Why did Kyle get rejected?

When his family was homeless, Kyle studied in the school library and earned straight A’s. He competed in cross country, despite his epilepsy. As a National Honor Society member, he volunteered in the community. His “excellent grades” were backed by high test scores. Why did so many colleges reject Kyle?, asks Michele Kerr on Hypersensitive.

All the Ivy League schools said no, except Brown. Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and UC San Diego rejected him. In addition to Brown, he was accepted at UCLA, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and UC Santa Barbara.

Kyle will go to Brown on a full scholarship. But Kerr is “shocked and more than a little angry that so many top-ranked schools rejected him.”

You’re thinking I’m overly optimistic, aren’t you? How to put this delicately: a kid can’t just be homeless and poor with high scores and good grades. He needs to be a great athlete in a desired sport, or a fantastic musician. On pure academics, “poor” doesn’t cut it unless the kid is black or Hispanic.

But Kyle is black.

Elite schools say they’re eager to admit disadvantaged minority students who are academically prepared. Kerr wonders if they’re saving their “black” admissions for athletes in major sports, the children of black alumni or students from networked, media-savvy charter schools.

Kyle is “a great kid – funny, quirky, chatty, upbeat,” she writes. “His success is due most of all to his development of great natural abilities and his determination in the face of considerable adversity — and no doubt, his positively chirpy good-spirited view of life.”

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  1. I would have expected Berkeley, and probably some Ivies, to snap him up. Homeless, black, A’s, epilepsy, and extracurriculars? He sounds like their dream student.

    But the fact is he can get just as good an education at UCLA, and UCSB would be just great too. He will do well. Kyle doesn’t need the Ivies, he’s got himself, and that sounds pretty great.

  2. cranberry says:

    There are minority students with high scores. There are also quite a few international students of color with high scores.

    There are also applicants who score really well on science & math, but not so well on the reading and humanities side, and vice versa. In other words, just because the 25th percentile on CR and M may lie somewhere under 700 on the SAT doesn’t mean there are lots of kids with CR+M around 1200; there are likely many lopsided scores, with one side in the high 700s, and the other in the high 600s.

    His appeal to colleges was also (likely) a handicap. With admit rates around 5 – 6%, colleges pay attention to yield. Very few students win admission to the entire Ivy League, in part because competent college counselors shouldn’t encourage it, and also in part because any student can only attend one college. If he’s an attractive candidate for Brown, he’s also attractive to Stanford, and all the others. They all probably know how likely each college is to win over a common applicant.

    Congratulations to Kyle on his admission to so many good colleges, and to a full scholarship to make it possible.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Brown is probably the best place for him. Attending a state university where failing grades are actually given and where he would be encouraged to major in a hard subject will work against him. The no way to fail, soft major, NGO tract will probably work the best in the short run but work against his long term success.

    However, what is the career path out of Brown where 1/3 of the students work on Wall Street and many students go immediately to graduate/professional school?

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Why didn’t Kyle get accepted to more Ivys and other selective colleges? Maybe because of this (from the article)? “While his SAT scores were just above average, his ACT score composite was a 25 (super score 26)…” How many kids with a SAT M+V of around 1100 (my guess of just above average) get accepted to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.?

  5. Actually, it’s Michele Kerr, not Kyle, who is “shocked and more than a little angry” about the situation. I see no suggestion in the article that Kyle himself is upset or bitter. He may be; he may not be. Either way, he has good prospects. I wish him the best.

  6. ChemProf says:

    At Stanford, the 25% percentile SAT number for reading is 680 and for math is 700. Looking at admitted and rejected students, it is clear that very few with an ACT score of 25 were accepted, while odds improved a lot at 30. With SATs under 650 (or 85-90th percentile) his odds are not great.

  7. “How many kids with a SAT M+V of around 1100 (my guess of just above average) get accepted to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.? ”

    His ACT score converted is an 1800. His SAT score was slightly over 1500, but he’s one of those who had a definite preference for the ACT.

    As for “how many kids would be accepted”–if you’d read the piece, you’d see that I answered that. The answer is a whole bunch. That’s my point. From 20-60% of the schools that rejected him had kids with lower average ACT/SAT scores.

