology professor. From the Daily Princetonian:

. . . African-American applicants with SAT scores of 1150 had the same chances of being accepted as white applicants with 1460s and Asian applicants with perfect 1600s.

The results of the study come three years after Jian Li, a rejected Princeton applicant, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He alleged in the complaint that he had been discriminated against based on his race when he was denied admission to the University.

Espenshade noted that Asian-American students with high grades and test scores might have had weaker “soft variables,” such as essays, extracurriculars and teacher recommendations.

That’s not likely. College-bound Asian-Americans may be weaker in writing skills, if English is their second language, but they’re just as strong in extracurriculars as their classmates and just as likely to impress teachers. If overcoming adversity wins bonus points, many Asian students should qualify as the children of struggling immigrants.  A more likely explanation is that college admissions staffers want a class balanced in interests — not too many science and math majors — and in appearance.  It’s like the old quotas against Jews.

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Comments

  1. ponderosa says:

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if pure meritocratic principles were implemented…Asian-Americans might dominate the Ivy League as they do at Berkeley It seems that Asian immigrants already dominate science grad programs in US universities.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    The objective of looking at the “soft” factors is to be subjective.
    You can’t “prove” the admissions guy is lying like a rug in pursuit of a quota.
    That is, you can’t force him to admit it.
    So, from the educators’ point of view, it isn’t happening.
    But, considering the number of Asians there anyway, is the bar high enough?

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    It would also be interesting to see what the data looked like if recruited athletes were excluded. Not that I’m defending lowering academic standards for athletes, but I’d like to know if Asians are at a disadvantage compared to whites in the regular non-athlete applicant pool.

  4. One can speak of soft factors and better essays .. but who is getting the 800 on the English (forget the math). The whole racial balancing act has actually gotten out of hand. One rational solution , of course, would be to strip the applications of all personally identifying detail and see what happens. Alternatively, collectively, we can pretend we’re not racist because of “soft” factors like the color of someone’s skin.

  5. Cardinal Fang,

    From the quoted article:

    “A look into Harvard’s admission policies in the 1990s showed that, after preferences for legacy students and athletes was removed, there was no discrimination against Asians based on race.”

  6. however admissions decisions aren’t done by SAT alone (which is good) so the article is bad statistics.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    I have always suspected that elite universities want to limit the number of Asians because Asian alumni are less likely to donate, less likely to hire other alumni, and are more insular. I know UCLA is worried about what a universities made up of Asian students will look like in the long term.

  8. Universities want “soft” factors included – defined by and known to themselves only – so they can discriminate in favor of blacks and Hispanics and against Asians (in particular)and whites. I have been hearing the “Asians needs higher test scores/grades/etc. to be admitted” argument since the 80s, when my eldest was in high school. I’m not sure that it has been happening at a numerically significant level (except perhaps in CA) for long enough for there to be large numbers of Asian legacies.

  9. That’s not likely. College-bound Asian-Americans may be weaker in writing skills, if English is their second language, but they’re just as strong in extracurriculars as their classmates and just as likely to impress teachers.

    I agree. Speaking as an Asian who went to a high school with a high concentration of Asians… those of us who were good students with good SAT scores also tended to have a number of extracurricular activities. I myself played violin in the local youth orchestra, volunteered at both the library and the hospital, participated in Mock Trial, and was a member of two honor societies. And I was considered one of the slackers… 😛

  10. Margo/Mom says:

    “Universities want “soft” factors included – defined by and known to themselves only – so they can discriminate in favor of blacks and Hispanics and against Asians (in particular)and whites.”

    And just exactly what do you suspect they derive from such discrimination?

    The U of M case established the legitimacy of a student body that correlated well with the make-up of society at large, acknowledging that the university experience consisted of more than the course syllabi. But I don’t know that this constitutes discrimination, and in fact the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

  11. There’s an interesting comment by “Keith ’10” in the comments.

    “Back of the envelope calculations- Princeton has about 20 varsity sports each for men and women times 20 recruited athletes on each team. 800 recruited athletes or almost 20% of the class. Another 25% URMs, and back out 5% overlap, add in 15% development/legacies, and you get about 55% of places are taken by special cases who don’t compete in the open admissions round. Since the average SAT at Princeton is around a 1470, it’s pretty clear where you have to be as an unhooked candidate.”

    By the way, I’m not convinced that super high SAT scores automatically equal success after college. I don’t know if getting top scores is always viewed as a positive thing by admissions officers. There is a range of “good enough,” which is probably around 1400 for the Ivies.

  12. http://www.gladwell.com/2005/2005_10_10_a_admissions.html

    I suggest this article about the ivy admissions process. i have found gladwell’s argument, that the ivy league wants future leaders, not just academic stars, to be true in my experience at brown. brown would rather have their alumnae to have a disproportionate impact on the world over them all being incredibly gifted academically. It’s called the “best graduates” approach instead of the “best students” approach.

    Worth a read.

  13. Doug Sundseth says:

    “But I don’t know that this constitutes discrimination, and in fact the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.”

    Clearly, choosing students to matriculate on the basis of their races cannot possibly be racial discrimination. I mean, other than the fact that it’s discriminating on the basis of race. But it’s OK, since it’s not discrimation against people you care about.

    O’Connor’s “reasoning” in that opinion was risible. The relevant part of the 14th Amendment:

    “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    In what way is racial discrimination “equal protection”?

  14. At least at Harvard, legacies have an average SAT score only 2 points lower than non-legacies. Most of those slots would be going to students with similar backgrounds even if there were no legacy preference. So instead of the son of a Harvard-educated investment banker the slot would go to his prep school classmate, the son of a Yale-educated corporate lawyer…

  15. “A more likely explanation is that college admissions staffers want a class balanced in interests — not too many science and math majors — and in appearance. It’s like the old quotas against Jews.”

    I agree. A physics professor I knew who once served on the Yale admissions committee told me that Yale has tended to admit only a tiny fraction of the graduates of science magnets like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science because they appear to be insufficiently “well rounded”–despite their high SAT averages. It used to be that these students were disproportionately Jewish; now they’re disproportionately Asian.

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    pm, I did read the part about the earlier study that showed no discrimination against Asians in the non-athlete, non-legacy applicant pool. I wondered if a later study would bear that out.

    If so, the problem is not as some describe. That is, it’s not as if Harvard is comparing two similar applicants and picking the white applicant over the more academically qualified Asian applicant. Rather, Harvard is admitting athletes, who are both disproportionately non-Asian and, especially in helmet sports, academically weaker than the non-athlete applicant pool. And it is admitting students who are not recruited athletes without discriminating between Asians and whites.

    The effect is that Chinese kids with 1600 SATs are turned down. Also white kids with 1600 SATs are turned down, while hockey players with lackluster academic ability but superb hockey ability are accepted. Harvard has six hockey players who were drafted by the NHL. Six. I bet $100 that those six hockey players’ SATs are on average in the bottom 10% of all Harvard students’ SATs.

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