Harvard Prof.: ‘Holistic Admissions’ Focusing on Non-Academic Factors Massively Favor Wealthy

On Monday’s broadcast of CNN International’s “Amanpour,” Harvard Economics Professor and Director of Opportunity Insights Raj Chetty discussed a new study on the advantage wealthy students have when applying to top-tier schools and stated that the “holistic admissions” that look at non-academic factors outside of test scores practiced by these schools create a “big advantage for kids from high-income families.”

Chetty stated, “Suppose…you take a set of kids who have the same SAT scores, as a simple measure of pre-college qualifications, and you ask, suppose you’re a kid from a high-income family, say, the top 1% of the income distribution, and I’m a kid from a middle-class family and we both have the same SAT score, say we both got 1,500 on the SAT, which puts us at the 99th percentile. What are the odds that you go to one of these colleges and what are the odds that I go to one of these colleges? It turns out that you’re about two-and-a-half times as likely to go to an Ivy-plus college, an Ivy League college, relative to me, even though we have the same exact SAT scores, if you come from a family in the top 1%, relative to the middle class. So, these colleges tend to enroll a disproportionate share of kids from very high-income families, even controlling for a simple measure of their pre-college qualifications as measured by standardized tests.”

He added, “If your parents went to one of these colleges, you typically have a quite significant advantage in terms of your odds of getting in. We actually estimate that you’re about five times as likely to get into one of these colleges as a candidate with comparable credentials whose parents did not happen to go to that college. Now, why does that amplify the high-income admissions advantage? Because a lot of folks who went to places like Harvard and Yale and Princeton have very high incomes. And so, naturally, the kids of those parents are coming from high-income families, on average, and that’s contributing to the high-income admissions advantage that we started out talking about. So, that’s one important factor.”

Chetty continued, “The other important factors are what we call non-academic ratings. So, these schools practice — as you might know — holistic admissions. They don’t just look at your test scores, they look at many other things, what kinds of extracurricular activities were you involved in, what does your overall portfolio look like that you’re applying with from your high school and so on. And what we find is that kids from high-income families, the top 1% in particular, are much more likely to get high non-academic ratings from admissions committees, and that’s coming entirely from the fact that they attend certain high schools, typically elite private high schools, very expensive schools, which tend to produce very high non-academic ratings for their students relative to public schools. … And so, that creates another big advantage for kids from high-income families.”

He further stated that athletic recruitment is another factor. And called for less weight to be put on these non-academic factors.

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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