    When you consider that almost all of those kids who got in with lower scores are black or Hispanic, that’s pretty shocking.

    And since that fact was the entire point of the article, the whooshing sound you hear was it going right over your head.

    “. I see no suggestion in the article that Kyle himself is upset or bitter. ”

    Actually, I said expressly that he was not.

    • ChemProf says:

      That 1800 is M+V+W, or about 1200 M+V.

      • He wasn’t clear, and the schools reported all three.

        But again, the point is that despite what people think they know, all the Ivies, all the top 20 schools, are admitting kids with scores below an average of 600 per section on the SAT. When people say “the 25th percentile”, they tend to forget that 25% is a lot of kids. And most of the kids let in on the low end are black and Hispanic.

        So in that context, given the rhetoric, it makes no sense that Kyle was rejected. He had far more challenges and had far higher academic abilities–and here I’m referring to more than ACT scores—than many kids who also, according to Mark, would have no chance to get in. And yet somehow did.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Since the question is “why didn’t he get in?”, I’d be inclined to focus on the *lower* test scores rather than the higher. His ACT scores are relatively high, but his SAT scores aren’t, right?

        • He didn’t submit his SAT scores.

          Besides, I included a number of other metrics that make it clear he’s top 15-25%, not top 50%, and top 3-5% of blacks, not top 10%. And even 500 average scores are higher than some of the kids who got into the schools that rejected him.

          And in general, you don’t appear to really get it. This is *exactly* the poster child for who colleges say they are looking for. Yet they accepted students with lower metrics who were very likely not poor.

          • palisadesk says:

            IOW, the rhetoric is one thing, the reality is quite different. Given the mendacity endemic in the “system,” I can’t say I am surprised but I am angry (and would be enraged if Kyle were my student).

            Good for Brown. They gave my uncle a full scholarship back in the day, and he was from a dirt-poor family. May Kyle’s journey be as positive.

          • Mark Roulo says:

            Then they aren’t relevant and I have no idea 🙂

    • What was the ‘hook’ that his competition had?

      From your post, I dont see achievement in anything but academics, and that is weak as he didnt take the most challenging classes. Was there a job or significant hospitalization that took up his time?

      Epilepsy is only a factor if not in control and he is out for hospitalization. Please see NFLer Alan Faneca’s public awareness video.

      Living in a motel is not homeless…that is a typical section 8 circumstance, while waiting for an apt to open up. He has an intact family, which is a significant advantage.

  8. So, basically, the idea here is that the applicant’s personal essay should have so impressed admissions officers that they would choose to admit him over students with better grades and test scores? That’s not an unfair argument, but I recall recently reading somewhere about middle class kids lying about personal hardships in their college application essays… and not even being slightly abashed or ashamed about the deceit… so perhaps people like that have made it a lot harder for applicants who have overcome actual adversity.

    I read about that deceit right here on this blog.

  9. cranberry says:

    From looking at Common Data Sets for Stanford, Yale, Harvard online, it seems less than 4% of admitted students score under 600 on sections of the SAT at any of the three.

    Harvard: 4% (CR) 2% (M) 3% (W)
    Stanford: 4% (CR) 2% (M) 3% (W)
    Yale: 2% (CR) 1% (M) 1% (W)

    Let me repeat that. 4%. Which, with about 2,000 students accepted, works out to 80 students. While they do enroll black students, do note that Harvard College, for example, enrolled quite a few students from Africa: http://www.hio.harvard.edu/abouthio/statistics/pdf/StudentsSchoolCountryRank13-14.pdf.

    So just because they enroll black students, many are international. Thus, the US averages can’t be directly applied.

    I would expect every single student with good scores in the entire world to have applied. Many of those students would have had really challenging backgrounds.

    In that setting, the scores were low. He was competing against many, many “poster children”.

    • palisadesk says:

      He didn’t submit any SAT scores, he submitted excellent ACT scores. Do you have acceptance/rejection data based on ACT scores? If not your observations, while interesting, are irrelevant.

      • cranberry says:

        He submitted ACT scores at the tail end of any possible admission for anyone. They were not excellent for the most selective schools. They were, “maybe he’ll make it through.”

