Sometimes, it’s who you know.
Kaplan Test Prep recently surveyed admissions officers at 400 top colleges, and 25% of respondents said they had been pressured to admit students who didn’t meet enrollment standards “because of who that applicant was connected to.” Surprise!
The idea that well-connected students make it further along in the admissions process is not new. And scandals about it aren’t either. But Kaplan’s questions about such pressure are a 2014 addition to its annual survey of college admissions officers. Kaplan Test Prep gathers information about trends in higher education that it can pass on to clients making decisions about colleges.
Besides reporting pressure to admit certain students, 16% of admissions officers who responded to the survey said applicants with alumni parents or siblings have a better shot at being admitted than those who don’t.
“The acceptance of applicants whose qualifications may take a back seat to their connections is an open secret in the college admissions process, and our results show that it’s not uncommon,” said Seppy Basili, vice president of college admissions and K-12 programs at Kaplan Test Prep, in a prepared statement.
Basili said there are reasons it makes sense to preference children or siblings of alumni. When shaping a cohort, admissions officers consider what students will contribute to the institutional culture. Basili said these familial connections could indicate a student who is more likely than others to be engaged.
At Northwestern University, Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said admissions officers take a holistic approach to evaluating students and multiple people at various institutional levels consider each applicant.
“It’s not like there’s a committee that sits in a room and it’s thumbs up or thumbs down,” Cubbage said. “That’s not the way it works.”
Admissions officers take into consideration whether a prospective student is the child of an alum, Cubbage said, but that is certainly not the only consideration.
About five years ago, the Chicago Tribune broke a scandal about clout-based admissions at the University of Illinois. The president of the university system, the chancellor of one of the campuses, and seven of the nine board of trustees members ultimately resigned in the aftermath. The Tribune showed, and a state panel later confirmed, that hundreds of students benefited from special consideration made because of their connections.
An independent investigation into admissions decisions at the University of Texas at Austin recently found President Bill Powers went over the heads of admissions officers to admit well-connected students. Powers didn’t break any laws with his actions and had already announced he would leave the university this summer, so the fallout from the latest revelations are minimal. In fact, many still believe Powers’ actions were in the best interests of the university.
Basili expects admissions decision-making to get more attention in coming enrollment cycles. Students at a number of institutions have begun using the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to request their own admissions records. In announcing the results of its latest survey, however, Kaplan drew attention to the overall integrity of the program.
“It’s important to keep in mind that although these ‘thumb on the scale’ admissions practices do happen, the overwhelming majority of accepted college applicants are successful due to their own merits,” Basili said in the prepared statement.
Of course, try telling that to the kids who don’t get in.
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