Last year, the Chronicle published an article called “Slipping Through the Safety Net: Students deal with lower acceptance rates at universities.” The matriculation statistics in big text were terrifying, and I recall loud, panicked discussion of our college prospects.
Students seemed worried that the “Harvard-Westlake advantage” had been lost. Too often do students seem to weigh the prospect of a stronger academic record at a public school versus the college boost of Harvard-Westlake, and in light of such damning statistics for our school, the former seemed to be more desirable.
I disagree with the absurdly conceited idea that any Harvard-Westlake student would be guaranteed to academically dominate at other schools. I also take issue with the idea that Harvard-Westlake has “lost its edge;” acceptance rates for Harvard-Westlake students seem to be dropping at the same pace (or slower) than those nationwide.
As the college process progressed, discussion around the perceived unfairness of attending Harvard-Westlake seemed to continue, and much more aggressively. “Why would they take a bunch of public school kids who aren’t going to do as well?” I heard. “My school is just a bunch of public school valedictorians,” a friend in college told me. “They only got in there because they were a minority,” someone else hypothesized. As we sat in on college information sessions, the ideas of ‘holistic review’ and ‘context matters’ terrified us as many of my peers seemed to believe that we were doomed as the wealthy kids from a competitive private school.
The original Chronicle article cited that decreased acceptance rates nationwide can be largely attributed to more outreach toward and therefore more applications from low-income students, especially those eligible for Pell Grants, a government education subsidy for those who “display exceptional financial need.”
For example, the percentage of freshmen at Vassar College eligible for Pell Grants rose from 12 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2015, according to the Washington Post. These tend to be people of color as well; according to the New York Times, the percentage of white freshmen at Harvard University has declined from 83 percent in 1980 to 47 percent in 2015.
In reality, the college process is deeply unfair, and the scales are tipped toward many Harvard-Westlake students. The process benefits people whose college counselors wrote 30 recommendations instead of 300, whose college educated parents proofread their essays, who have private admissions counselors, hooks and even advantages that extend beyond the college process. Many see education as the ‘great equalizer;’ when the admissions process deeply favors students of immense privilege, its power to equalize is profoundly diminished. In turn, I think any calls that our “spots are being taken” or that we’re disadvantaged in the college process make no sense.
The Atlantic published an article in December of last year titled “Does It Matter Where You Go to College?” Research suggests that elite colleges don’t really help rich white guys.
But they can have a big effect if you’re not rich, not white, or not a guy. Many of us (but admittedly not all) at Harvard-Westlake are afforded an absurd amount of opportunities, even if we end up matriculating to community colleges or no college at all.
As such, for many of us, university admission should not be the object of obsession. The Onion, a satirical newspaper, recently ran the headline: “Report: Just Go Ahead And Tell Yourself Bribery Is The Only Reason You Didn’t Get Into Columbia.” In light of the recent scandal and continued attitudes about affirmative action, it’s easy to blame others for our college results.
This is counterproductive; here we’re given opportunities near unparalleled at other schools, and we should be thankful.
Instead of complaining about the admissions of other successful students, we should be grateful for the advantages we have already. Even if it means we don’t get in.
As we at Harvard-Westlake see fewer kids matriculate to elite schools, we should do our best to look on these statistics as gratefully as we can. Fewer Harvard-Westlake students getting elite school educations should not be a tragedy if we consider who is. Maybe context really does matter.