education

Turns out, Harvard students aren’t that smart after all | Tayo Bero


Ever wondered what it takes to get into Harvard? Stellar grades, impressive extracurriculars and based on a recently published study, having deep pockets and a parent who either works or went there. Those last two are pretty important for Harvard’s white students because only about 57% of them were admitted to the school based on merit.

In reality, 43% of Harvard’s white students are either recruited athletes, legacy students, on the dean’s interest list (meaning their parents have donated to the school) or children of faculty and staff (students admitted based on these criteria are referred to as ‘ALDCs’, which stands for ‘athletes’, ‘legacies’, ‘dean’s interest list’ and ‘children’ of Harvard employees). The kicker? Roughly three-quarters of these applicants would have been rejected if it weren’t for having rich or Harvard-connected parents or being an athlete.

Here’s the thing– Harvard is insanely competitive. The admittance rate for the class of 2025 was 3.43%, the lowest rate in the school’s history, in a year that saw an unprecedented surge in applications. But as more and more comes to light about Harvard’s admissions process, it’s clear that the school’s competitiveness is not just based on academic strength or great test scores, but also the color of your skin, and whether or not your parents or grandparents have donated significantly to the school.

This dynamic is inherently racialized, with almost 70% of all legacy applicants at Harvard being white. According to the study, a white person’s chances of being admitted increased seven times if they had family who donated to Harvard. Meanwhile in stark contrast, African American, Asian American and Hispanic students make up less than 16% of ALDC students.

This kind of systemic favoritism of the white, wealthy and connected is not new when it comes to elite academic institutions. It’s always been a bit of a rigged game, one that overwhelmingly – and often intentionally – favors rich white people.

A general view of Harvard University campus.
A general view of Harvard University campus. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Take the 2019 college admissions scandal for example. It’s been almost three years since the fiasco in which dozens of wealthy people attempted to pay their children’s way into legacy institutions such as Stanford and Yale. These parents paid thousands of dollars to get people to take tests for their children, bribe test administrators and bribe college coaches to identify their children as great athletes. Fifty people were ultimately charged in the scandal, including celebrities like Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin.

With all this in mind, it’s impossible not to think about the longstanding racist pushback against affirmative action in the US. Racist white people (including the Trump administration) have long scorned the system that was designed to give historically underrepresented communities a better chance at entering institutions they have been systematically excluded from. According to its detractors, the use of affirmative action at universities amounts to reverse racism against white people and has helped Black people in particular enjoy benefits that white people are now supposedly left out of (notions like this, including the idea that Black people in America go to college for free, are entirely false).

Judging by Harvard’s numbers though, it sounds to me like these people don’t actually think affirmative action is bad – they just think it should be reserved for white, rich people. And when it comes to Harvard’s revered status, these revelations about its admissions process poke gaping holes in the idea that anyone who is there has proven themselves “worthy” to be part of this elite institution.

Harvard and other schools like it have long been venerated as hallowed spaces where only the best and brightest minds are granted access – and many young people still see it as such. The reality, though, is very different. These are supposed to be the biggest geniuses on the planet, yet the school halls are filled with the progeny of the privileged who wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for their connections and money. For me, that’s not a whole lot to aspire to.



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