University Admissions

Does anyone else get really, really angry about the classism of valuing extracurriculars(especially charitable ones) in university admissions? There was a dealy on Volokh a bit ago about this, and every time I think about it I get even more angry.

Is it that admissions people are so stupid they think they are admitting good people, or do they know it’s a way to keep their schools stocked with rich white and asians forever?

I don’t get angry about that, because it’s a needle in the haystack of what’s wrong with higher education in the U.S.

So is this like having a “free time orientation” instead of a “future time orientation”?

I take it you mean scholarships here? I’m not sure pure admissions values charity work, etc. that highly. Grades, SATs, etc. seem far more important.

As for the events themselves, being able to do them while still getting good grades shows that you are committed, that you work hard. That’s why football and cheerleading also count. Those activities don’t mean you are a better person, but they can mean you are dedicated to school and to working hard.

Of course, they could just be hoping charitable people will make nice donating alumni!

As for the events themselves, being able to do them while still getting good grades shows that you are committed, that you work hard. That’s why football and cheerleading also count. Those activities don’t mean you are a better person, but they can mean you are dedicated to school and to working hard.

That’s what they may have shown in the days before admissions consultants.

Extracurricular involvement correlates with income pretty well. Poor kids work parttime jobs and take care of their siblings.

Fair enough. But working parttimes jobs also counts as an activity and can be viewed favorably by admissions.

You’re missing the point, working a parttime job in highschool implies that you’re not wealthy enough for more extravagant EC’s. Admissions consultants weigh decisions heavily on status and wealth, because high-contribution alumni are what fills their coffers.

Working part time jobs is a significant upside for college admissions boards. In terms of income, good grades/test scores plus lower income is a pretty good guarantee for scholarship and grant aid (having two kids in college right now, and one coming along behind, I can tell you that having a white collar middle - upper middle class income is a killer place to be for financial help: not wealthy enough to be able to afford writing a check for two tuition and board bills, too much income to get any financial aif of any significance.)

Really? I’ve worked with several universities over the years and I never saw admission decisions being biased in favor of well off parents. Not saying you don’t have better data than I do, just what I saw in my limited direct experience.

We’re not talking scholarships here I don’t think – students attending college on grants and scholarships makes up a very small percentage of the ones actually admitted. The discussion is about acceptances to the middle-upper echelon colleges being based heavily on class (wealth and status). There was an awesome 60 minutes piece on this a couple weeks back.

Correct me if I’m wrong though.

That’s certainly my impression. I think admissions committees go out of their way to take into account the difficulties students from lower socio-economic backgrounds go through. A student with good grades from a poor background is definitely a major plus, and is definitely the kind of student that admissions committees at top universities are looking admit.

Giving a big leg up for students from poor socio-economic backgrounds is also a way that some state universities which have had race-blind admissions mandated go about trying to increase minority enrollment.

Sorry Ben. I see admissions looking at extracurriculars as a way to get more interesting varied mainstream students over less interesting duller mainstream students. I don’t think it has much impact at all on admissions of minority students from disadvantaged backgrounds. My only complaint would be that some of the students are only doing extracurriculars as a way to beef up their college applications. However, I suppose it’s better for them to have at least some experience with charitable extracurriculars, even if it was done just to get into a good college.

No, that’s right, Scry. But even getting into colleges is helped by having a parttime job. That’s all I mean. It isn’t ONLY charity work and such. There are also programs at most universities that are meant to help make sure poorer children can get in and get financial aid.

Yeah, kids from wealthier families will tend to have better grades, better SAT scores, etc. What do you propose we do about that? How do we change a kid’s home environment?

But we were just talking about looking at extracurricular activities. I don’t think the discussion is about the general bias towards the wealthy (which will exist in any capitalist state).

For most top schools, grades and evidence of some kind of leadership (working with charities, habitat for humanity, civic leadership, etc.) is what makes the cut. One thing to be aware of when analyzing the data - if you have only average grades you’re probably not going to even apply to the top schools, and if you don’t have the grades for a scholarship and aren’t pretty wealthy, you aren’t going to apply to the super high end schools because you just can’t afford writing a check for $50,000 a year. That doesn’t mean you would have been rejected, but it can certainly skew the stats of who goes to some very “big name” schools. I make pretty good money, well above average, but I struggle to pay the bills each year for my two kids who are in “just good” universities in Michigan. I’d have to make double what I make to afford for them to go somewhere like Harvard or Stamford.

I would hope that admission systems only include factors that have been shown to correlate with good outcomes – higher undergraduate GPA, less likelihood of dropping out, increased rates of graduation.