        For Stanford, 13% submitted ACT composite scores at or below 29. 12% ACT English 29 or below. 17% ACT Math 29 or below.

        Harvard: 13% ACT composite below 29, 13% English at or below 29, and 17% Math at or below 29. Yale states, “We use different band widths.” When in doubt, we’ll have to assume they are similar to the others.

        Note that at each school, some 80% or so submit the SAT, but a significant number of admitted students submit both the ACT and SAT.
        Stanford: 90% SAT, 32% ACT (2/3 of ACT takers submitted both.)
        Harvard: 90% SAT, 32%ACT (2/3 of ACT takers submitted both.)
        Yale: 81% SAT, 35% ACT (2/5 of ACT takers submitted the SAT as well.)

        While searching, I found data for enrolled students at Yale. The 10th percentile scored 1990 on the SAT. http://oir.yale.edu/node/56/attachment I strongly suspect the 24 – 29 ACT band at these colleges cluster at the top end.

  10. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I’m sure he’s a great kid who’s overcome a lot. And I’d love nothing more than for everyone to go to Harvard.

    But let’s do a reality check, OK?

    * “When his family was homeless” –> Living with your family in a motel isn’t homeless. It’s a crappy home, but it’s not homeless. There’s homeless, and then there’s “homeless”. They both suck, but let’s not turn this kid into something he’s not.

    * In no universe is a 25 or 26 ACT score “excellent.” It’s utterly unremarkable, from an elite college point of view.

    * And maybe I’m missing something, but how does one run cross country “despite” epilepsy? In what way does that condition impair one’s ability to run? I’d think having serious asthma or a club foot and running cross country was much more impressive. But epilepsy? It might as well be psoriasis.

    College is in great part a crapshoot. You win some, you lose some. Sounds like he won some. Good for him.

    Not a big deal, though, that he got rejected from many schools.

    • “But epilepsy? It might as well be psoriasis. ”

      You’re delusional. He was benched for seizures on several occasions, one of which I mentioned.

      Do tell me how many homeless students with or without a motel room, are even in the ballpark of qualifying for top 20 schools.

      “Not a big deal, though, that he got rejected from many schools.”

      The rest of the reply, to Cranberry, applies to you as well.

      Cranberry, you apparently don’t read well, because you could have saved yourself the trouble of looking up the CDS. I provided the data.

      But then, you apparently aren’t grasping much of the point in general. All the schools–including the top ones–accepted students with scores lower than Kyle’s. The minute you get away from the top five schools, they accepted a good chunk of students with scores below Kyle’s. If you read the piece, you would see that I say that Kyle scores in the middle or higher of the percentage of kids who were admitted (not accepted) with scores below 700 SAT per section.

      Now, focus hard: I am aware that Kyle is in the lower percentiles of the top schools, although he’s over the 25 ile for the 10-20th schools. But given his race, given his poverty, and (key plot point) given the rhetoric on college admissions policy, he should have been accepted at these schools.

      Instead, the schools used kids for the “black slots” that met some other criteria: alumni, KIPP pledges, athletes, international students, whatever.

      Since you didn’t read the piece, I’ll repeat this: Kyle’s story had a happy ending. But what his story reveals about college admissions and their lies is shocking.

      Someone has to be in the lower 25th percentile. But the kids who are in the lowest 25th percentile are NOT who colleges say they are, and they are rejecting more qualified black (and probably Hispanic) candidates in favor of less qualified ones.

      If you weren’t so busy deluding yourself this was a bleat about affirmative action, you could possibly grasp that simple point.

      • palisadesk says:

        I think I grasped it, and you’re right. It is shocking.

      • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:


        That’s my point. He gets benched when his condition has a flare up. (Much the way someone with severe psoriasis might be benched with a severe flare up. Actually, now that I’m really thinking about it, the chronic pain and itching of psoriasis is a far greater barrier to long distance running.)

        Anyway, that’s not “competing despite epilepsy.” That’s occasionally “not competing” because of epilepsy.

        Or… And this is surely possible…. are you telling me that when a person is NOT having seizures, that epilepsy impairs their ability to run for miles on end? Because that would be “competing despite epilepsy” and I’d be willing to give him props then. And that could be the case… i don’t know. But otherwise you might as well praise him for “breathing despite epilepsy.”

