The College Admissions Process is Inherently Racist. Here’s Why.

Let's call it affirmative action for white students. Yes, privilege is a thing.

This past year, I’ve been getting into more debates than usual about one specific topic that surrounds college admission discussions: affirmative action. As a white person in America, I believe it is my responsibility (not just in this cray Trump climate, but always…) to educate other white people about race issues. After reading this article, I finally pinpointed something I’ve been trying to articulate for awhile now. It’s rooted in the belief that white people need to come to terms with their privilege and change their ways.

Let’s back up.

Affirmative action is the process of favoring certain applicants who tend to suffer from discrimination. In order to address past discrimination (AKA, only white men being able to step onto most campuses for 100 years), colleges use affirmative action as a means to recruit and favor qualified POC.

The typical argument against affirmative action is exactly what you would expect. At my high school, many of my white peers became enraged when minority students were accepted to colleges from which they were denied. They, like Abigail Fisher when she was denied from UT Austin, assumed they were more qualified than their black or hispanic counterparts.

Other arguments in opposition of affirmative action are more nuanced, abandoning the “reverse-racism” argument. The Atlantic argues that affirmative action is no longer necessary or useful because the US is more divided by income and class than by race. Others argue that students who are admitted through affirmative action are not necessarily prepared for the rigor of that institution.

Before reading the aforementioned article, my go-to defense of affirmative action was always the same. It went a little like this: we must surround ourselves with different types of people who have diverse experiences, diverse upbringings and diverse cultures. We cannot, and should not, expect people to assimilate.

But for whatever reason, one probably being that certain people tune out when they hear the word “diverse,” this argument isn’t reaching people. So I’ll try a new one:

White people already enjoy countless versions of affirmative action. “The simple truth,” according to the NYTimes, “is that prosperous communities, good schools and savvy guidance counselors constitute affirmative action for whites.”

Here are the ways in which white people enjoy their own versions of college admissions affirmative action:
1. Legacy admissions

“Alumni kids” – applicants whose parents attended the college to which they are applying  – have a better chance of getting into that institution. It’s a strange approach, largely based off old money and elitism. Richard Kahlenberg told International Business Times, “This is just kind of a very blatant form of discrimination based on who your daddy is … I think in our society that can’t last forever.”

The legacy pool (yes, there’s actually a separate pool for these applicants), consists of mostly white students. While admissions officers aren’t choosing legacy applicants based on race, far more white students are favored and admitted through the legacy pool.

2. College counselors

Black, Latino, and Native American students are underrepresented in private high schools in America. These elite independent schools offer savvy college counselors, and their one job is to funnel private school students into elite colleges. These counselors often have connections with prestigious colleges, making it easier for their students (often white students) to be admitted.

The students who attend these schools are already set up for success. Their guidance counselors, many of whom worked as admissions officers in the past, are more well-connected and knowledgable than their public school counterparts. This tips the scale, yet again, in favor of the wealthy white students.

3. SAT tutors

Don’t be surprised if the same students from #2 also have SAT tutors. These tutors know the ins and outs of the test, which is more of an arbitrary game than a test of true intelligence. SAT scores are one of the main factors weighed by college admissions officers. Studies show students from wealthy families doing significantly better on the SATs. Studies also show white students getting much higher scores than other ethnic groups.

These are just a few of the most obvious examples. White people are already ten steps ahead. The college admissions process was built on a set of beliefs that favors the educated white elite. It’s unlikely that any of the policies that favor this set of beliefs will disappear, so it’s crucial that we educate others on the importance of affirmative action.


Also published on Medium.

Journalism/Op-Ed Intern for Metiza. Originally from Providence, Rhode...