College Admissions: A Broken System

Home S&S Opinion College Admissions: A Broken System

By NANMA PILLAI
Business Manager

It’s no secret that the college admissions process is flawed. The Varsity Blues Scandal made it clear how easy it is for those with money to cheat the system and buy their way into college by bribing coaches or paying for other people to take the SAT for their children. And while it’s impossible to have a completely perfect admission process, there are some things that colleges in the US can learn from their counterparts across the pond in Great Britain. 

In the British system, you can apply to Oxford or Cambridge (not both), and a total of five universities. The US does have more institutions of higher learning than the UK, so the limit would have to be more than five colleges. Having a limit on the number of colleges students can apply to will make students find the ones they genuinely want to attend and give them a more reasonable understanding of what their chance of getting into a given college. US universities pursue aggressive outreach, urging even relatively unqualified applicants to apply, then boast every spring about how many they rejected as if exclusivity is proof of quality. Ballooning application numbers, combined with stagnant class sizes, cause acceptance rates to slide even lower into the single digits at places. As a result, high-school seniors apply to more colleges just in case, and the vicious cycle continues. 

Cambridge and Oxford are the top Universities in the UK and generally have acceptance rates between 15%-25% depending on the year. If US colleges were to place a limit on the number of colleges, acceptance rates would likely rise to similar levels or at the very least, start to climb out of the single digits.

Additionally, universities in the UK have long rejected the practice of legacy admissions and while they do ask about the educational background of the student’s parents, they do not ask about the school they attended. When Harvard was sued earlier this year over its’ admissions process it was reviled that children of Harvard College graduates got in at nearly six times the rate of those who weren’t legacies. Many college administrators in the US argue that preferential admissions for legacies help with fundraising and keeps alumni engaged. However, a 2010 study published by the Century Foundation found no statistically significant evidence of a causal relationship between legacy admission policies and giving and no short-term drop in gifts when colleges eliminated legacy preferences.  

The policy itself is outdated and does far more harm than good. In the 1920s, the deans of top colleges in the US were alarmed by the influx of Jewish and Catholic students in their schools and created the legacy process. The process limited access to students who, at the time, were considered minorities. The practice is now affirmative action for rich kids, hindering efforts to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity since earlier generations of students tend to be wealthier and whiter. 

As for the issue at the heart of many of the cases in the college admission scandal, universities in the UK are still able to fill their sports teams without giving athletes a leg up in admissions. US colleges make several arguments for giving preference in admissions to athletes who are praised for their time management, leadership, and teamwork skills. They don’t provide any formalized bump to class presidents or teens who worked two jobs through high school. The more significant problem with athletic recruitment is it disproportionately benefits wealthy students, since the elite club programs, camps, and showcases that get teens in front of collegiate coaches can easily cost thousands of dollars. 

Universities in the UK are by no means perfect. But they are yet to have the wide-ranging corruption and scandal that colleges in the US have experienced. The past year has made it clear the US admissions process desperately reform, so it is to their benefit to try out some of the admissions strategies employed by UK universities. 

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