When it comes to the hotly disputed topic of college admissions, the one thing everyone agrees about is that it’s unfair. But there is little agreement on what a fair process would be.
Rebecca Zwick takes a hard look at the high-stakes competition of U.S. college admissions today. Illustrating her points using analyses of survey data from applicants to the nation’s top colleges and universities, she assesses the goals of different admissions systems and the fairness of criteria—from high school grades and standardized test scores to race, socioeconomic status, and students’ academic aspirations. The demographic makeup of the class and the educational outcomes of its students can vary substantially, depending upon how an institution approaches its task. Who Gets In? considers the merits and flaws of competing approaches and demonstrates that admissions policies can sometimes fail to produce the desired results. For example, some nontraditional selection methods can hurt more than help the students they are intended to benefit.
As Zwick shows, there is no objective way to evaluate admissions systems—no universal definition of student merit or blanket entitlement to attend college. Some schools may hope to attract well-rounded students, while others will focus on specific academic strengths. What matters most is that a school’s admissions policy reflects its particular educational philosophy. Colleges should be free to include socioeconomic and racial preferences among their admissions criteria, Zwick contends, but they should strive for transparency about the factors they use to evaluate applicants.