What to Know About College Admissions Now That Affirmative Action Is Gone

With the Supreme Court decision banning race-conscious affirmative action, the college admissions process is about to change for everyone. Hundreds of colleges have stopped requiring standardized tests, essays are likely to be much more important, and admissions decisions could become much more subjective.

We asked readers to send us their questions about college admissions, and answered a few of them below.

I’ve won prizes in an extracurricular activity. Does that help?

How much do extracurriculars count in an application? For example, I’m a writer who has entered a handful of contests and self-published some stories. How far do I need to take that to get into a Top 20, or my dream school, Columbia? — Jackson Urrutia-Andrews, Folsom, Calif.

That’s a hard question to answer without a clearer picture of your entire application.

But we ran your question by Terry Mady-Grove, a college admissions consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y. She said it was highly unlikely that one extracurricular activity alone would propel you into a Top 20 college.

Even winning a writing contest won’t necessarily be the ticket to Columbia, she said, but exhibiting a long term passion for writing could be a big help.

“What can truly set a student apart is dedication over a period of time,” Ms. Mady-Grove said. “While entering contests could be a plus, authentic, sustained dedication and demonstrating a true love for writing will be key.”

Yes, male students are in demand.

Do men have an advantage since women applicants outnumber them? — Denise Somsak, Evendale, Ohio

You’ve hit on a problem that poses a quandary for college admissions officials: the gender gap.

Nationally, more women than men apply to college, attend college and receive degrees. Female students make up nearly 60 percent of students across the country.

Though you would be hard put to get an admissions officer to confirm it, there have been reports that suggest that male students have an easier time getting into college.

An analysis by The Brown Daily Herald of the 2021-22 admissions cycle found that Brown University received 13,000 more applications from women, and that men had a decided advantage in admissions. During that cycle, 6.73 percent of male applicants were admitted, compared with 4.06 percent of women, the analysis found.

But a look at admissions numbers at another highly selective campus, the University of Virginia, found that the acceptance rate was about the same for men and women. But because more women than men apply, more women are admitted.

Why not choose names out of a hat?

If there aren’t any standards (no required SAT scores), if we can’t talk about race (no affirmative action) and if it’s only based on grade point averages, why don’t we just move to a lottery system? — Chelsey Kueffer, Captain Cook, Hawaii

The idea of admitting students to very selective schools, like the Ivy League, by lottery seems the very antithesis of the current process. But some academics have started to talk about lotteries as a potential way to reform college admissions.

Whether it will ever happen is an open question.

Michael Sandel, a Harvard political theorist, wrote a book that assailed meritocracy, “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”

He worried that students at elite colleges failed to recognize that luck, not just hard work, went into their success. And he proposed that elite schools like Harvard hold a lottery for students above a basic minimum threshold.

How would that work?

L. Song Richardson, president of Colorado College, said she has been intrigued by Mr. Sandel’s concept of a lottery.

“What I like about the lottery admissions idea is that it’s more transparent,” she said in an interview.

It would be something of a guided lottery, she says. Students would have to meet a certain threshold first — say, grades or test scores or some other metric — and then their names would go into the hat.

“We’re assuming that every single person above the line can be successful at the school,” Dr. Richardson said. “And so now we can shape the class as we want or not, or not shape it at all and just have it be a lottery.”

A college could maintain its values by, for instance, giving two tickets to alumni families, if it had a policy of legacy admission. Or it could give more tickets to full-paying students or low-income students.

The lottery, she said, would eliminate the most subjective part of admissions: who happens to be reading the file.

“We each have our own biases, whether they’re conscious or not,” she said. “And so what a lottery system does is it takes that away. Students could say that they are special still because they are above the line.”

The downside is that a lottery takes away that almost magical sense of being chosen by a hidden power, a greater wisdom, the very syndrome it is supposed to combat, she concedes.

So, she adds, “I think that’s why many schools probably wouldn’t do it.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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