The Truth About College Applications


Image Credit to Harvard University

The renown gates of Harvard University bearing the school’s official seal.

We attend a small magnet school in a small, urban community. Our perspective is limited; our only sense of ourselves is in comparison to others around us. Being in one of the top-rated schools in the area, there can be an overwhelming presence of egotism and pseudo-intellectualism in our halls. We’re on top of the world because we’re on top in Palm Beach County.

What we don’t realize is that literary magazine editors, class presidents and valedictorians are in the masses around the country. It is easy to confuse the isolation we face in extreme stress as a lone ingenuity. But really, thousands of others are just as smart and just as qualified, in different (yet alarmingly similar) ways.

As privileged seniors, we have spent the past three years pushing past anxieties to focus on formulaically outsmarting the college application process by multitasking volunteer opportunities and cramming for AP exams, and despite the level of denial we may be in, application season is finally here.

However, when everyone has talent and leadership positions, and cites their favorite novel as The Great Gatsby, we fail to admit there must be differentiating factors that will ultimately determine college admissions. These social factors are most notably residency, race and ethnicity and legacy status.

While accepting rural Mississippians and abiding to affirmative action all seem progressive and understandable, giving an advantage to legacy students seems counter intuitive: for the most part, legacies occupy a more privileged side of the socioeconomic spectrum. Legacies are naturally predisposed to an intellectual atmosphere and have spent the past 18 years carving their predestined collegiate path. Essentially, the practice seems to reassure a traditionally elitist upper hand.

Except, it isn’t that simple.

When seeking out admissions to Ivies and top-rated private universities, we’re buying into a branded education. Maintaining graduates in familial lineages is a part of this process. These institutions seek profit, and (though no data is released) upper-class legacies are more likely to donate. Endowments are a portion of an institution’s ranking and thus a school’s prestige. Legacy-fueled endowments also provide for improved facilities, the ability to hire superstar professors and financial aid for other students.

Institutions aim to create diverse environments, and this diversity goes beyond minorities to include all demographics—including prep school kids seeking to follow in their parents’ academic footsteps. Though corrupt as it may seem, the prep school kids serve a purpose and contribute to the community of top colleges and universities in a meaningful way. Beyond their parents’ money, legacy students, for the most part, also offer an inherited school spirit and passion for learning.

As students, we should stop trying to criticize the process but more importantly stop criticizing each other come admittance. With admissions processes varying by school, it’s impossible to deduce another students’ achievements into simple factors to undermine the crucial and specific details that make applicants eye-catching. Sure, at a microscopic level of scrutiny it will seem as though some unintelligent kids connived their way into the Ivies, and that we ourselves are more deserving yet at a rate of under 10% admittance, decisions may appear arbitrary, but will be purposeful in intention.

In our present realities, we’ve grown out of high school, out of our childhood bedrooms and out of old friend circles. We think of college as a utopian society of flawless intellects just like we perceive ourselves to be. Instead, the admissions process reveals that each college is a niche, where students of varying backgrounds and ideas converge to form a community. And in recognizing this, critiquing admissions ultimately becomes a tired exercise in playing God.