Five Ways College Admissions Could Change After Affirmative Action Decision

Five Ways College Admissions Could Change After Affirmative Action Decision

Students may change what they write about in the college essay. And they may no longer be tortured by the SAT and ACT.

As for children of alumni? The pressure is on to end their advantage in the admissions game.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that ended race-conscious admissions is widely expected to lead to a dramatic drop in the number of Black and Hispanic students at selective colleges.

But the court’s decision could have other, surprising consequences, as colleges try to follow the law but also admit a diverse class of students.

The Supreme Court made a point of noting that students could highlight their racial or ethnic backgrounds in the college essay.

“Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote.

But Justice Roberts also warned that the essay could not be used as a surreptitious way of telegraphing race.

That means college essays may fundamentally change in tone and tenor — and subject matter.

“Right now, students write about their soccer practice; they write about their grandmother dying,” said Shannon Gundy, an admissions official at the University of Maryland, in a recent presentation sponsored by the American Council on Education.

She added, “They don’t write about their trials and tribulations. They don’t write about the challenges that they’ve had to experience.”

In part because of the coronavirus pandemic, about 1,900 colleges and universities dropped requirements for standardized tests at least temporarily, and moved to “test-optional” or test-free admissions.

Now some colleges may drop those requirements permanently, responding to critics who say the tests favor students from wealthier families.

Eliminating test scores could also protect schools from lawsuits. Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court cases, relied heavily on data in its case against Harvard.

Data released by the College Board, which owns the SAT, reveals that students whose families are in the highest economic bracket score 100 points better than those in the lowest. Racial disparities in test scores are even starker. In 2022, white students scored an average of 1098 while Black students scored an average of 926.

Admissions offices could go even further, like the University of California system, which has gone “test blind,” meaning that it will not look at test scores even if students submit them.

Most colleges have long resisted eliminating a much-criticized admission practice: giving a boost to the children of alumni, donors and faculty.

But that may be harder now. In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch criticized Harvard for not getting rid of the preference.

And President Biden pledged on Thursday that the Education Department would analyze “practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

Mr. Biden isn’t the first Oval Office occupant to question legacy admissions. President George W. Bush, who followed his father and grandfather to Yale, said in 2004 that he thought they should be eliminated.

Schools generally want to keep these preferences, saying they build community and help in fund-raising. Only a handful of selective colleges have abandoned them, including the California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College.

After the ruling, President Biden also called for “a new standard” to judge applicants. In addition to test scores and grades, he suggested that schools measure the “adversity a student has overcome.”

“The kid who faced tougher challenges has demonstrated more grit, more determination, and that should be a factor,” Mr. Biden said.

Some schools are already factoring in a student’s background in their admissions process. The medical school at the University of California, Davis, evaluates applicants based on a socioeconomic diversity index, or “S.E.D.”

Selective colleges are used to applicants coming to them. Now, many more will be going out, searching for potential students.

The University of Virginia, for example, announced a plan this month to target 40 high schools in eight regions around the state that had little history of sending applicants.

An analysis by the university found that only 6 percent of students in the state’s most disadvantaged schools applied.

A University of California program could serve as a model. The program has given academic support and college admissions advice to thousands of high school students in low-income communities.

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