It may be that folks with more extracurricular activities are more likely to do well at a college. There are a number of reasons why this might be. Activities may reflect traits that increase success, such as an ability to juggle multiple tasks, or possession of high ambition/drive. Unfortunately, it may also be true that applicants from wealthier families do better at college. These applicants have more extracurricular activities, because they have more free time, and also have more economic resources to fall back on, so they would be less likely to miss tuition payments, and more likely to afford tutors if needed.

High school guidance counselors and college academic counseling services may be interested in analyzing the association between activities and success in more detail, to figure out casual influences, but admissions boards are primarily interested in selecting applicants with a high chance of success. Easily quantifiable numbers that have demonstrated relations with outcomes are more accurate then subjective hunches.

That said, I think Robert is correct that the most weight is given to prior academic and testing performance. I have no references, but I’d guess weightings of 50% high school GPA, 35% standardized test (ACT/SAT) score, 15% everything else (activities, alumni relatives, bonuses for underrepresented groups) might be typical.

I think there is more to it than that. I think it makes the students more interesting. A lot of learning comes outside of the classroom, just from hanging out with classmates. If a student’s classmates have a broader range of experience, that will improve their education. If we can admit two students and they both have good grades, but one of them has additional interesting characteristics, it makes sense to admit the one that’s more interesting.

This is also one of the reasons why it’s a good thing for universities to get a good number of international students. Having friends from other countries broadens a student’s perspective, and gives a more international view of the world. In the long run, that will make students and alumni better leaders.

The way admission systems gear themselves for who is “rich” and who is “poor” is baloney anyways. It’s all about yearly income. So you could be filthy rich, have a lot of money offshore, and never make a dime, and you’d be “poor” in their eye. Or you could make a very good yearly income and then spend that all right away on mortgage, cars, medical, etc and have less left than a family with much less income.

I’m in agreement with you. While I see value in using predictors like high school GPA for quantifiable college outcomes like undergrad GPA and dropout rate, there are unquantifiable factors that add value to general student development. A diverse student body that allows exposure to different backgrounds is a great example of that.

Interestingly, my anecdotal experience suggests that the SES of the student body influences the ability of students to interact informally with one another. I teach at two schools, both of which have significant minority populations, but one draws from a higher SES than the other. Junior and senior students in the lower SES school often tell me that the group activities in my classes are one of the first times they’ve interacted with students from other backgrounds. It’s a commuter school, and I think most folks just come in for class and leave right away to get to work or back to their families. They don’t have the time to develop many relationships.

Even though the other school is also commuter, I think the students have more time to hang out at the student center and get to know each other because they don’t work as many hours a week.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe there should be diversity. Even though some schools may not have many folks who can take advantage of it, they should have the opportunity to do so.

This is why state schools provide a better real-world education than private schools.

I should go dig up the handout I received on the University of Michigan race related admission standards lawsuit. They had a points based system, where in GPA ranges were worth X points, SATs were worth Y points, etc. I recall with certainty that being black was worth more points than a perfect SAT score. I recall, with someone less certainty, that certain “extracurricular” activities (atheletics, etc.) were worth very high amounts compared to grades and SAT as well (which was surprising, at least to me).

One problem that I have with extracurricular activities playing a large role in the process is that unless the school really does its homework (which, based on the volume of students going through many schools, is often nearly impossible), it basically becomes a joke standard. I recall from my own high school experience the number of bullshit clubs, honors, and other functions that you could rack up without really contributing more than an hour a month, if that. You could make the football team, sit on the bench, screw around in practice, and basically do nothing else, just because it was a small town and everyone who wanted to basically made the team.

Though you can argue the SAT measures the wrong things, or is otherwise problematic, you can not argue that two people are not taking fundamentally the same test. On the other hand, someone on my high school football team may have been putting in about 5 extra hours of work (if you could call it that) a week, while somone who volunteered for science club (no, I didn’t) put in a ton of extra time doing preclass assistance in the morning, extra experiments, etc.

Both would tell you about how much they did, and probably tell pretty convincing stories that they were basically the hardest working person at their school because of their extracurriculars. How does the university really have the slightest idea? How does it know the difference between the kid that loaded his resume with 10 junk activities in which he gave little to no effort, versus the kid who chose one and went all out?

Since basically all higher education is based on the aristocratic finishing school model, they’ve inherited the associated trappings - you have to be a man of varied interests! It’s ridiculous, yes, but far less so so I think than the entire exam-based “meritocratic” foundation system.