        I thought I made it clear that I might not have all the facts, and I’d love to find out if I’m mistaken. So maybe I’m “delusional”, but nothing you’ve said has made me think I should reassess my position.

  11. You can get a fine education at Brown, Johns Hopkins, or Stanford. It would be interesting to see how well he is doing after his first two years (that is, halfway to a degree).

    IMO, a lot of these schools are just high priced robbery, and after a few years on the job, no one gives a poop where you got your degree from 🙂

  12. Crimson Wife says:

    He shot for the moon thinking that his story and race would help him overcome a lackluster ACT score. He got lucky and Brown gave him a scholarship. But instead of being happy, he’s whining because the other “reach” schools turned him down.

    • He’s not whining at all. As I said. If you’d read it.

      And no, he didn’t “get lucky”. A ton of kids with scores lower than his “got lucky”. His ACT score is in the top 3% of all African Americans, which is who he would be compared to.

      TVA: Analogy was moronic. I’m sure you have some sort of point, like “epileptics are athletes, too!” and feel free to make it.

      • Anonymous regular commenter says:

        Maybe because of his “white” name (“Kyle”), the admissions office didn’t realize he was supposed to be compared with the AA pool. Besides, I thought the colleges weren’t supposed to be giving extra points for melanin anymore.

      • SC Math Teacher says:

        “His ACT score is in the top 3% of all African Americans, which is who he would be compared to.”

        I’m sure he is a very bright young man, but, assuming you are correct here (and I suspect that you are), would that we could put an end to identity politics and simply treat everyone equally.

      • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:


        My only “point” is what I stated above: that there’s nothing particularly heroic or character-demonstrating about competing in a sport with a disability that doesn’t affect your performance in that sport, so I don’t see why the fact that he has epilepsy has anything to do with why he should or should not be accepted to any college.

        I certainly don’t think we should be admitting disabled people out of pity.

  13. Cranberry says:

    So what if he’s in the top 3% of black Americans on the ACT?

    That’s a really, really large number. 239,598 black students took the ACT in 2013. So more than 7,000 black students scored as well or better. http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/pdf/profile/AfricanAmerican.pdf

    And they ALL applied to the Ivy League, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, etc. They ALL could have been admitted to every college they applied to.

    In context, Kyle received several golden tickets for any student, of any background.

    Welcome to the world of holistic admissions, where everyone can be angry at admissions officers.

  14. “that there’s nothing particularly heroic or character-demonstrating about competing in a sport with a disability”

    Who said there was? Not me. You didn’t read the piece. It was routinely mentioned in the other articles that the young men accepted were in three sports. I was examining reasons he *wasn’t* accepted, not reasons he should have been.

    “that there’s nothing particularly heroic or character-demonstrating about competing in a sport with a disability that doesn’t affect your performance in that sport, so I don’t see why the fact that he has epilepsy has anything to do with why he should or should not be accepted to any college.”

    Good lord, again, you didn’t read the piece. Or even the comments section.

    And cranberry needs to get over her anger and hostility long enough to read, or at least find someone to read for her.

    First, overall Kyle is in the top 5000, really, not 7000. Cull it down to poor, he’s in the top 1000 or so. Second, as has been said some fifty times, more kids with lower scores were accepted.

    The point is not that Kyle MUST be accepted on merit, you nincompoop. The point is that colleges say they are looking for kids like him, ignore kids like him, and then accept kids with LOWER TEST SCORES.

    Jesus, woman, you are incapable of reading anything. Stop citing stats. I’ve cited all the ones you’ve offered anyway.

    • Cranberry says:

      Do you find insulting people works for you?

      I read what you posted. I understand your position. I don’t agree with your opinion. There is a great deal of rhetoric about admissions, but presidents and directors of admission at selective colleges are generally very careful about their public statements.

      I also think that posting your student’s grades and test scores, with his real name, violates FERPA, unless you secured his permission.

    • I thought these colleges were looking for inner city blacks who overcame the deficiencies of poor high schools, not people who are in good school districts that have the AP opportunities you’ve listed.